Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Avalanches and Prestigious Awards

Before we get to the fun stuff, I need to mention that the temperatures are going to really heat up later this week and possibly into the weekend. If you’re coming to Mount Rainier, be very careful around (or avoid altogether) steep snow slopes and glacial icefalls. As the freezing level climbs above 10K, the avalanche hazard is likely to SOAR. We’ve had over 900 inches of snowfall this winter and spring and you don’t want to be caught under it as summer returns for a few days.

So do you remember Phill Michael? He was the Canadian climber who helped those lost hikers on the Muir Snowfield last fall. Well, his actions earned recognition from the Secretary of the Interior. Here is the press release about his actions, the award and a picture from today’s ceremony. Great job, Phill! You can find more about Phill, this story and his other adventures at secretspot.net! He also discusses the incident in a radio interview.

Skills, Experience and Compassion earn Canadian Citizen the Department of Interior’s Award for Bravery

Mount Rainier is recognized for its inclement and hazardous weather. The Muir Snowfield on Mount Rainier is noted for its hidden crevasses and cliffs; hazards that have claimed the lives of many day hikers, skiers and climbers. A night without shelter while lost on the snowfield often ends tragically.

Preparedness, skills and experience are critical prerequisites for any climber venturing onto the mountain’s often treacherous upper slopes. At any time of the year the weather can change suddenly creating dangerous conditions. It is imperative that climbers begin their climb prepared to wait out the weather if it becomes necessary. Being prepared can mean the difference between life and death on the upper mountain and can help save the lives of others. Phill Michael came prepared to climb the mountain and ended up saving the lives of two backpackers who were not prepared to overnight in the challenging environment typical of the upper mountain.

If not for the skill, preparedness and efforts of Phill Michael, it is likely that the two backpackers would have perished. All too often, the story of lost hikers on Mount Rainier ends sadly. Phill Michael’s actions and preparedness directly resulted in the saving of two visitors on Mount Rainier. For these efforts, the National Park Service awarded Mr. Michael its Citizen’s Award for Bravery.

On September 16th 2007, climber Phill Michael was descending from Camp Muir during a storm when he came upon two visitors who were lost and ill prepared. That couple was also descending from Camp Muir, but found themselves disoriented and without shelter in one of Mount Rainier’s most notoriously dangerous locations. While descending, Mr. Michael heard distressed voices and moved in their direction. The path back to Paradise was completely obscured and it was quite foggy, rainy and windy. After following the voices, Mr. Michael soon located the two backpackers. At that time, the couple was in despair as they had no way to reorient themselves, navigate off the mountain or provide shelter. Mr. Michael used his equipment, skills and abilities as an experienced guide to erect a shelter out of his tarp and care for the two lost backpackers. Over the following 48 hours, Michael attended to the couple while the snow, wind, and rain continually threatened. During a brief respite from the storm on day three, Mr. Michael was able to reorient the team and descend safely back to the Paradise.