- Written by Ben Jacklet
- Category: Backcountry
- Published: February 26, 2015
If you happen to run into Austin Warren on Mount Hood or at the Mazot, ask him about his recent adventure shredding down from the summit last week, because it is one captivating story, and he will be the first to tell you that he is lucky he is still alive.
Warren, 27, works at the slopeside Mazot Bar at Mt. Hood Meadows and is a member of the Meadows Parks Crew. He has worked at Meadows for five years, and he is a solid snowboarder who has climbed to the summit several times.
Last Thursday he set out with his Parks Crew friends Robbie Walsh and Steve Rice to climb to the top of Mount Hood and shred down the Hogsback on the south side of the mountain.
It was Austin's fourth trip to the summit, and Robbie had also made it to the peak a few times. They were leading Steve on his first try for the top, and the three friends were hiking up with crampons and ice axes - but no ropes.
They were debating whether to shred down from the summit, and after assessing the conditions they decided to go for it.
"Everything was looking good," said Austin. "The high clouds had cleared out and it had softened up a little bit. It was still a little icy, but not bulletproof by any means."
Here is a shot of Austin approaching the summit, with Robbie up ahead of him:
They made it to the summit successfully, hung out for a half hour or so, and then strapped on their boards.
I'll let Austin take the story from here, to give you a sense of exactly what happened next, from his perspective:
"We got down to the Hogsback and it was really nice, soft corn there, not too exposed to the wind. That was really fun — we got some good pictures and some good turns. We would go down a little bit and stop, and whoever was in front would wait for the other two. We were staying together as a group.
"Where I got that black-and-white picture [the lead photo in this article], I went down and Robbie and Steve were up above me. They were watching me, and I went and did a big backside slash with my ice axe in my hand, right near that sulfur pit right there. I stopped after that turn and Robbie and Steve were coming down to me and Robbie said, ‘Austin, you have to hike back up and go get that shot again. I’m telling you, it’ll be the best shot you ever got.'
"I was kind of hesitant. I was a little tired from the climb up. But he ended up convincing me. I was like, 'All right, Robbie, Whatever. I’ll do it for the shot.' It’s kind of an inside joke between us, but anyhow, I went back up to do it again, and the spot where I was slashing, it was extremely icy there. It was in a shady spot. The first one went great, I kicked up a bunch of dust and got a nice turn out of it. But the second one, I might have tried to dig in a little harder, to give a little more umph to the picture, and my toe edge slipped out, and I started sliding. I was on my stomach but going feet first, down toward that hole, the big sulfur pit. I had fallen on top of my ice axe, so I kind of knocked the wind out of myself. But I was able to self-arrest with my axe, about five feet before falling into the fumarole.
"My heart is racing and my adrenaline is through the roof, and I’m thinking I nearly just died. And I’m somewhat in pain from falling on my ice axe. My chest is sore and I’m struggling to get my wind back. So I regain my composure and get my wind back, and I look around and I am still in a dangerous spot. I look back at Steve and Robbie and they are like 'O my God. You almost died.'
"I was still on my toe edge - and I traversed left to a ridge line to get over to a safer area, to sit down for a second and regain my awareness. I was cutting over and I couldn’t see the other side of the spine. I was just slowly traversing, and it never crossed my mind that there was going to be something on the other side. I just kept traversing over, and I look up at Steve and Robbie, and they both made eye contact with me, and I was just shaking my head in awe at what just happened. And the next thing I know I’m going over that little ridge line, and on the other side of that was another crevasse. It was pretty narrow, only like 5-8 feet wide, and maybe 30 feet long. And the second I started falling I knew exactly where I was, because on the way up we had stopped and looked down into it and made jokes, like ‘Don’t want to go in there!’
"I was falling backwards, and everything just kind of slowed down. It was slow motion. I had so much time to think about what was happening. I was falling backwards, and all I could see were the ice walls just flying by me. When we looked at it the first time, I thought it was a little more shallow. But as I was falling I had time to think in my head, ‘Wow, I’m still falling.’ I specifically remember while in mid-fall the thought going through my head that this is it. I just fell in a crevasse, and I’m still falling. I’m going to die right now. I don’t know if I accepted it, but that was the thought going through my mind.
"And the next thing I know it was just BAM: sudden impact. I kind of touched with my feet first, landed at a little bit of an angle, with my upper body up. I fell approximately 25 feet, and barely hit with my feet first, and then straight to my back and my head, on a pile of rock, ice and snow. It wasn’t bulletproof, it gave a bit, which I think helped a lot. Also having my backpack on and my helmet on came into play in taking a lot of the impact.
"But as soon as I hit, I immediately jumped up. I felt okay. I didn’t feel hurt at all. Keep in mind, I have adrenaline like I have never felt in my life. But I assess myself and see I am basically okay. And the next thought that comes to my mind is, ‘I’m 25 feet down a crevasse now. I don’t have a rope. How the hell am I getting out?’ It is just sheer steep walls on every side of me.
"The left side was a big undercut up to my head, then straight up. And the other side was straight up, a 25-foot wall.
"The snow was actually kind of soft in there, because it was really warm. There was steam from the gases, and it smelled really weird. It was like a different planet or something. It was dark, just a little light coming through, really blue light from the snow and ice.
"I jumped up and took my board off and yelled up to Steve and Robbie. They were yelling for me up top but I couldn’t hear them. But they heard me. They were thinking I was dead and I was like 'Dude, I’m okay. We just need to focus on me getting out of here now.'
"My lesson learned is never go up there without the proper equipment. We didn’t have a rope.
"I was able to get up maybe 3 feet on one side, and throw my snowboard up to Robbie. He was able to climb down to a ledge about 10 feet down from the top of the crevasse. So he was about halfway down helping me out from above, telling me which way to go and helping me through the situation. Steve stayed up top, just watching in case anything else happened.
"I got my board up to Robbie and put my crampons back on, and Steve gave me his ice axe, so I had two ice axes. And the first attempt to get out I tried to jump from one side to the other and do like a Cliffhanger move... It could have worked but it didn’t. So I tried the wall behind me, which was a little bit of an overhang, definitely inverted. I tried climbing up about eight feet, and it was super technical, and the snow was pretty soft so it wouldn’t hold my crampons very well. It would just kind of go from underneath me. And the wall just got more and more inverted the further you went up. So I backed up and said there’s no way I’m gonna be able to climb this thing.
"At that point I was just trying to maintain my calm, because I have never been in a situation like that. I was on the verge of freaking out. It wasn’t looking good.
"We all had cell phones, and we all had service, and that was gong to be the next thing to do, to call for help.
"But on the third try Robbie was like, ‘Just stay calm. Come over and try this route over here.’
"If you think of the crevasse as a hallway, one end of it is like a big U. Like one wall made a big U-turn and then there was another wall. Below that wall was another deep, dark hole that I couldn’t really see down. But I was able to use both crampons and both ice axes and climb the horseshoe shape of the wall and get to the other side, where Robbie was able to reach down his hand to me. It was still a steep pitch that I was trying to climb, but I got hold of his hand and then as I got higher up he let go of my hand and was just pushing me up. He was lying down on the ledge, pushing me up the wall, putting as much pressure as he could against my back, because it was not easy climbing. I have a little bit of climbing experience but nothing like that. Without him there holding my back as I made it up, I wouldn’t have been able to make the final move up to the ledge where he was. But he came through, and I was able to scale my way up to him. At that point I knew that we were going to get out of the crevasse. That’s when I took my phone out and started taking pictures.
"And then about five minutes after that I got my hands up out of there, and Robbie and Steve just grabbed me by the hands and hoisted me up to safety. And as soon as I got to the top, we all hugged for like five or ten minutes, in shock of everything that just happened.
"For the next two hours after that all I could do was laugh. It didn’t seem real to me. It wasn’t until later when I broke away from Robbie and Steve when it really hit me, what had happened...
"It has been the biggest life lesson of my entire life. All the little things I thought were problems just disappeared. The fact that I was able to walk, the fact that I was able to go to work the next day, the fact that I am still here, it is just amazing to me. The fact that I made it out of there unscathed is just too amazing.
"I feel like the luckiest person in the world. And this experience has made me feel thankful for every second."