Significant Danger on Mt. Seton - 2010-06-19 - ClubTread Community

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post #1 of (permalink) Old 06-20-2010, 11:55 AM Thread Starter
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Default Significant Danger on Mt. Seton - 2010-06-19


Full photoset:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/realawo...7624191883321/


I'll start with the good (/bad, depending on your perspective) part first and then get to the actual TR.


<center>---Start Scary Stuff---</center>
I'm not the melodramatic type, but this was probably the most scared I've been <s>hiking</s> perhaps ever.

The ice pellets started falling about 3/4 of the way up the steep climb to the col between Mt. Seton and the unnamed (?) peak to the west. The intensity varied, but it was never that bad - I've had much worse snowfalls recently on Currie, Tszil/Taylor, etc. Visibility never dropped, and no whiteout whatsoever.

The bulk of the group had summited about 5 minutes before me and had retreated back ~20m to a section of exposed rock. I made my way past them for the traditional summit pics/vids and to make sure my GPS track made it to the summit. While taking pics/vids, there was the usual noise you'd expect from falling ice pellets - the sound of them on the snow, bouncing off my jacket/hat/etc.

Another noise started though. Kind of hard to describe. Kind of like air/water escaping out the plastic bite valve of my hydropack for those of you who are familiar with that sound. I didn't quite know what it was - even checked my mouthpiece to make sure I wasn't leaking water (nope). Odd, I thought. Took a quick video of it to see if I could capture the sound and figure it out later when I got home.

What do you know, it worked:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/realaworld/4717483490/

The first 1-3 seconds you can hear the ice pellets hitting my jacket/etc.
If you listen carefully at seconds 3-4 another noise starts very faintly in the background.
Seconds 4-10 the mystery noise starts loudly. (Interestingly, I don't remember it kicking in at that point - I thought it was everpresent when I started taking that vid. Perhaps it only reached a threshold amount for my camera starting at second 4 onwards?)


I headed back to the group on the rock and dropped my pack thinking I'd add another layer and get a few more shots. Stephanie, who was behind me, said something like "hey guys, take a look at my hair". She had just taken off her hat, and each and every hair on her head was standing on end.

In a split second a number of thoughts raced through my mind:
-That's static electricity. [email protected]%k.
-The falling ice pellets must be creating one hell of a static field in the atmosphere.
-We are surrounded by metal (ice axes, snowshoes, crampons, poles, various electronics, etc.).
-We are on the summit of the tallest mountain in the Cayoosh Range. [email protected]%k [email protected]%k [email protected]%k.
-The strange noise I was hearing was the sound of the static electicity in the air around me. [email protected]&k [email protected]&k [email protected]&k [email protected]&k [email protected]&k [email protected]&k [email protected]&k [email protected]&k [email protected]&k [email protected]&k.


Jeff saw Stephanie at the same time I did and must have had similar thoughts. We both yelled something to the effect of "get the hell off the summit NOW" and took off in a full sprint for ~20m before throwing ourselves down flat.

(In retrospect that was a stupid move on my part. The running and drop in elevation was right, but I shouldn't have flattened down. The right thing to do after that would have been to minimize my contact with the ground - squat down on the balls of my feet.)

By this point I could feel the sizzle of the electricity on my head and could hear the sound even louder. Michael (somewhere behind me) described seeing what could have only been St. Elmo's Fire in the air above the summit. (I was too busy running to notice.)

I gave serious thought to abandoning all my gear back on the rocks and continuing down. I had noticed though that when I was down, my head wasn't sizzling and I wasn't hearing the noise. When I stood up, I did. Jeff and I (and Steph, who had followed us) half crawled half duck walked back up to the others to grab our stuff. I threw on my back, grabbed my snowshoes with one hand, poles/axe with the other, and ran down as fast as I could in a low crouch.

I could feel the charge still building. Jeff, who was slightly in front of me, threw all his gear to the right, took a few steps to the left, and dove down. I did the same. Simultaneous lightning and thunder flashed over head. (Thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster it was cloud to cloud lightning and wasn't to the ground - I have no idea how well snow would have conducted, but considering how wet we and our gear was, and our still close proximity to the summit, it probably wouldn't have been pretty.)

Looking at my log now, my GPS tells me that I averaged about 10km/h making my way back down to the col. Not bad considering that we were going through knee deep snow and threw ourselves to the ground a few more times.

(Interestingly, when I checked my GPS when we were back down in the valley, I found that it was off. It looks like it shut itself off at or near the top of the col. There is a chance that I might have inadvertently shut it off myself, but that's doubtful - that button is well protected by the antenna, and you have to press it a good half second to power down. By that point I wasn't kocking it around, so I doubt I even hit it. I'm wondering if the static field caused it to short out/shut down.)

Luckily, snow conditions in our col ascent path were decent, so many of us butt slid down as fast as was safe. Three more lightning flashes and HUGE cracks of thunder went overhead. (Thankfully not quite instantenous, but virtually.)

We briefly regrouped at the bottom at the rock where we had stashed some gear, discussed the safest way to make our way through the cirque, and set off, 100' or so distance between everyone. By the time we were half way through, we could see we were in the clear.


We got lucky. Very, very lucky. Very, very, very lucky. I was also very, very stupid:

-Should have realized the potential for static buildup when the ice pellets started falling. (Had been lulled into complacency - how many thunderstorms do we see on the coast, let alone those associated with snow?)
-I also have no excuse for not realizing right away what the sound was. My first (and hopefully last) time hearing it, but I was still an idiot for continuing to stand on the summit taking pics/vids. Another situation, those extra few minutes to get off the mountain could have made a difference.
-As above, should have squatted and minimized contact with the ground, not dove flat (although dropping down and not being the highest point for a hundred or so km in any direction was the right move, for sure.
-I'm wondering if I should have just left all my gear and retreated away from all that metal. Problem was that I wasn't layered for the summit - I still had only a light shell on from the long hot climb. I was cooling down rapidly, and didn't know how long it would be to wait out the storm or how far we could/should have dropped down. The high elevation (2850+m) and resulting thin air was already making me suck air and making my legs feel like concrete blocks - I'm not sure if I would have been able to climb back up a few hundred more meters for my gear afer the all clear (especially since my food and water were in the pack).

Lessons learned. I've always considered myself a safe hiker who didn't take very many risks. I'm going to have to be a lot more careful from now on.

Looking forward to what others in the group thought, and what the armchair quarterbacks on here think.

<center>---End Scary Stuff and Start Actual Trip Report---</center>

At 6 on Friday we all met up at the church on Taylor with a plan to climb Mt. Seton.

From bivouac:
<center>The source of this name is the same as Seton Lake. Both were named after Major Seton of the troop ship "Birkenhead"... The Birkenhead disaster happened on February 25th, 1852. The Birkenhead struck a rock, and there were insufficient lifeboats. Women and children were loaded into the lifeboats, while the crew "stood fast" at their posts. Once the boats were clear of the wreck, Captain Salmond ordered the men who could swim to jump into the sea and swim. However Major Seton recognized that rushing the lifeboats would risk swamping them and drew his sword and ordered the men to stand fast. The soldiers did not move, even as the ship broke up 20 minutes after hitting the rock. The disaster was the origin of the phrase "women and children first", which became the standard procedure in maritime disasters. </center>



Elevation Profile:


Google Earth birdseye of how far away this mountain is:

Yellow = Sea to Sky and Duffy highways
Blue = Downton Creek FSR
Red = Hike


Google Earth 3d:




We stopped for a quick bite to eat in Squamish and regrouped in Pemberton. The twins:


We had driven through a strong squall just past Whistler, which produced a really bright rainbow. Unfortunately, we were in the car and didn't get any pictures. Luckily, there was another one in Pemberton spanning the valley to Currie:


Video Panorama - Rainbow over Pemberton:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/realaworld/4716833219/


After lots of pics of that, we drove off up the Duffy. Ended up in the first rec site after Duffy Lake. I can't remember the name (Cottonwood?) - someone I'm sure can help me.

Everyone set up their tents, and I set up the XTerra. Special thanks to camshaft from my Tszil/Taylor thread and the seat bucket advice. I was indeed able to remove it, giving me an extra 3-4 inches, which just allowed me to stretch out lengthwise (diagonally) in the back.

Alastair had brought rum, and we enjoyed a nice warm evening surprisingly lacking in bugs.



A pleasant evening was had by all, and we were up by 5 and off by 6. Drove further down Duffy to the Downton Creek FSR and turned off (209km from Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal turnoff). This road is in excellent condition - 2wd without too many problems. Our destination was 9.2km up the road - just at a junction and just before a creek. Unfortunately, just as we were rounding the last bend my check tire pressure warning light came on. We parked at our trailhead and I went to check, and found a hissing and rapidly deflating rear right tire. Special thanks to Craig and Jeff for helping me change the rire, and special thanks to Nissan for including a full sized spare on XTerras. Would not have wanted to do the 220km back otherwise.

With that delay out of the way, we geared up and got ourselves to climbers left of the creek in the cut block. Stay on a little ridge just to the left of the creek, and ascent the cut block. This was actually a nice cut block - not very much debris/slash, and easy to climb.

We entered the trees, and encountered some annoying blowdown. Surprisingly, there is actually a trail for this remote and rarely visited valley. It's more like a very well worn game trail, but it's flagged, occasionally blazed, and old blowdown has been chainsawed. Once we found this trail (5 min or so after entering the forest), our progress was much quicker than expected. (More blowdown across the trail in the first half km did slow things down a bit though.)

Follow this trail up the valley, crossing the runout of a few avy chutes, along the creek, through a few boulder fields (not slippery thankfully) until the snow appeared. (Was it around 1800m or so? I wasn't paying attention.)

Without the trailbed to follow and only occasional flagging, we got off trail once or twice, but always found it again by following the terrain however made sense. Spring was coming to the valley:



The creek we were following forked up ahead. We wanted to follow climber's right branch, so we found a good place to hop across and continued along our way. This took us to a steeper section that we had to climb to gain the upper valley/cirque. Bluffs on our right were bypassed on the left by either climbing through the trees (Alastair and Michael) or up a snowslope (the rest of us):



Shortly before that picture was taken, Stephanie, who was a few meters behind me, called out that she saught a glimpse of a large animal running from right to left near the top of the slope above us. She thought it was big enough to have been a bear. We got to the tracks - cougar:


Although moving towards the other two in the trees, they didn't see it.

We had to climb a steep heathery slope with lots of mushy rock (2 steps up, 1 step down kind of thing). Nice views though:


Video 360 Panorama - Into the Alpine:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/realaworld/4716835385/


Looping around that prominance brought us more fantastic views and a good place to stop for a snack:



The valley we had come up:


Video 360 Panorama - On bluff in Cirque:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/realaworld/4716838167/


Here is how the upper valley, that heathery slope and the rest of our route looked:
Google Earth 3d:



After a nice break, we looped around the upper part of the valley (didn't want to lose any elevation). Snow conditions were good, albeit somewhat isothermal in places:



Reaching the base of the steep climb up to the col, we stashed some gear on a rock to lighten our packs and set off/up. The climb wasn't nearly as steep as we had thought it would be. Some people did it in snowshoes and poles the whole way. I was using an iceaxe/pole combo and prefered to bootpack it until I started sinking past my knees.


It had clouded over, which at the time I was thankful for since I didn't want to do such a long exposed climb in the beating sun. The ice pellets started about 3/4 up.

No sense repeating what I said above about this part of the hike. Here's what I took on the summit before stupidly ignoring the sound:


Video 360 Panorama - Mt. Seton Summit:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/realaworld/4716840439/


Anyway, after we made our way through the cirque and back near where we had stopped on the way up for a snack, we found that the slippery heather slope was covered with a layer of snow/slush that made things even more slippery. We took a break there to rest up and fuel up, and a few put on crampons to help with grip down. The rest of the trip back was (thankfully) uneventful. Craig and I headed back to Vancouver while the rest settled in to car camp for the night with sights on some other peak up the valley on Sunday.

I have a feeling that this will be an entertaining thread.

-Ryan
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post #2 of (permalink) Old 06-20-2010, 12:16 PM
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Wow Ryan,that's some f#*king scary stuff! That sound in the video is downright eerie!! [:0] Glad everyone was ok!! Beautiful pictures again!!
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post #3 of (permalink) Old 06-20-2010, 12:25 PM
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What an electrifying TR! [:0]
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post #4 of (permalink) Old 06-20-2010, 12:36 PM
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Ryan. Glad you're ok. We were at Della Creek below Mt Askom and saw the storm coming in and stayed low. I;m sure you know this now but you can see storms coming in to this area from a long ways away.
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post #5 of (permalink) Old 06-20-2010, 12:37 PM
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Wow Ryan, this is not only a great report, but also an educational one. It made my hair stand up on the back of my neck. These static threats are there and are real, and getting the news out there is a good thing. Thanks for sharing, cool sound on your video you captured, definately would have freaked me out.



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post #6 of (permalink) Old 06-20-2010, 12:42 PM
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"Concerning electrical storms, don't panic unless you can light a cigarette off the head of your ice axe" - old Rockies guides wisdom.

That said I know a couple guys who survived lightning strikes in the Rockies and Bugaboos and it is not a recommended experience for anyone.
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post #7 of (permalink) Old 06-20-2010, 12:44 PM Thread Starter
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Quote:
quote:Originally posted by LeeL

Ryan. Glad you're ok. We were at Della Creek below Mt Askom and saw the storm coming in and stayed low. I;m sure you know this now but you can see storms coming in to this area from a long ways away.
Part of the problem was that we couldn't really, at least at first. In the valley/cirque, we were surrounded (at least to the side where the storm came from) with peaks 800m higher that were rising sharply before us. Blocked large parts of the sky and distance.

True though, I did see what the storms were doing by the time I got to the top of the col (and should never have gone further), but they didn't look like thunderstorms, and the first lightning/thunder was when we were, er, bolting from the summit. Lesson learned.

-Ryan

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post #8 of (permalink) Old 06-20-2010, 12:46 PM
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I think there should be a thread on "What to do in case of electrical storm" in similar cases like this, because so many are unaware of this type of danger.



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post #9 of (permalink) Old 06-20-2010, 01:10 PM
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Quote:
quote:Looking forward to what others in the group thought, and what the armchair quarterbacks on here think
Here's the thing... Seems alot of the quarterbacking and esuing shit storms stem from the person posting the TR having their head up their ass and not accepting that there were things that they could have changed / done better, or that they made errors. Basically once you regognized what was going on you made an effort to GTFO. I have nothing but respect for people that are actually willing to self evaluate and take responsibilty for the situation.

Made for a good read.
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post #10 of (permalink) Old 06-20-2010, 01:11 PM
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Glad you're all OK.
Thunderstorms were in the forecasts both for Pemberton and for Lillooet.
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post #11 of (permalink) Old 06-20-2010, 02:04 PM
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What about getting away from the metal gear? Interesting question, if you really think about it. I suppose it boils down to what can happen if you're without the stuff. If you think you can move safely down sans crampons, axe, etc, then perhaps you might be safer leaving it for recovery once the storm is gone. But, what about the danger of not having your gear?

Situational call.
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post #12 of (permalink) Old 06-20-2010, 02:39 PM
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Whoa! Good report, honest report, and glad you all got the heck out of there in a timely manner. Been in that situation before, but never here on the coast, and when you hear that ice axe hum and hair stands up it's [email protected]#$%^& scary thing!!!
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post #13 of (permalink) Old 06-20-2010, 05:50 PM
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Quote:
quote:I'm not the melodramatic type,
You are, and more so now. -Armchair Quarterback I.

Quote:
quote:Here's the thing... Seems alot of the quarterbacking and esuing shit storms stem from the person posting the TR having their head up their ass and not accepting that there were things that they could have changed / done better, or that they made errors.
Classic CT "get out of jail free card". As long as you admit your wrongs, all is good in CT World. -Armchair Quarterback II.

Quote:
quote:Lessons learned. I've always considered myself a safe hiker who didn't take very many risks. I'm going to have to be a lot more careful from now on.
Maybe you can shoot your bearbanger at the next storm cloud. Armchair Quarterback III.

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post #14 of (permalink) Old 06-20-2010, 05:57 PM
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Hacking at the cloud with your BFK while you wrestled a grizzly would also be acceptable, Ryan
-Aces Not So High []
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post #15 of (permalink) Old 06-20-2010, 06:14 PM
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Quote:
quote:Originally posted by mick range

Hacking at the cloud with your BFK while you wrestled a grizzly would also be acceptable, Ryan
-Aces Not So High []
That is the only hike you may not want to carry a bfk



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