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20150627 170946

Diploma in Mountain Medicine

The Diplo­ma in Moun­tain Med­i­cine pro­gram sets the inter­na­tion­al stan­dard for com­pre­hen­sive train­ing in moun­tain med­i­cine for med­ical pro­fes­sion­als. Moun­tain Mad­ness has been a part of this train­ing for many years, train­ing diplo­ma can­di­dates from the mil­i­tary in moun­taineer­ing skills required for their diplo­ma. This year’s can­di­dates, Jason, Mike, Wayne and Alex, were sur­geons and nurs­es from the Navy and Air Force and were spend­ing weeks train­ing in the moun­tains of the NW to be pre­pared to be lead­ers of com­plex tech­ni­cal res­cue and able to pro­vide med­ical care where resources and envi­ron­men­tal con­di­tions are extreme. What a tall order!

Group self­ie. This year’s Diplo­ma in Moun­tain Med­i­cine can­di­dates! Tod Blox­ham photo

It is an inter­est­ing tran­si­tion going from mil­i­tary train­ing to med­ical train­ing, to moun­taineer­ing train­ing. The equip­ment and tech­niques are dif­fer­ent, but the focus and deter­mi­na­tion is not. Once we got through the gear check, ensur­ing that their equip­ment was ready for 4 days on rock, snow and glac­i­er in all sorts of weath­er, it was appar­ent these guys were ready for any­thing. We were off for some rock train­ing at Mt. Erie!

Climb­ing at Mt. Erie includes great views. Tod Blox­ham photo

Rock climb­ing and belay train­ing at Mt. Erie. Tod Blox­ham photo

Mt. Erie is spec­tac­u­lar and a great set­ting for learn­ing rock climb­ing tech­niques; it stands near­ly 1,300 feet above the sur­round­ing Puget Sound with all sorts of crags with great views and climb­ing. For us, it was a day at Crack Wall learn­ing essen­tial climb­ing knots, belay­ing, climb­ing tech­nique and rap­pelling. For sure the high­light for them was learn­ing new climb­ing tech­niques on slab and crack so that move­ment became more nat­ur­al. Good bal­ance and body posi­tion makes for a great climber! For me, the high­light was teach­ing how to pre-rig a rap­pel; with pre-rigs you can get every­one on rap­pel togeth­er to ensure safe­ty checks are done and then rap­pel one by one. I believe we set a world record with 5 peo­ple pre-rigged at once for rappel!

World record pre-rig rap­pel set­up. Tod Blox­ham photo

Rap­pel train­ing at Mt. Erie! Tod Blox­ham photo

Day 2 was our tran­si­tion from rock to the snow, glac­i­er and ice of Mt. Bak­er. What an awe­some class­room! We start­ed the day mak­ing the hike through old growth for­est. After leav­ing the trees we climbed through flower-filled avalanche chutes and up the rocky moraine of the Hogs­back to our camp at the base of the Cole­man Glac­i­er (6,000 feet). Mt. Bak­er (10,781 feet) and glac­i­er crevass­es loomed over­head while we set­up camp in dark clouds and wind, then we fin­ished our day off with learn­ing ice axe use, glac­i­er trav­el, nav­i­ga­tion, and snow anchors.

Hik­ing into Mt. Bak­er through old growth for­est. Tod Blox­ham photo

Hogs­back camp at 6,000 feet. Tod Blox­ham photo

Hogs­back Camp. Tod Blox­ham photo

The next morn­ing the weath­er con­tin­ued to be threat­en­ing; we end­ed up wait­ing out some ear­ly morn­ing rain storms while oth­er par­ties sum­mit bids were thwart­ed. Thank­ful­ly for us, a pre dawn start was not nec­es­sary and we ate omelettes while the skies cleared. Today would be filled with lots of glac­i­er time includ­ing advanced route find­ing, steep snow trav­el, trav­el­ing in avalanche ter­rain, and best of all….snow anchors and crevasse res­cue! We built anchors and dropped every­one into the glac­i­er and either pulled them out with the pul­ley sys­tems we were learn­ing, or dropped them in again and they self res­cued them­selves with prus­sik knots. Hang­ing from a rope in a crevasse is some­thing else; it is qui­et, cold and erie!

Self arrest­ing a crevasse fall doing crevasse res­cue train­ing. Tod Blox­ham photo

Hang­ing out in a crevasse doing self res­cue train­ing. Tod Blox­ham photo

We fin­ished off the day with chick­en bur­ri­tos and pre­pared every­one for day 4, our sum­mit day.

Sum­mit days on the vol­ca­noes are always a bit ear­ly, par­tic­u­lar­ly when the weath­er is nice. For us it was no dif­fer­ent; 2am wake­up, 3am climb­ing. We retraced our steps through the Cole­man Glac­i­er Head­wall and crevass­es and moved across the low­er Cole­man by head­lamp. By the time the alpen­glow hit the glac­i­er we had already picked up 1,500 feet and were putting our advanced route find­ing to skills work, avoid­ing increas­ing­ly large crevass­es and ice falls from above. 

Alpen­glow high on Mt. Bak­er and the Cole­man Glac­i­er. Tod Blox­ham photo

At 8,500 feet we began a con­ver­sa­tion about AMS (Acute Moun­tain Sick­ness), includ­ing signs/​symptoms and a treat­ment plan. What would you do if a mem­ber of your climb­ing par­ty was nau­seous, had a headache, wasn’t hun­gry? Can it real­ly hap­pen at 8,500 feet? Would you con­tin­ue? If you did con­tin­ue, and the symp­toms got worse and now includ­ed dry heav­ing, and your sum­mit was only 1,000 feet above you, what would you do? For us, the sum­mit was not our pri­ma­ry objec­tive; the skills need­ed to apply med­ical deci­sions in moun­tain ter­rain was the focus. After assess­ing our sce­nario and apply­ing a treat­ment plan for AMS, we turned around at 9,600 feet. Turn­ing around for any rea­son is a hard deci­sion, and our team made the right one. Great job to every­one; I think they are all ready to receive their Diplo­ma in Moun­tain Medicine!

~ MM Guide Tod Bloxham

High on Mt. Bak­er with Col­fax Peak in the dis­tance. Tod Blox­ham photo