By Anna Gibson
I was fortunate to spend my childhood in northwestern Wyoming, with the Tetons just out my front door. Those mountains are the real-deal—truly an epic playground for a mountain runner and a backcountry skier like me. Yet the Teepee, Schoolroom, and Skillet Glaciers of the Tetons are dwarfs compared to the glaciers in the Pacific Northwest. Big cracks just don’t form or open up there like they do in Washington. After moving to Seattle three years ago, I was confronted by a gaping hole in my mountain know-how: glacier travel and crevasse rescue.
I had never studied nor practiced crevasse rescue, aside from a couple odd nights during the pandemic that I spent rigging various pulley systems in my ex-boyfriend’s living room back home. Although, at that time, neither of us were traveling through glaciated terrain where a crevasse fall was threatening, we had fun spending some of our excess time (which there was a lot of) reading sections of his hand-me-down copy of Freedom of the Hills, roping ourselves together, creating pulley systems, and living out hypothetical rescue scenarios.
A few years later, in a second-hand bookstore in Seattle, I gravitated towards a glacier travel and crevasse rescue manual. I plucked it from the shelves and flipped through it. Immediately entranced by its diagrams and descriptions and a lot of vocabulary I didn’t know, it teleported me back to those self-taught living room clinics. I spontaneously purchased the book.
Another year later, I read it cover to cover as I prepared to take Alpine Ascents’ Crevasse Rescue Seminar at Mount Rainier. Accustomed to traveling through winter terrain on skis, I had never even worn mountaineering boots. And being newer to climbing as well, I was aware I had a lot to learn about managing my other gear too. I studied hard, determined not to look like a total newb at the course. But I was admittedly nervous.
Shortly after I pulled into the parking lot at Whittaker’s Bunkhouse (the meeting point for the course), my nerves began to dissipate. I quickly realized that everyone taking the course brought different experiences to the table. Some had been traveling in glaciated terrain for years, some had not. Some were climbers and knew all the knots already, some were not and did not. The first thing I learned at the course was this: Being a newb was exactly the reason I was there. It was also the reason most of my peers were there.
The rest of the day was filled with listening, absorbing, and practicing. The guides teaching the course, Sean Coit and Matt Hallstead, were patient and encouraging. They packed a mountain of material into a single day: arresting a fall, building snow anchors, setting up pulley systems, rappelling into a crevasse to help a victim, ascending back out using friction hitches, and rescuing with two rope teams, to name a few topics.
The density of material and fast-pace at which it was taught at this clinic inevitably meant that I could not retain every bit of information Sean and Matt shared (though I tried). But if I were to have one major takeaway from my entire outdoor education thus far, it is that oftentimes, the most important thing about a course is not mastering the skills taught, but rather mastering how to practice those skills. Reflecting on the day during my drive back from Mount Rainier to my little house in Seattle, I decided it was a success. I felt prepared and eager to continue to practice. This time, in my new living room, in my new city.
About the Author:
Anna Gibson is a competitive runner and avid skier from Jackson, Wyoming. She recently completed a Masters of Jurisprudence at the University of Washington School of Law. Specializing in environmental policy, she has become an advocate for responsible recreation on public lands. She also enjoys writing and has formal training as a copyeditor. During her time at UW, Anna competed in cross country and track at the NCAA level. Now, in addition to pursuing a professional running career both on the track and in the mountains, she is exploring her passions for winter recreation and avalanche education.