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Mt. Whitney via the East Buttress 5.7 Route: Our 28-Hour Summit Day

Tuesday, July 31st, 2018

This past June, I summited Mt. Whitney via the East Buttress 5.7 route with my friend Joe Miller (whom you may know as a member of #TeamTender). This ended up being by the far the hardest trip of my life……so far. Read more about this grueling but amazing epic below.

Worked, Sore, & Likely Dehydrated

The old saloon doors swung behind us as we made our way through the crowded bar. We had just limped our way around the dusty streets of Lone Pine California looking for a bite and a beer, and we decided on Jacks Saloon. It was June 8th, and we had spent the last 32 hours working our way up and down California’s Mt. Whitney. We were excited to have just summited the highest peak in the lower 48 states but were absolutely worked, sore, and likely dehydrated from the unplanned 28.5 hours tent-to-tent adventure. It was not long before I started nodding off mid-conversation, and before I knew it was lights out back at the motel. The next day we slept in and started our drive back across the desert to catch a red-eye east. As we drove I could not stop thinking about the exhausting but totally rewarding epic we just had.

2 Days Earlier

On June 6th, we left Whitney Portal around 6am and started our approach up to Upper Boy Scout Lake. The approach starts off really mellow with a series of sandy switchbacks and creek crossings, but after a few miles starts to get steep as you approach the famous Ebersbacher ledges. This is a series of exposed scrambles that can be a bit spicy with heavy packs. In one section you have to cross a no more than six inch wide section with a steep fifty foot drop and lots of open air staring you down. Per usual, Joe effortlessly walked across showing zero sign of fear or even mild discomfort. I, however, can remember wondering what the climb ahead would be like if we were already running into this type of exposure.

After a few miles and some poor talus field navigation, we arrived at the Upper Boy Scout Lake. This beautiful alpine lake area is spectacular, covered with scattered pines and surrounded by the Eastern Sierras. We set up camp next to a stream, well protected by a large boulder wall. Outside of some overly friendly Marmots, we ended up having the entire area to ourselves. We had an early dinner and were sleeping before the sun went down. The next day was summit day.

Our camp at Upper Boy Scout Lake

Our base camp at Upper Boy Scout Lake

Summit Day

We woke up before sunrise, sorted gear, and made an attempt to eat. Not sure if it was the early start or the altitude, but I struggled to stomach a Clif Nut Butter bar. We made our way up a short talus field and then to a series of endless moraines on our way to Iceberg Lake. I will never forget seeing the route for the first time when we rounded the last moraine before the lake. Mt. Whitney and the needles towered over the entire valley.

Our plan was to do the East Buttress of Mt. Whitney, which has been rated anywhere from low fifth class to 5.8.  In the weeks leading up to the trip, I spent countless hours reading the guide book and scanning trip reports on Mountain Project. The consensus was that we would need around a half day to complete the route, and we packed accordingly. As we passed Iceberg Lake, we ran into a guide and his client. We chatted with them about the route and made our way to the base of the wall.

The First Pitch

I agreed to lead the first pitch which is supposed to go at a straightforward 5.5. I took a few seconds to decide on the correct start and opted for a steep, left-facing corner. I traversed left out onto a large flake and started working on placing some gear. However, as I transferred my weight, the entire flake started to pull off the wall. As you can imagine, this was terrifying and made for an exciting first pitch. I gingerly traversed back to the start and opted for going straight up the corner.

About a quarter of the way up the wall it was apparent that I was on the 5.8 alternative start rather than the easy 5.5 corner. The corner had a few amazing lay backs and airy moves, and while I usually have no issues on 5.8, the altitude had me breathing excessively hard. I felt my legs starting to shake towards the top of the pitch. The constant grind of the Ice Axe on my pack on rock did not help with the nerves. Finally, I reached a small ledge and built an anchor to belay Joe up.

Joe scaling a rock wall

My climbing partner Joe, nailing it as usual

Gaining Altitude (and Ice)

Joe easily led the next pitch, and we were starting to feel pretty good about our time and even joked about being back in camp for lunch. That’s about the time that we began to start running into some scattered patches of snow and icy cracks. The third pitch looked easy enough, but the icy cracks made everything harder and made for some serious slow going.

Throughout the next couple pitches, we both found ourselves digging out snow and ice before placing gear.  After some route-finding misfortune and many leads by Joe, we arrived at the Peewee. The Peewee is a massive, ominous-looking block that is easily recognizable from a few pitches away. Once we arrived there, we felt a lot better knowing that we were on route. We took a few minutes to eat, and I broke out my Adventure® Medical Kits Hiker kit to take some pain killers for a mild altitude headache. That is when I realized that I had less than five ounces of water left and only a couple ProBar Chews. We looked at the guide book, picked our route, and Joe set off to lead a problematic-looking hand crack.

When the 4th Class Talus Field Becomes 5th Class Climbing

The guide book said to go left after the Peewee, but we must have went a little farther left then recommended. Instead of reaching the easy 4th class talus field, we ended up turning the planned 8 pitches into sustained fifth class 14 pitches. Throughout the upper pitches, we kept expecting to hit the talus field. I must have asked Joe “How’s it look up there?” or “Is it fourth class?” fifty or so times. But each time we ran into more fifth class climbing. Each time we regrouped at the belay and got back after it.

Mt. Whitney – 14,505′

After 14 hours on the wall, we finally reached the summit around 8:30 pm, just as the sun was setting over the High Sierra. After some high fives and obscenity-laced proclamations, we celebrated, threw off our climbing shoes, and snapped some pictures. I was ecstatic to have just finished my longest and most technical alpine climb.

We were running on empty from the lack of water and food a few pitches back. We were so desperate for water that we filled a hydration bladder with snow and shoved it in our jacket hoping for it to melt as we made our way down. Our celebration and sense of accomplishment was short lived when we started to scout our decent route.

On the summit of Mt. Whitney

Pumped to reach the summit of Mt. Whitney as the sun set!

Rerouting Our Descent

Our plan was to descend the Mountaineer’s Route, which is a steep, class three snow gully that dumps you back at Iceberg Lake. We walked over to the top of the route and quickly gave it a collective “nope.” The snow which had been melting all day in the sun had now frozen and was looking more like a W2 ice climb. It would be extremely dangerous to descend frozen at night, and arresting a fall would be nearly impossible.

We were left with only one option: to descend the standard Mt. Whitney Trail which leads back to Whitney Portal. For us, this meant hiking back down to the trail junction and then hiking back up to clean up camp at Upper Boy Scout. Since we did not plan to use this route, we had little knowledge of it and had written it off as merely a hiking trail. This ended up being more than 14 miles and meant dropping from 14,505 feet to around 9,000 feet at the trail junction, then back up to 11,350 feet at camp, and then back down to the parking lot at 8,375 feet.

Besides running on no sleep, food, or water, things were going pretty well.  Then around 1am we ran into Mt. Whitney’s famous “chute.” This is a large, steep, and exposed 1,200 foot snow gully. During the day, this route could be easily glissaded, but for us it was frozen wall of ice.

Bivvy at 11,200′

After a few hours, we reached the bottom and desperately searched for water and a flat spot to bivvy. We found some glacial runoff, filled our bottles, and made our way down towards a large rock garden. We found a bivvy spot and began setting up. At this point we had been on the go for more than 19 hours, and the temps had dropped into the low thirties. I put on every layer I had, laid down a Survive Outdoors Longer® Emergency Blanket as a tarp, and then got in my S.O.L. Escape OD Green Bivvy (Joe had the Escape Pro Bivvy). We were extremely fortunate to have the bivvies, as they were key in preventing almost certain hypothermia.

After a few hours of nodding in and out of consciousness, we were disturbed by large swaths of hikers making their way to the chute. For the next 6 hours, we made our way back down, up to our camp, and then down again to the car. We answered the question “how was the chute and did you summit” many times as we passed weary eyed hikers making their way up.

32 Hours Later

We arrived back at Whitney Portal looking worse for wear and settled for the comfort of a burger and cold beer at the Whitney Portal Store. My pants were ripped, my hands looked like raw meat, and I was pretty sunburnt, but overjoyed to have completed the climb. Joe was an absolute monster and just put his head down and pushed through the pain and fear.

This trip solidified the adventure partnership that Joe and I have built over many years of exploring. We pushed each other and ultimately worked in sync to keep it together when things got hard. I am sitting here on a dock over a thousand miles away from Mt. Whitney, but I can’t stop thinking of the beautiful Sierra’s. Now it is time to figure out what’s next.

About the Author

Andrew Piotrowski is an all-around adventurer residing in Southeast Pennsylvania. He can commonly be found trad climbing in the Gunks, paddling the Chesapeake Bay, or trail running and backpacking in the Catskills. Andrew grew up running and kayaking but fell in love with the mountains on a few trips to the Adirondacks. Since then he has focused on alpine climbing and mountain running objectives in the Sierra’s, Bugaboos, and White Mountains. Andrew’s favorite training partner is his dog Calvin, who has helped him to log countless training miles. When not outside, Andrew enjoys Canadian Lager and gardening.

Hilaree O’Neill: Remote Expeditioning with Adventure® Medical Kits

Thursday, December 21st, 2017

Skier, climber, mother, and the first woman to climb Everest and Lhotse in a single 24-hour period, Hilaree O’Neill is an adventurer like no other! This spring, Hilaree accomplished her personal goal of climbing and skiing the “Peak of Evil,” a 21,165-foot mountain in the Indian Himalayas. Her team is the first party to ever complete a ski descent of the mountain. We asked Hilaree what the experience was like and how she prepared for the expedition. Here’s what she said: 

“From a Skier’s Perspective, Papsura Was Absolutely Perfect”

For most of my adult life, I have been a professional adventurer. Climbing, skiing, and generally clinging to the side of big mountains has always been my medium of choice. Often to access many of the places my passion leads, myself and my partners must be well versed in self-reliance. Expedition-style travel is especially tricky to plan for due to the length and remoteness of the undertaking.

Just this last May, I returned to a mountain that I had long been obsessed with in a very remote region of the Indian Himalayas. Along with two partners, I set out for a month-long journey to climb and ski Papsura Peak, aka the Peak of Evil. I had first seen the twin peaks of Papsura and Dharamsura back in 1999, on my very first expedition. From a skier’s perspective, Papsura, the taller of the two peaks, was absolutely perfect. This last May was my second attempt on the Peak of Evil and my 5th expedition to this region of India.

Photo Credit: Jim Morrison

It was about a four day walk to get from the nearest village to the mountain’s basecamp at 14,000 ft. From there, it was another 8,000 ft and nearly two weeks of acclimatizing and route-finding to reach the summit.

So How Does One plan for Such a Trip?

One of the first, and most important, things to consider is your medical kit. There must be some balance between being your first and best source of medical treatment should something go wrong and packing a manageable weight and bulk, as well as the effectiveness and accessibility of your supplies.

This is where Adventure® Medical Kits comes into the picture…

Prior to any expedition, I will take several different parts of my medical kits, pull everything out, and compile them into 2 to 3 different systems. In the case of our Papsura Expedition, I doubled down with Adventure® Medical Kits Ultralight/Watertight Pro, as I knew we had porters to assist with our gear all the way to basecamp, and therefore we could have the relative luxury of a very extensive kit. From there, however, we were on our own.

Photo Credit: Chris Figenshau

At that point, we left behind the bigger medical resources at basecamp and brought individual smaller kits like the Ultralight/Watertight .7 that each of us carried all the way to our high camp. The experience I had in the area from my previous trips helped me know how to narrow down not only our supplies, equipment, but even our route to such an extent that we were able to laser focus on the objective at hand: a remote 3000ft, 50 plus degree face of snow and ice at high altitude.

When it came time for our summit push, we planned on paring our kits down even further to just one fist-sized medical kit, the Ultralight/Watertight .5, that would go in one of our packs as group medical supplies.

Of course, at each point along the climb we would further specialize what we carried with us based not only on size and weight, but also on being able to treat the most likely type of injuries, given our activities. For example, the trauma pack and the C-splint would make it all the way to high camp, while the burn pads, allergy meds, and bulk of the blister kit might get left at basecamp. The summit kit would include ibuprofen and other altitude meds augmented from the pharmacy at home, steri-strips, a single Survive Outdoors Longer® Survival Blanket, plus maybe the trauma pack and tape. We would rely on our ice axes or ski poles to fill the need of a C-splint, and extra clothing to act as tourniquets or slings should there be a need.

Of course, it’s impossible to plan for everything so, again, it’s a balance, and the best case scenario is to never have to use any of it. Fortunately, the most use we got out of our medical kits were the ibuprofen, lots of blister stuff mostly for our porters, along with triple antibiotic and the occasional Easy Access Bandage®!

On May 15th, We Went for It.

 

Photo Credit: Jim Morrison

Without a doubt, our trip to the summit proved to be one of the most intense and committing climbs I have ever done. For two weeks, we pushed hard every day until we felt we were ready to tackle the west face in single day push.

We arose in the darkness at 3am. We started the climb two hours later and moved continuously up the face for 9 hours before we finally reached the first reasonable spot to take off our packs and rest – this spot happened to be about 50 feet below the summit. After a long pause where we drank and ate and waited for the monsoonal clouds to lift, we finally tagged the summit and started our ski descent. While conditions were amazing for climbing, they were pretty rugged for skiing, and our descent took another 4 hours. All in all it was about a 20 hour day.

Photo Credit: Jim Morrison

By the time we crawled into our sleeping bags, we were exhausted – tapped both physically and mentally.  It took a few days of recovery for the enormity of our effort to be fully appreciated.  We were the first Americans to summit Papsura Peak and the first party to ever complete a ski descent of the mountain. More importantly though for me, I had stuck with my obsession and seen it through to the end!

 

Photo Credit: Chris Figenshau

About Hilaree O’Neill

The first woman to climb both Everest and Lhotse in a single 24-hour period, Hilaree O’Neill’s mountain adventures led Outside Magazine to name her one of the most adventurous women in the world of sports. For Hilaree, skiing is the gateway to possibility. She started skiing at age 3 at Steven’s Pass in the Cascade Mountains of Washington state. She took a leap of faith shortly after graduating from Colorado College and moved to Chamonix, France, where she was introduced to the world of big mountain skiing and climbing. From there, the place for Hilaree was anywhere she could cut turns on mountain slopes: volcanoes in the Kamchatka Peninsula of Russia, in Mongolia, India, Lebanon, and first descents of the tight couloirs of Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic.

Between expeditions, Hilaree O’Neill spends her time as a mother, adventuring with her two sons. In addition, her writing has been published in National Geographic Adventure, National Geographic’s “The Call of Everest”, the Ski Journal, Outside Journal, and several other publications. Hilaree continues to travel the globe, always looking for new ski objectives and honest suffer-fests.

The Tower of Mordor

Tuesday, July 5th, 2016
Photo: Matthew Parent

All Photos: Matthew Parent

Adventure Medical Kits’ Adventurer Gareth Leah’s Pico Cão Grande Expedition

A dark tower of volcanic rock shrouded in clouds dominates the unearthly landscape. Formed millennia ago when high-pressure magma solidified inside the vent of an active volcano, its presence is foreboding. This is the peak of Cão Grande, a 370m volcanic plug situated deep in the jungle on the island of São Tomé in sub-Saharan Africa.

Prior to the expedition, I’d spent a year planning (mainly dreaming) of the day I would be able to visit this island whose landscapes resembled a scene from a Jurassic Park movie. It was a project I knew was ambitious on so many levels. Everything had to be carefully planned and arranged, as the island offers almost nothing in the way of purchasable goods or medical help. If something was to go wrong, we would be on our own.

Arriving on the island was a cultural eye opener. Stray dogs running wild through the busy streets, a seven-person family riding a single 125cc motorbike, a balancing act fit for a circus performance. Navigating the narrow roads that winded south from the capital we arrived at Agripalm plantation, the furthest point we could reach before being forced to continue on foot through the jungle. A 3km hike through thick jungle and we emerged at the base of the wall, greeted unknowingly by a 100m high roof that jutted out some 30m. There was no information on the peaks rock formation prior to arrival and standing at the base we gained a very real sense of the task at hand.

image003        image002         image004

We climbed in 14-hour shifts every day for 4 weeks and had only 1 attempt on each pitch to make it happen before we had to leave the island. In the end we established a new 15 pitch 455m line up the wall, which goes at F8b (5.13d). We named it Nubivagant (Wandering in the clouds).

When we at last stood atop the peak, we were blown away by the magnitude of the challenge and not just by the climbing! It had been wrought with difficulties, many of which had threatened to end the project from the start. Luggage problems, blown battery chargers, generator issues, snake bites, jungle logistics, currency exchange, sickness and stuck vehicles all looked that they would stop us in achieving our goal. However, with each new obstacle that stood in our path, we would find a solution, though none were what you would describe as “traditional”.

Having now completed the route and with time to reflect upon the island, the peak and the people we have encountered along the way. I am thankful in all that I have gained from the trip which amounts to a lot more than just a new route, but new friends, skills and an understanding of a life where people are masters of their environment.

About Gareth
Gareth Leah is a worldly adventurer, passionate writer, business developer and rock climber. Born and raised in UK, he discovered rock climbing and quickly became obsessed with adventure and the unique problem solving qualities it presented. Leah owns his own guiding company and is currently living in Mexico, where he is working to grow climbing as a community, culture and sport through development of new climbing areas, local communities projects, and industry education and awareness. He supports a number of causes that benefit climbers such as, the Access Fund and Climbers Against Cancer. See more at www.GazLeah.com.

Essential Gear for the Journey:
Bug Spray – Natrapel
This stuff works great. I like the non-Deet option and it smells great.

Ben’s Face Net-Great to have when the bugs were fierce.

Ben’s clothing spray – We sprayed the entire basecamp with it. Tents, clothes, sheets etc and it definitely worked at keeping the bugs at bay.

Adventure Medical Kits Comprehensive- This was amazing to have. There were a handful of cuts, small health issues such as diarrhea, fever, headaches, vomiting, all the good stuff you get from visiting a jungle that no ones really been too. I think the really good thing about this was the book. When people were becoming sick, i used it to help diagnose the problem and decide on a solution.

Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight Watertight .7– It is great to have in the backpack. It has all the essentials needed to deal with common problems. If you can’t fix your problem with this kit, you’re up a creek and need an EMT anyway.

Dental Kit – I never used it in the end, my fillings held out. However, I did use it on one of the locals who developed a MASSIVE abscess in his molar. The information in the pack gave again helped me diagnose and decide the best solution. Using some broad spectrum antibiotics and this kit I was able to clean the wound out, numb the pain and he is now perfectly back to normal. Huge success!

Adventure Medical Kits Ambassador Rebecca Rusch Rides Rome to Trobole, Italy- in an 850km Self Supported Ride

Monday, May 9th, 2016

RRItalyRome

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In late April, Adventure Medical Kits ambassador Rebecca Rusch joined the Italy Divide Ride, an 850k self supported ride from Rome to Torbole. Here is her recount of this unique event.

Beginning at the Eternal City, Rome, riders had the opportunity to pass some of the most famous archaeological sites in the capitol before riding the ancient Via Francigena (connecting France and Rome) toward Tuscany. Siena, the Chianti countryside, and climbing the Apennines to Bologna are some of the course highlights before finishing the race in Torbole at the Lake Garda Bike Festival.

I’d already met some of the other riders at the racer meeting. The meeting was really just riding around the Colosseum and eating pasta! Great way to get relaxed and meet the other riders. There were a wide range of people racing- like my friend Jay Petervary- who went all out and raced, while others took their time and camped along the way.

 

UltraLight mat, Spark Sp III sleeping Bag, Pocket Towel, X Bowl, X Cup, Wilderness Wash, Compression Sacks, Aeros Pillow Premium.

UltraLight mat, Spark Sp III sleeping Bag, Pocket Towel, X Bowl, X Cup, Wilderness Wash, Compression Sacks, Aeros Pillow Premium.

When heading out on a trip like this I like to be light and fast, but that doesn’t mean I have to be unprepared. I choose what I’m going to carry carefully and knowing its there is peace of mind so I can go further or longer when I want to. Thanks to my great sponsors Sea to Summit and Adventure Medical Kits I can be #AdventureEquipped, which means controlling what I can control, so that I don’t worry when things turn unpredictable. Here are just some of my bike packing essentials.

0125-0290 AMK Ultralight Watertight 9 RT copyMy Adventure Medical Kit Ultralight Watertight .9 kit contains: anti histamine tablets for allergic reaction, trauma dressings (including QuikClot for heavy bleeding, gauze roll, non-adherent dressings, tape), blister dressings (I love BlistoBan because it’s so thin and really works!), anti-inflammatory meds, asthma inhaler, and a needle (for blisters). I also carry a mini knife, and CPR shield.

 

Happy Trails,
Rebecca

 

About Rebecca Rusch

When describing Rebecca Rusch’s athletic achievements, it may be easier to talk about what she hasn’t done, but, like Rebecca herself, we’re doing this the hard way.

Her national and world titles in whitewater rafting, adventure racing, orienteering, and cross-country skiing certainly impress, but they only set the stage; it’s the two-wheeled victories that really lengthen her resume. Rusch’s mountain bike accomplishments would strain the pixels on your screen. National wins across multiple off-road formats top the list, as well as record-setting victories at storied ultra endurance races like the Leadville Trail 100, Dirty Kanza 200, and 24 Hour MTB World Championships. Not content to wait for the race to come to her, Rusch also claimed the record on the 142-mile Kokopelli Trail, coming in more than an hour and a half faster than the previous champion. It wasn’t her idea, but it doesn’t take a professor to see why she earned the moniker “The Queen Of Pain.”

While maintaining this laundry list of accolades would be enough for most athletes, Rusch takes no such time to rest on her laurels. Her SRAM Gold Rusch Tour has been traveling to races and events across North America to help get more women in the saddle and riding their bikes through skills clinics, social events, and group rides. She created Rebecca’s Private Idaho, a grueling gravel road event in her hometown of Ketchum that attracts hundreds of riders to her backyard every year, all for charity. Organizations like the International Mountain Bike Association, World Bicycle Relief, PeopleForBikes.org, the National Interscholastic Mountain Bike Association, and the Wood River Bicycle Coalition can count her as an official ambassador and, in some cases, board member. Visit her site at http://www.rebeccarusch.com.