Big Four (Dry Creek Route, 9 Jun 85)

On June 9, 1985, 3 of us attempted to climb Big Four Mountain, which is along the Mountain Loop Hwy. From Wayne’s journal: I met Al and Richard at 5:00 am at a park and ride. We started hiking at 7:00 am. We were going to go up the Dry Cr. route. We found the log to cross the stream per the guide book instructions. We went upstream for 150 yards before heading into the timber. We broke into the clearing where Dry Cr. is at 8:30 am.  We had a beautiful day. We noticed a narrow snow gully that appeared to connect to the upper snow field above the lower cliff. We headed up this gully but came to a moat. I put my climbing helmet on to investigate. We decided to head down a couple hundred feet and climb the rock face to the right of the gully. I lead up w/out placing any protection, and then belayed Al and Richard up. We bushwacked our way through the scrub trees, which were thick. We reached the snow field above the lower cliff at noon. We were behind schedule now by almost 2 hours due to the moat. We took a lunch break, and then traversed across the snow field to the beginning of the upper gully. We crossed several avalanche paths during this section. We could see 5 ft thick chunks of ice clinging to the cliffs above us. We entered the upper Dry Cr. gully at approximately 2:00 pm. We agreed that if we were not close to the summit by 3:00 pm we would turn around. I lead up the gully; we were not roped up. An avalanche path was  to the right of us on the snow field. There were some rock bands to the right of the avalanche path. My plan was to cross the avalanche path higher up. We encountered several moats along the way. I reached the 10 ft rock cliff area at the 5100’ elevation bottleneck of the gully at 2:40 pm. I tried to go up the rock cliff, and I took several steps up. It was harder than class 3, however, and I was having to hunt for foot holds. I listened briefly, and I thought I heard an avalanche above, but it turned out to be the wind. I backed down to the platform at the base of the cliff, and I crossed the avalanche path, and stepped up onto a snow field to the right of the path. Meanwhile, Al caught up to me, and took a break along the 10 ‘ rock cliff, where I had just been.  Al was thinking we should turn around. We waited a few minutes, and Richard caught up to us. Since we hadn’t heard anything avalanche today, I was thinking that it was probably o.k. to take a 5 min. break near Al. I walked back to the platform, and I was on the right side of the 10’ cliff area. Richard was between myself and Al. Since Al was leading this climb, he had the route description. Unfortunately, the copy machine where he worked was not operating, so he had to write the description down, and omitted the part about “avalanche hazard in upper gully in early summer”.  Richard got a sit pad out, and a water bottle. Suddenly, we heard a loud noise above, and saw snow & ice coming down the gully above us. Richard and I crouched next to the cliff as far to the right as we could. A large chunk of ice hit me on the head; fortunately I had my helmet on. It was loud as the avalanche went past us. It got quiet, and we looked to our left, and Al was not there anymore. We then heard more ice coming down above us. Ice and snow was falling all around us. I looked to the left and I saw the gully boiling like popcorn. After the 2nd wave passed us, I looked at Richard’s head and it was bleeding, but it didn’t look serious. My pack, ice axe and rope were under me, but all the rest of the gear [packs & ice-axes] were swept away. Our plan was to head down looking for Al and gear.  Richard crossed the avalanche path w/out an ice axe. We started down and spotted a pack in the avalanche path. Suddenly we heard Al shouting at us from 700’ below. He looked very small, he was so far away. Richard was having a hard time seeing. He had contacts, and there was ice in them. He needed his glasses. I gave Richard the rope and my pack. I jumped into the avalanche path, and found both packs along with an ice axe. Al’s camera came out, but I made a detour to get it. I went back to Richard, and he put his glasses on. I had a difficult time descending with 2 packs; one pack had the snow pickets dangling. We descended as fast as possible, and finally reached Al. He was shivering, but in good spirits. His shoulder and leg were sore. I gave Richard my ice axe and I used a snow picket to traverse the snow field. When we got to the steep part, Al said his shoulder was weak and wanted to rope up, so we did. We soon were in the scrub trees bushwacking our way back to the rock slab we climbed up. We set up a rappel anchor. I operated the brake for Al so he could descend [I stayed at the anchor]. We didn’t get to the timber until 8:45 pm. We had to go slow because of Al. We didn’t get to the truck until 11:00 pm. We had lost one ice axe, 1 helmet, 1 pair of sunglasses, and a few other items. But we all made it down o.k. It was a relief to finally get home; I didn’t get to bed until 3:00 am. We told Al to go to the hospital to get checked out. I didn’t go to work the next day. I talked to my Dad (Vermont) on the phone the next evening, and he already heard about it via news on the radio. Apparently when Al went to get checked out, it made the news. I only took 6 photos during this trip [none during the descent]. I think we all felt fortunate that none of us got seriously hurt today. Note 1: Wayne later found on p. 123 of reference 1, that a climber was killed in an avalanche on Big Four on 15 May 1976. The avalanche swept him 1000’ down the mountain. Note 2: Al reported the accident to the Ranger Station along Mountain Loop Hwy, and requested they post a note on their bulletin board [that we lost some equipment along the route].


References:

1. The Snowy Torrents Avalanche Accidents in the United States 1972 - 79, by Knox Williams and Betsy Armstrong


© Wayne's Beach House site 2011