White River: On the glacier, there was bravery and dedication

The tragic incident fresh in mind, Crag Rats are able to give a vivid description of a recovery effort unlike any other. It took a well-practiced brand of teamwork last weekend to find Collin Backowski’s body under tons of snow and ice, and bring him off the mountain.

Mountain rescue volunteers all have many tales to tell. They rarely rush to do so, but when asked they will share what they do. It’s a somber thing, the retelling, especially when other sad incidents are also fresh in mind; the White River glacier incident was the second in several weeks’ time, on or around the mountain, involving a death.

In the White River recovery, rescuers tell of packing in heavy chain saws, a step that turned out to be as necessary as it was unique. The crew had to work quickly: Rising temperatures as well as the vibrations of the saws were causes for concern for everyone’s welfare.

The architecture of the tunnel-like snow formation, known as a “serac,” was also a concern. No one knew for sure if the lower end of the serac was stable, so they had to work carefully and they had to work fast.

As Crag Rat Brian Hukari succinctly put it, “It was such a big chunk that fell.”

Hukari explained that glaciers are “like slow-moving rivers, and as they fill in they crack and break up, and exposed parts jut up” and form caves or spaces.

“It was in our consciousness, that this was a really dangerous spot to be in, and we had to be careful and we got the job done safely,” Crag Rat Richard Hallman said.

There was another reality that the team respected: “We were careful using chain saws, started off taking pretty big pieces and using less of the blade as we went, because we didn’t want to hit him (Backowski),” Hukari explained. “The closest we came was about 2 feet above him, and it was shovel work after that.”

Certainly there will be analysis of what happened to Collin Backowski and his friends on White River glacier, and how they fell into harm’s way. The community mourns the loss of an adventurous young man.

Meanwhile, our thanks go out to the rescuers. They worked as a team to take rigorous precautions to enhance safety, but the fact is that more than a dozen local people willingly went up the side of the mountain, knowing conditions could be hazardous, and placed themselves in harm’s way.

The White River glacier tragedy is a reminder that, as Richard Hallman put it, “The mountain is in charge.”

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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See www.co.hood-river.or.us to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge

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