Avalanche SURVIVAL Story

christopher

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Nov 1, 2008
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Rigby, Idaho
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Blaine Penner

YemgnsutststherSpondfrhmsaaoey at 1rc0:reelet3fsg2 AdM ·
Long story short, this pic was taken from where I finally stopped after a cornice gave out under me. The short short. I almost died. I didn’t. The end. The rest is the full story.
I’ll start by saying, I thought I was in a different ridge altogether. This is my story of surviving what should have been certain death.

“Hey Nate, this is where we usually drop our sleds....”

The crack was seen out of the corner of my eyes from both sides. I can’t recall what Nate said as I went straight into focus for what I had no idea was about to possibly be the last ride of my life. (This indeed was not the spot I was trying to explain to Nate) I heard his yell, the cornice dropped, and before I hit the ground with the cornice, my BCA avalanche airbag was already deployed. As soon as I felt, what I thought was stable ground let go beneath me....the instance of that shift, my hand was on my airbag trigger.

There was no life flashing before my eyes. There was survival. Keep my head uphill.
As the avalanche starts swallowing me, I can still see some light, my airbag is doing it’s job. I’m flipping, I’m tumbling...my head goes facing downhill “this is how Dan died, get my head back uphill” I have time to think. I feel nothing under me. Can’t see anything. I’m flying through the air.

My second cliff I go over. Time in the air to think”I hope I don’t land on a rock, on a tree, I hope this fall doesn’t kill me” and I land, moving at an excelled speed, the avalanche cushions my second free fall. Still fighting to keep on top. Keep my head uphill. Trying to see what my fate entails. No dice. Still rag dolling. Using my limbs to spin me around, “keep your head uphill”. I see little trees. I scramble knowing there no chance I can stop myself at that speed, but I gotta try. There goes my glove, holy f#@$ I’m in the air again.

My 3rd cliff. Third times a charm. I’m dead. I’m going to die now. It’s ok. I land softly in the avalanche as if it just carried me gently off these cliffs in a protection. I can see! I’m on top! I’m not f$#@ing buried...I’m still sliding..fast...I dig my heals in as hard as I can...I’m slowing down. I watch the top of the avalanche go off the next set of cliffs. I’m stopped now. “I’m dead” I think to myself.

“BLAIIINNNEEE....BLAAAIIIINNNEEE....BLAAAIIIINNNEEE” starts coming over my radio. Nope not dead. (I quickly assess myself. Nothing even hurts. I stand up. Feels like I got a Charlie horse. I fell of a mountain, went over 3 cliffs, and got a Charlie horse. What in the actual f#@!??) I don’t think. Mics plugged. Get my pack off as fast as I can to let Nate know I’m alive. I think. “Hey Nate?” I call over the radio. I can’t recall his response. “I’m alive dude! Nothing is broken. I’m fine. I’m perfectly f#@!ing fine.”

“I don’t know what to do. How are you going to get out of there?” Nate replies.

“I’m gonna start hiking. See ya in a couple hours”

In all the radio commotion between us a friendly voice comes over the radio. “Hey, I can hear you guys and can make some calls if you need.” Jesse Lerche is his name. Got my phone out and gave him Brent’s # and my sisters to notify we will be a bit late getting out but everything’s ok. No need to panic anyone. Didn’t see any sense in SAR at this point being I was uninjured, miraculously. Until I started my ascent. My options....plan for a sleepover and be cold all night, or stay warm and hike my ass out. Regardless of the multitude of risks involved in hiking out, I start climbing. And was happy to hear that SAR was notified once I was about 1/2 way up. Because now I really see the dangers I’m committing to. Trying not to think of the 80’ cornice I’m hiking straight into, I keep going. I go into a meditation. My mantra “punch right, punch left, right foot, left foot” roughly 3 hours of this. Once I’m into the cliffs, it’s so steep that standing straight up I can put my arm straight out at 90° and be touching the surface. (I kept my helmet on.

I kept my radio on. I kept my backpack strapped on properly AND inflated for the duration in case of a secondary avalanche, not that there’d be any hope for me if that were to happen) I come to some spots that are iced out. I momentarily lose hope, then accept my challenge and scale through it. 1 slip, I’m going back down without the cushion of an avalanche to catch me. Every single movement from my body is consciously and strategically made. I get to the last 250’ or so. I’m at the base of the 80’ (maybe more) cornice now. I see my exit. Great. The snow hadn’t slid in this section.

I get my shovel out and scale across the icy rock to get onto the fresh snow. It’s waist deep at least. Now my nose is touching the snow as I stand there. I start digging my stairway to heaven. In a zig zag pattern hoping for my life that this slab doesn’t let go when I’m so close to the top. I hear Nate’s sled pull up. I hear Brent’s sled pull up. It’s just dark. I can see humans!! Don’t let go now slab. I’m 25’ from the top. They get a rope ready. I’m still digging and climbing. They are ready with the rope.!I stick my shovel in the air, they see where I’m at and toss it over with a flashlight tied on. I grab the f#@!ing thing so goddam fast. Even if you let go now slab, I’m not going with you. A few heaves and few more shovel fulls of snow, my torso is over the top. Curtis is here too. He yells, “you got this Blaine, let’s go let’s go”. The final heaves and crawls and I’m out and away from the edge. Safety. At last. I hug my friends. I tell them I love them. Drink some water, put some dry gloves on and ride down.

Climbing out may have been the dumbest thing ever, but SAR got a call once we were riding down the mountain on our sleds that an 80 year old man that was out trapping hadn’t returned. They were able to turn their full attention towards that search. (Same staging area) I was off the mountain by 8 or 8:30. I have no details on the trapper but he was found alive and cold and heard he wasn’t off the mountain until around midnight. So dumb or not, it was worth it to “self extract”.

I am alive....
I think. I had an avalanche pack on WITH THE HANDLE OUT! I had a charged radio. We all forget to pull that handle out at times. I’ve forgot multiple times. I didn’t that day, and it saved my life, I think. I’d be dead otherwise, if I’m not and this is all an illusion because my spirit won’t let go. My quick reaction time to deploy. And in this circumstance, the avalanche if not only saved my life, but prevented me from any sort of injury aside from the Charlie horse. Unless I am actually dead. Or maybe this is all a DMT trip from the dream I had a few weeks back and I just haven’t woke yet? Who knows. But these words got here somehow. I don’t like writing so I’m sorry if it’s scrambled. Feel free to share this story for awareness. If it’s even a reminder for 1 person to pull out their handle and they need it, it’s worth the share. I’m statitistically stupid, but not statistically dead.
 
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