MM Collection
Checking in from the Condor's Nest on Illimani, Bolivia. MM Collection
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September 3, 2015

Diploma in Mountain Medicine

The Diploma in Mountain Medicine program sets the international standard for comprehensive training in mountain medicine for medical professionals. Mountain Madness has been a part of this training for many years, training diploma candidates from the military in mountaineering skills required for their diploma. This year’s candidates, Jason, Mike, Wayne and Alex, were surgeons and nurses from the Navy and Air Force and were spending weeks training in the mountains of the NW to be prepared to be leaders of complex technical rescue and able to provide medical care where resources and environmental conditions are extreme. What a tall order!

Group selfie. This year's Diploma in Mountain Medicine candidates! Tod Bloxham photo

It is an interesting transition going from military training to medical training, to mountaineering training. The equipment and techniques are different, but the focus and determination is not. Once we got through the gear check, ensuring that their equipment was ready for 4 days on rock, snow and glacier in all sorts of weather, it was apparent these guys were ready for anything. We were off for some rock training at Mt. Erie!

Climbing at Mt. Erie includes great views. Tod Bloxham photo

Rock climbing and belay training at Mt. Erie. Tod Bloxham photo

Mt. Erie is spectacular and a great setting for learning rock climbing techniques; it stands nearly 1,300 feet above the surrounding Puget Sound with all sorts of crags with great views and climbing. For us, it was a day at Crack Wall learning essential climbing knots, belaying, climbing technique and rappelling. For sure the highlight for them was learning new climbing techniques on slab and crack so that movement became more natural. Good balance and body position makes for a great climber! For me, the highlight was teaching how to pre-rig a rappel; with pre-rigs you can get everyone on rappel together to ensure safety checks are done and then rappel one by one.  I believe we set a world record with 5 people pre-rigged at once for rappel!


World record pre-rig rappel setup. Tod Bloxham photo

Rappel training at Mt. Erie! Tod Bloxham photo

Day 2 was our transition from rock to the snow, glacier and ice of Mt. Baker.  What an awesome classroom! We started the day making the hike through old growth forest. After leaving the trees we climbed through flower-filled avalanche chutes and up the rocky moraine of the Hogsback to our camp at the base of the Coleman Glacier (6,000 feet).  Mt. Baker (10,781 feet) and glacier crevasses loomed overhead while we setup camp in dark clouds and wind, then we finished our day off with learning ice axe use, glacier travel, navigation, and snow anchors.

Hiking into Mt. Baker through old growth forest. Tod Bloxham photo

Hogsback camp at 6,000 feet. Tod Bloxham photo

Hogsback Camp. Tod Bloxham photo

The next morning the weather continued to be threatening; we ended up waiting out some early morning rain storms while other parties summit bids were thwarted.  Thankfully for us, a pre dawn start was not necessary and we ate omelettes while the skies cleared.  Today would be filled with lots of glacier time including advanced route finding, steep snow travel, traveling in avalanche terrain, and best of all….snow anchors and crevasse rescue!  We built anchors and dropped everyone into the glacier and either pulled them out with the pulley systems we were learning, or dropped them in again and they self rescued themselves with prussik knots.  Hanging from a rope in a crevasse is something else; it is quiet, cold and erie!

Self arresting a crevasse fall doing crevasse rescue training. Tod Bloxham photo

Hanging out in a crevasse doing self rescue training. Tod Bloxham photo

We finished off the day with chicken burritos and prepared everyone for day 4, our summit day.

Summit days on the volcanoes are always a bit early, particularly when the weather is nice.  For us it was no different; 2am wakeup, 3am climbing.  We retraced our steps through the Coleman Glacier Headwall and crevasses and moved across the lower Coleman by headlamp.  By the time the alpenglow hit the glacier we had already picked up 1,500 feet and were putting our advanced route finding to skills work, avoiding increasingly large crevasses and ice falls from above.  

Alpenglow high on Mt. Baker and the Coleman Glacier. Tod Bloxham photo

At 8,500 feet we began a conversation about AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness), including signs/symptoms and a treatment plan. What would you do if a member of your climbing party was nauseous, had a headache, wasn’t hungry?  Can it really happen at 8,500 feet?  Would you continue?  If you did continue, and the symptoms got worse and now included dry heaving, and your summit was only 1,000 feet above you, what would you do? For us, the summit was not our primary objective; the skills needed to apply medical decisions in mountain terrain was the focus.  After assessing our scenario and applying a treatment plan for AMS, we turned around at 9,600 feet.  Turning around for any reason is a hard decision, and our team made the right one. Great job to everyone; I think they are all ready to receive their Diploma in Mountain Medicine!

~ MM Guide Tod Bloxham

High on Mt. Baker with Colfax Peak in the distance. Tod Bloxham photo