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January 19, 2011

Kept My Toes

Dear Lowa Boots,

I am writing to thank you for making the ice climbing boots that let me keep my toes. I was wearing my Lowa mountaineering boots when I survived a brutal experience under extreme conditions:

My partner, Mike, and I tackled the Liberty Ridge on Mount Rainier. The weather was unusually warm, so we encountered some tough conditions: soft snow, rock fall, and dense ice on the upper part of the Ridge. After three open bivouacs, we summitted on June 21, 1992.

As we descended the Emmons Glacier Route, we were in a relatively "safe" locale called The Corridor. Roped together, and probing for crevasses as we went, we were just an hour from being off the glacier... Suddenly, I sunk in the wet snow up to my ankle, then my shin, then my knee...crevasse! A hidden snowbridge three feet thick collapsed beneath my feet. I warned Mike with, "FALLING!"

Gravity pulled me through the rotten snowbridge and blackness swallowed me. I was inside the slot. As a friend and as a partner, Mike was totally solid. Though he dug in hard in self-arrest, the sloppy snow would not hold, so he too got pulled into the crevasse. We were both in mid-air, and going all the way to the bottom. Bouncing madly from one icy wall to the other, I got beat up all the way down. Desperately trying to grab a ledge, I heard my gloves whiz across the rock hard ice in the darkness. The sound was high pitched, and the speed amazing. We were going in deep.

WHAM! I felt a crushing impact on my back and heard air rush from my lungs as I landed hard on a snow pile. I had survived the fall! But a second later, the collapsing snowbridge completely buried Mike and me. After several attempts, I managed to free an arm from the debris pile and clear off my face. Scared out of my mind, I fought to dig myself out while yelling for Mike into the darkness.


I am deeply saddened to tell you that before I could dig myself out or find Mike, he passed away beneath the snow. I found him later, and tried CPR, but it was too late. In shock, I realized that I was alone 80 feet down inside the crevasse. The ledge we were on was about eighteen inches wide. Walls of ice pressed against us, the cold seeping in.

The crevasse walls back to the surface were bullet-hard ice. They were vertical, then overhanging. I struggled to find the technique and the heart to climb out alone. But I did start moving up. I soloed, aid-climbed, and leap frogged my four ice screws up the wall. Up and down the wall I struggled, pulling the lower ice screws to reuse them higher. As I did, record high temperatures back on the surface melted the snowbridge dangling far above my head. Cold melt water rained down inside the crevasse during the six hours it took me to climb up the overhanging ice wall. I was thoroughly soaked.

Sixty feet up the wall, just below an ice roof, I hung from a screw to rest. Exhausted, I stared at my feet. As I shifted about on my front points, my moving feet forced cold melt water back out the tops of my boots. I was down there in the black icebox for a long time. Sad thoughts of my friend crushed my spirit and severe doubts about my own survival sapped my courage. I was hypothermic and seriously injured, but I made it out. I was driven by my obligation to my partner, and to those back home who cared about us both.

A day later, with the generous help of other climbers and rangers, I finally made it to medical help. The treating ER doctor scowled as he poked my white, wrinkled feet with a wooden tongue depressor. "Looks like you got some bad feet here. Frostbite?" I took a look and muttered, "I don't think so - maybe trench foot."

"Probably frostbite, especially in light of what you went through down there. Let's let them air dry for a while and take another look."

Thirty minutes later, he returned to poke at my feet once again while scowling even more. Nervously, I awaited his assessment. He straightened up, lifted his furrowed brow and said, "You're right. No frostbite."

I cracked a weak smile, held up my green Denalis and said, "Bought the best boots I could." He arched his eyebrows and said, "Good choice."

After a long recovery, I am back to ice climbing. I continue to wear Lowas.

Thanks so much for making the boots that let me keep my toes.

Jim Davidson
Fort Collins, Colorado
Speaking of Adventure

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