Spend the Night Party

As told by Brian Roddy, owner, Astral Cycling.

One of my favorite photos is of my friend John and I climbing in the Enchantment range of Washington’s North Cascades. Our climbing together wasn’t a unique experience – we did it a lot – but that photo tells a specific story. We’d just finished climbing the Serpentine Arete route on Dragon Tail Peak and we were taking photos on the summit. We’d gotten a late start and had a long hike in and out from the car. Sun is setting and the sky is beautiful, drenched in oranges, reds and indigo. They were the kind of colors, as John would later say, that you should be seeing from camp or the car – not the summit. The time we spent taking that photo was time we clearly should have spent scouting the descent.  With limited beta on what should have been a relative walk-off, we chose the best path down we could and ended up making multiple rappels into the darkness. Descending in the dark wasn’t planned, but between the two of us, we had plenty of experience, so we didn’t feel a sense of danger. We were still optimistic even when our rope snagged on a rock above us when pulling a rappel. I lost the game of rock, paper, scissors so I had to  climb back up, unprotected and retrieve it. I got as far as I could in the dark and cut the rope so we could use what was left. At that moment it was clear - we were not making it back to the car that night. It would be, what John euphemistically referred to as a “spend the night party”.

Astral co-owner, Steve Cash and I met 20 years ago as volunteers with Eugene Mountain Rescue. In our combined 40+ years of climbing and rescue experience, we spent numerous unplanned, and sometimes uncomfortable, nights out (many with John). “Having an adventure” we'd say.  We have seen how a positive mindset and preparedness create the best outcomes for people who get lost or hurt and end up benighted.

When John and I lost half of our rope, we knew that we would have to improvise. We had the knowledge, experience, and most importantly, the supplies we needed to survive the night. Rather than making impulsive fear-based decisions in an attempt to get down, we hunkered in. We were cold, but safe, and in the morning’s light we made our way home.

Riding in Oregon puts you in places just about as remote as the North Cascades mountains. And for that reason, we ride with much of the same emergency gear. We’re prepared for what my wife - another mountain rescue alum - calls a “one-night stand” with mother nature.

We’ve spent much of our lives either seeking out adventures ourselves, or helping people survive from their own. In that time, we’ve learned a lot about what it takes. It takes preparation and then the ability to stay calm and work the problem. Don’t make it worse by panicking.

We’re releasing the new O.N.S. system in hopes that more people will ride with at least some of what they need to get back home – enough that you can feel calm and make good decisions. The limited stream-lined contents of the O.N.S. are based on the following principles:

  1. Know what you have. What are you carrying? The seatpost has a space blanket, mini-flashlight, waterproof matches, fire starter material, whistle and water purification tablets.
  2. Know what you don’t have and what risks you are taking. If you are not taking your jacket, that may be a reasonable decision but recognize what you are risking and ask yourself “Is this risk worth it?” Conversely, the contents of the O.N.S. have some very useful items – but if that’s all you’ve got to make it through a sub-freezing night, well, its gonna be….uncomfortable.
  3. Know how to use it. You know what you have, but can you use it? Learn how to use a compass and how to use it to orient yourself on a map. Batteries die and if you are out 2 days, your phone and GPS might not be working. Having a compass and a map is a light backup plan. But it’s only fire-starter if you lack knowledge. The items inside the post are those that most anyone should be able to use and benefit from without specific training (but you should get that too).

Packing is a balance. You want enough but not too much and you tailor what you pack to the situation. The O.N.S system is designed to cover some of those bases and, since it rides inside your bike, you can set it and forget it. We hope you’ll take things a step further, and plan for navigation (map, compass, GPS, PLB), first aid, food, clothes and leave a clear itinerary and check in/check out with a friend. Should things go south and a rescue takes place, all these things greatly increase your chances of a good outcome.

After all, it could be Steve and I that have to come find you when it’s your turn for a spend the night party.