Jump to content
  • Announcements

    • olyclimber

      WELCOME TO THE CASCADECLIMBERS.COM FORUMS   12/08/21

      Thanks for visiting Cascadeclimbers.com.   Yep, we are still going!    Just put a new coat of paint on the site. Still the same old community of climbers, skiers, and people who love to get outdoors. Hope you had a great 2021, and wish you the best for 2022 and beyond.  Thanks again for stopping by.
Sign in to follow this  
jhamaker

Avalanche: Harsh lessons

Recommended Posts

For clarification:

 

Mtn. Madness & Pro Guiding were teaching/leading a Mounties Ski Leadership group & did not lead the snowshoer into the backcountry. They were leading a group of well equipped skiers and set the track. Just because you see someone do something does not mean you follow. Hikers walk around climbing sites all the time. If they decide to solo something that looks easy and fall and die should the last climber there get sued. Trails are everywhere. COME ON! That is ridiculous!

It was horrible what happened but doing things in the outdoors has risks and consequences. There is a certain amount of responsibility on your part if you are going out there. Also...people with formal training and a ton of experience can generally take on bigger objectives and manage the amount of risks a LITTLE better than under-equipped novice's...duh! That's why guiding is a profession... Someone who has taken the time to take that many courses and spend that much time out there has the equivalent training as a doctor or lawyer in their profession. I know I cannot perform heart surgery...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Sorry, did not mean to muddy the issue with the lawsuit question. That would only be a valid question if the deceased were a client of the guide service.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
cracked said:

Thanks for the link. Unfortunately, it doesn't list references.

cracked-

The 20% figure is widely referenced. Believing it or not is your choice - as is finding out the information for yourself. I think anyone who's willing to chance surviving an avalanche because of equipment is a fool.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

FREE!!!!!! Transceiver Clinic. Next Saturday, December 20th. Meet at the Fifth Season at 9am. Dress warm as the clinic will be up at Bunny Flat. Bring your shovel, probe and transceiver, or use one of our demo’s. See you there! For those who came to our last clinic, we will work on deeper burials and/or multiple burials at the next clinic.

 

Here is a solution for newbie's not knowing how to use transcievers. mt. Shasta bigdrink.gif

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Even then I believe the client has a certain responsibility. Obviously sheer negligence is one thing but the client is signing up for something with inherent risks and has stated that they understand that. If something happens- well then they signed up for something risky and there always a chance of something happening. A guide does not mean you can shut off your brain or not come prepared to learn/use your judgement. They can help bring up your chances for success/teach/manage the risk but cannot 100% guarantee it. Obviously, a beginners course is a little less at risk than an Everest climb due to the desired experience of the clientele.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
KCClimber said:

Also...people with formal training and a ton of experience can generally take on bigger objectives and manage the amount of risks a LITTLE better than under-equipped novice's

KC,

 

I agree with this. And another distinction of a guided party is that in my experience, guided parties are equipped and prepared for self-rescue. So if the guided party chooses to take a calculated risk, they (ideally and hopefully) do so with the understanding that they will rescue themselves if things go wrong, in most situations. This distinction is important because with self rescue, they are (ideally) not endangering the rescue personnel of the local authorities. At least, this was a clearly understood principle when I have been on guided outings with reputable local guide services.

 

In contrast, an ill-equipped and unskilled party traveling in the same terrain, but implicitly assuming that the ski patrol will rescue them should anything go wrong, is (IMO) behaving irresponsibly.

 

I should be clear that I'm not blaming the victims for this tragedy, since I don't know all the facts. In the above, I'm just talking about hypothetical scenarios.

 

I have no issue with folks wanting to take significant calculated risks in the mountains, provided they are equipped and skilled enough to deal with any likely outcome, themselves. [Obviously, there are sometimes unlikely "freak" events that no party can anticipate or be prepared for (e.g., the massive icefall avalanche in 1981 on Mt. Rainier)]

 

Again, just my $0.02.

 

In any event, it was a sad weekend.

 

Cheers,

Steve

Edited by Stephen_Ramsey

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

A word of caution about snow pits and snow pillows. A story.

 

A few yrs ago, before opening day, a friend and I were skiing at Crystal. We spent hours breaking trail (which the ski patrol joyfully used after us) from the pass on Lucky Shot up to High Cambell. Avy danger was Considerable or High so we skied down the ridge (E) and into the trees. As I did so, I triggered an avalanche over Lucky shot. Although the face is perhaps 150yard long, the slide had a crown of 2+ ft and 80 ft wide. The slide ran down into the Bear Trap and out the other side onto Lucky Shot. The ski patrol then bombed the hell out of that slope *but nothing else slid* !

 

Conclusion: Snow pits are reliable only for that (two yard) area where you dig the pit. Snow pillows and other hazards can exist just steps away from your pit.

 

p.s. Last Fri I was cautioned by PB, Ski Patrol for Crystal to especialy beware of N facing slopes. For this reason I picked a south aspect in Boulion Basin. The micro climbate and wind eddies here, however, actualy loaded the S aspect above the basin's meadow. Most turns resulted in a 6" deep sluff propogating for 10 ft sq but not going anywhere. The E aspect, however, near the pass only had 3" of deposition over a hard crust.

 

Conclusion: Constant vilagance and re-assesment is critical. You often can't tell much untill you ski it.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Stephen_Ramsey said:

KCClimber said:

Also...people with formal training and a ton of experience can generally take on bigger objectives and manage the amount of risks a LITTLE better than under-equipped novice's

KC,

 

I agree with this. And another distinction of a guided party is that in my experience, guided parties are equipped and prepared for self-rescue. So if the guided party chooses to take a calculated risk, they (ideally and hopefully) do so with the understanding that they will rescue themselves if things go wrong, in most situations. This distinction is important because with self rescue, they are (ideally) not endangering the rescue personnel of the local authorities. At least, this was a clearly understood principle when I have been on guided outings with reputable local guide services.

 

In contrast, an ill-equipped and unskilled party traveling in the same terrain, but implicitly assuming that the ski patrol will rescue them should anything go wrong, is (IMO) behaving irresponsibly.

 

I should be clear that I'm not blaming the victims for this tragedy, since I don't know all the facts. In the above, I'm just talking about hypothetical scenarios.

 

I have no issue with folks wanting to take significant calculated risks in the mountains, provided they are equipped and skilled enough to deal with any likely outcome, themselves. [Obviously, there are sometimes unlikely "freak" events that no party can anticipate or be prepared for (e.g., the massive icefall avalanche in 1981 on Mt. Rainier)]

 

Again, just my $0.02.

 

In any event, it was a sad weekend.

 

Cheers,

Steve

 

Thanks for better translating some of what I was saying Steve! It was a tragic weekend...

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

About beacons:

When I first got mine a few years back I tended to use the excuse, But I’ve got beacon! I'm now starting to make decisions like I did before I bought it. Unfortunately a lot of newbee's have the same thought process with a lot less years of experience behind them. Buying a beacon doesn't give anyone anymore experience determining a slope's potential to put an end to a nice day out. Sometimes it acts like the sweet Lure of the Siren sailors have always had to deal with.

 

The '99 Source Lake slide put me in a new frame of mind since I have camped near the lake and all the times I've been out there climbing/skiing.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
catbirdseat said:

I'm starting to wonder whether the rangers should start posting avalanche warnings at certain heavily used trailheads when conditions are Considerable Danger or above. The problem is that people will start to consider the absence of such warnings a signal that it is safe to proceed. It is each person's responsibility to look out for their own safety. Unfortunately, it is just not happening.

 

In the North East, Mt. Washington[NH] the Forest service posts avy conditions on a board out side of two of the more popular ravines . When the conditions posted are High or Considerable very few climbers/skiers would think about getting on the slopes/gulleys. This is a good thing.The postings probably save many lives for the victims and the rescuers at risk.

The kicker comes in two other ways. When they post Moderate slide conditions ,many climbers/skiers will go in,this is when mostof the fatalities have occured. Moderate conditions it is still possible for human triggered avalanches to happen, and they do. The less severe warning luls the avy victems in to a false sense of security,as does carrying avalanch beacons[ and not knowing how to use them] .

 

The other issue is when the rangers post conditions in Huntingtons and Tuckermans Ravines , it can not allways be assumed thatother ravines will be just as safe/dangerous.What is true for an east facing slope in the middle of a range can be different than a north or west facing slope a few mile away.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
KCClimber said:

Also...people with formal training and a ton of experience can generally take on bigger objectives and manage the amount of risks a LITTLE better than under-equipped novice's...duh!

And these experienced folks continue to die in the backcountry. How many were listed in Twight's slide show?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
mr.radon said:

About beacons:

When I first got mine a few years back I tended to use the excuse, But I?ve got beacon! I'm now starting to make decisions like I did before I bought it. Unfortunately a lot of newbee's have the same thought process with a lot less years of experience behind them. Buying a beacon doesn't give anyone anymore experience determining a slope's potential to put an end to a nice day out. Sometimes it acts like the sweet Lure of the Siren sailors have always had to deal with.

 

The '99 Source Lake slide put me in a new frame of mind since I have camped near the lake and all the times I've been out there climbing/skiing.

 

Some wise words here and what was said could also apply to avalungs and airbags and the latest greatest technology. Also none of those gadgets helps much when an avalanche carries you over a cliff or into a tree at high speed. The best way to avoid avalanche burial is to not get caught in one in the first place, eg: skiing groomed runs or staying at home or whatever if that's what it takes. Also following the conditions as they evolve, being aware of microterrain features, snowpack structure at various scales, blah blah etc.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
tomtom said:

KCClimber said:

Also...people with formal training and a ton of experience can generally take on bigger objectives and manage the amount of risks a LITTLE better than under-equipped novice's...duh!

And these experienced folks continue to die in the backcountry. How many were listed in Twight's slide show?

 

I think a lot of those deaths fall under the "shit happens and boy doesn't that suck" category. Just because experienced people die climbing does not mean that KCClimber's statement is not true.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
ehmmic said:I think a lot of those deaths fall under the "shit happens and boy doesn't that suck" category. Just because experienced people die climbing does not mean that KCClimber's statement is not true.

Statistically people who are very skilled in their activity (climbing, skiing) but have less knowledge of avalanche safety are the most likely to die in avalanches.

 

For anyone curious about the effectiveness of transceivers - how about this study http://www.bcaccess.com/pdf/CompanionRescue_Atkins.pdf Succesful "recreationalist" recovery of a live person was 32% of the burials studied.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

No arguments CJ. Go back and read the two comments above your last post for some more context for my reply to TomTom. You're talking about a different issue entirely.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Seriously though-

 

You might have a chance if buried\caught in an Avy IF you have a transceiver on and partners do know how to use theirs and are also not caught, are not killed by debris\other trauma, can be rescued in time (relative to the situation)

 

In a nutshell this lady may (or may not) have had a chance of rescue if some factors above had fallen in line. It's not too outlandish to believe that either frown.gif

 

I consider a 300$ beacon a cheap price if it might save my life. Although some may not travel in danger areas as much as others might argue different facts and opinions.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I used to bc ski in all conditions. It just changed where I went. A friend of mine was the best snow reader I know and he liked to say that "there is no such thing as an avalanche expert". He came up with that before an avalanch took his leg. It was smashed repeatedly againsts trees and rocks. Another friend was there to watch and could have been him had it been "heads". Snow pits and beacons are great. I use them. But the best thing to do is watch the avalanche forcasts and compare them with what happens. Keep a running eye on what is going on in any part of the world you might be in that winter. It is time consuming but interesting. You will find pockets of shit that should have triggered long ago. And visa versa. It is good to know what conditions helped create it.

I always ski as though I have no one with me and am about to be buried. I used to ski alone a lot. Many multi-day trips. It just makes sense to ski as though you are always alone. You might find yourself that way sooner than you would like.

Hang an extra second at each threshold. Be afraid. It's OK.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I agree with bug and Hamaker.

 

Both have taken good parts of what others have missed here to produce good information that I agree with.

 

I still also stand by my remarks including possibilities...

 

Avalanches happen in the trees too... But more often self induced and more often party induced.

 

I do disagree with Philfort in that the conditions were "tricky" (a word I use to describe Phil's remarks) to determine. I felt they were considerable.. Yes I went skiing but not very far. I understand he was possibly on a SW slope and I was on a slope of different aspect the next day... Still.

 

I am very cautious due to a slide (very small) that happened before and know it does not take much snow to tackle you into a situation where you could be helpless.

 

No armchairing or expertness meant...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
A friend of mine was the best snow reader I know and he liked to say that "there is no such thing as an avalanche expert".
Ed LaChapelle's (author of ABC's of Avalanche Safety) version of that was "All the experts are dead."

 

Be afraid. It's OK.
Fear is my friend, it tells me to pay very close attention.

 

Avalanches scare the shit out of me, and I have no wisdom to offer, but I appreciate much of the input and opinions here. thumbs_up.gif

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I have only a little experience in the past couple of winters digging pits and reading the daily avy bulletin. Avalanche hazard still scares me more than any other aspect of risk management in the wilderness, because it's the place where experience and good judgment seem to count for the least. By saying this I am not trying to dismiss the importance of the knowledge all you backcountry skiers have gathered. However, knowledge seems to take us less far in the game of estimating avy risk. People continue to put themselves on avy prone slopes on purpose for the fun of it, with tragically predictable results. I am somewhat relieved that I don't have the same freshiez lust. I may be fooling myself, but I feel more able to manage risk on solo climbs in stable spring/summer conditions of various sorts than in most winter backcountry situations.

 

That being said, it is also interesting how much simple logic can be applied when assessing avy danger. 2 dimensional facts regarding base layer, new layer, temp, humidity, slope aspect, local terrain, etc. etc., applied correctly can reveal a fascinating 3 dimensional picture. Even more interesting is how this cold logic then comes into conflict with the animal urges that put human beings out there in the first place. The phenomenon of "I've got a beacon, therefore I can cross more dangerous slopes than I did before" tops the list. It might be easy to conclude that a beacon is the same sort of safety device as a climbing rope-- but it's NOT. I was hesitant to buy a beacon at one point because I feared it would lead me to take more risks. One thing that I have learned during the moderate amount of winter backcountry stuff I have done is that you don't know what you don't know, until you can add all these processes together on your own, plus be aware of the dynamic interplay between thrill seeking and risk avoidance within your group, or your own head.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

"What is life without risk?" - Dave McClung, co-author of 'The Avalanche Handbook' (Mountaineers Books) and professor of avalanche forecasting and snow science...as expert as they come and not dead yet.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I talked to a patroller at Baker today. He told me that the group that was hit at Artist's Point was following the summer road and was traversing the last switch-back, traveling below a short, steep slope. This slope is regularly affected by wind-loading and often releases spontaneous wind-slab avalanches that travel maybe 200 vertical feet. Most people who tour regularly in the area have seen this small ridgeline avalanche.

 

If the person I spoke to had the correct information (and after last year's incidents around North America that seems to be a bit IF) then it seems that the decision-making error was a route-finding error. The error was NOT a failure to use beacons, or a failure to avoid going into the mountains during high hazard conditions. The slope that avalanched can be easily avoided by walking along the top of the ridge on the way to Artist's point. The ridge can be gained without exposing yourself to avalanche slopes. The fact that the group was buried all night without rescue kind of rules out the potential effectiveness of trancievers.

 

They were below a slope that that should have and could have easily avoided. Period.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I am saddened by the loss of life over the weekend here in WA state in the name of recreation..

 

a caveat about snow science "the snow doesn't know if you're an expert"

 

but proper study of the avy forecast before the trip, terrain reading, and having everyone in the party equipped and knowledgable in beacon locating techniques will go a long way in increasing safety for a party exposing themself to avalanche terrain. Constantly observing the snowpack...testing with pole punches, hand test, v cuts, stomp tests, etc, throughout the tour, observing snowpack. hasty pits and shovel shear tests are indicators, (shovel shear not quite as acurrate as an actual full size rutschblock)- it is invaluable to keeping testing the snow while on the move across it.

 

is it safe to cross a loaded avy slope? possibly. is it safe to ski in conditions of considerable danger? sometimes. but as a contrary example, the Rudi B./SME tragedy in Canada this last winter shows how even guided groups doing textbook "safe travel" techniques wound up getting caught in a series of sympathetic slides that day, with tragic results...

 

this weekend, though, it was obvious while observing the snowpack throughout that the danger was building all over the place... you could see foot thick soft snow layers cracking off, it was soo in the face to see...

just looking around at treewells, and snow on logs, etc, showed cohesive soft slabs forming. every v-cut i tested collapsed on me as a slab block by saturday afternoon. soft slabs were releasing easily around tree wells this weekend. yesterday in the backcountry it showed little settlement, and continued cohesive soft slabs were easy to trigger...but great skiing.

 

my heart goes out the the families of the victims, and it is unfortunate that this tragedy occured, but perhaps it may make others realize the dangers in backcountry winter travel. I hope we all stay safe this winter season.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

Sign in to follow this  

×