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jhamaker

Avalanche: Harsh lessons

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Background: Dec 12-13, two avy fatalities. Two deadly avalanches. 3 snowshoers (not just one, but the whole party) caught "near" Artist's Pt, 1 snowshoer caught in Source Lk Basin following tracks set by a group lead by Mtn. Madness Inc..

 

 

YOU can help save lives.

>>. . . I am thinking about my own decision-making process. . . << - markharf

 

IHMO Mtn, Madness had no buisiness leading folks up avalanche central in Saturday's conditions. It is hard, sometimes, to question our leaders and experts. Their job, after all, is to lead, but is it yours to follow?

 

Question authority. Not to pick a fight, but to better understand the reasons behind the decision. Help them revisit the decision and prove, not justify, the action to your satisfaction.

 

Never delegate decisions to others with out understanding them.

 

 

I fear that this weekend's avalanche fatalities could be the sign of a disturbing trend. The recreational industry wants to sell as much gear as possible. It is more difficult to sell an activity that apears dangerous or fool-hardy. I fear that the industries reaction to the sad events of this weekend will be to sell more avalanche beacons, or as I call them "corpse finders." It is a simple thing to buy an avy beacon, play with it a little, and feel safe whereas what is really needed is the training to be able to identify avalanche zones and route-find around them. Unfortunaley, this type of avy training is not something I see the industry selling in a box at the local recreation store.

 

I call upon all of you to educate your fellow back-country users, be they skiers, snowmachiners, snowshoers, or others. Promote avy classes that emphasise route-finding and safe travel. Help other parties make informed decisions.

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jhamaker said:

I fear that this weekend's avalanche fatalities could be the sign of a disturbing trend. The recreational industry wants to sell as much gear as possible. It is more difficult to sell an activity that apears dangerous or fool-hardy. I fear that the industries reaction to the sad events of this weekend will be to sell more avalanche beacons, or as I call them "corpse finders." It is a simple thing to buy an avy beacon, play with it a little, and feel safe whereas what is really needed is the training to be able to identify avalanche zones and route-find around them. Unfortunaley, this type of avy training is not something I see the industry selling in a box at the local recreation store.

 

I call upon all of you to educate your fellow back-country users, be they skiers, snowmachiners, snowshoers, or others. Promote avy classes that emphasise route-finding and safe travel. Help other parties make informed decisions.

You make a very good point about questioning leaders' decisions. thumbs_up.gif

 

But I'm confused. Are you somehow blaming the outdoor industry for leading people to feel comfortable in avy terrain? None of the victims were wearing a beacon, right? In these two examples, if the victims were using beacons, wouldn't they have had a much better chance of surviving? So encouraging people to use beacons in avy terrain would be positive, right?

 

Of course, training in avoiding avy traps is more important than having a beacon, but IMHO they complement each other. It isn't the outdoor industry's responsibility to push for avy awareness. That's the job of the people who decided to go out there.

 

Or am I misunderstanding your post?

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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.

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Warnings just need to be made on the avalanche hotlines, and they are. You want rangers to drive out to trailheads and post this stuff after a multi-foot dump? Good luck! yellaf.gif

 

One poor excuse used in an avi accident on Mt. Hood back in '98 was the "extreme danger" sign posted at the trailhead was interpreted as being for a previous day hellno3d.gif

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Another aspect of this:

 

Does the family of the victim have the right to sue the guiding service for leading the victuim into a dangerous situation?

 

I ask this because I just heard of someone suing a raft guiding service for something similar. I had pretty mixed feelings about that one.

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Being more aware of avalanche danger doesn't always translate into fewer avalanche deaths. Sometimes knowledge leads to overconfidence.

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cracked said:

Is it me, or do skiers tend to be most aware of avalanches, while snowshoers and climbers less so?

When I'm climbing I back off of stuff all the time due to "avalanche danger" so I can go back home and drink coffee and sleep yellaf.gif

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Of course, but in these two accidents it doesn't appear that the victims had thought about avalanches at all. Reading the avy report, I would have stayed at home.

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skiers and climbers often have different perspectives on terrain too, since you're not necessarily skinning up the slope you're going to ski, and you're looking for avi terrain by default when skiing as that's where the goods are. Climbers might be hunting out ridgelines and have other options, and tend to view the hazardous terrain from below, rather than from above.

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An excerpt from the weekend's avy report:

 

We have reports from most of the ski areas near and west of the crest in the Washington Cascades of fairly extensive easily triggered 4-10 inch soft slab layers on Friday including at Mt Baker, Stevens, Snoqualmie and Crystal. Some natural 10 inch slab avalanches on 35 degree north aspects were also reported by the Mt Baker ski patrol on Friday morning.

 

Is it reasonable for a guided group to go out in these conditions? Are there safe areas to travel? Can you get comfortable in avy terrain if you always stay home?

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marylou said:

Another aspect of this:

 

Does the family of the victim have the right to sue the guiding service for leading the victuim into a dangerous situation?

 

I ask this because I just heard of someone suing a raft guiding service for something similar. I had pretty mixed feelings about that one.

 

Absolutely not. Nobody forced those people to go; it's not like MM held them at gunpoint. Clients, I assume, sign waivers out the ass and are involved in a potentially dangerous activity. There were signs of avalanche danger all over the place up there on Saturday. Snowshoers could have stayed lower and in the trees instead of crossing the slope they did. Might have made it safer.

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i'm not clear from the original post if the woman who died was part of the MM group or just following their tracks.

 

i was in the area at or very close to the time that avalanche happened. the conditions were obviously bad. we had revised our plans once and ultimately were lucky to have retreated altogether. i believe we encountered the group about 1/2 hour prior to this incident and may have followed their tracks.

 

it seems obvious now that conditions should've kept us out of the are altogether. at the time, knowing the avalanche danger was high, we chose to go in and see for ourselves. perhaps not the brightest idea but an easy one to make. there were many people in the area and it's not that surprising someone was caught. i'm glad we left when we did.

 

i spend a lot of time back in that basin and am very familiar with the conditions. before we start slamming people for this mistake take an honest look at what decision you would've made.

 

i'll be acquiring an avy beacon

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cracked said:In these two examples, if the victims were using beacons, wouldn't they have had a much better chance of surviving? So encouraging people to use beacons in avy terrain would be positive, right?

57% of people buried don't survive (from this study http://www.avalanche.org/~moonstone/rescue/avalanche%20survival%20chances.htm). Your best chance of survival is if your dug out in under 15 minutes - and it'll take about that long for people who know what they are doing to dig you out.

 

Bottom line is - don't get caught. Period. A Beacon is for when you Fuck Up.

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I was up at Alpental/Snoqualmie Saturday PM right after this avalanche happened. When we left the house the Wx forecast was for 3-6 inches and the avie forecast was "high" above 4000'/"considerable" below 4000 feet. It was glaringly apparent when we were in the parking lot that the forecast was optimistic, but 2 hours earlier, before the dumping started, based on the forecast a party could justifiably have headed into the backcountry. To find some vast conspiracy of gear manufacturers or blame MMI is absurd. This was simply a tragic accident.

 

I agree that skiers are generally more avy savvy than climbers. I think this is partly cultural, but also rational b/c skiers, pretty much by definition, purposefully place themselves in the middle of the most dangerous slopes and good skiing conditions coincide very closely with the worst avie conditions. Climbers's exposure is more limited and can often be avoided by climbing somewhere else, so you can get away with knowing a lot less. I don't really know any snowshoers (other than climbers who use snowshoes to access climbs), though I would guess that this is a more newbie/infrequent user demographic so a certain amount of ignorance would be expected.

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Tragedy happens when people who might know better, make the choice to continue.

I'm sure that everyone here knows somebody who continued on in spite of the dangers...

The lessons learned are very tough indeed.

Personally, I have 5 friends who have perished in avalanches.

 

 

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i don't think that the guide service should be sued and i'm still not clear if these people were part of that group. i wonder if the guide service might start having clients wear avy beacons from now on?

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minx said:

i don't think that the guide service should be sued and i'm still not clear if these people were part of that group. i wonder if the guide service might start having clients wear avy beacons from now on?

 

A guide service will always have their clients wear beacons.

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F-E, the forecast you quote was from 2:30 Saturday afternoon, well after the accident happened. The relevant forecast for arnchair quarterbacking was the previous forecast.

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When we left the house the Wx forecast was for 3-6 inches and the avie forecast was "considerable" above 4000'/"moderate" below 4000 feet.

 

I had no doubt this was probably one of the worst days to be in the hills. Also noting it fell on a weekend when mobs of people might be out in areas like this.

 

Too bad.

 

Those forecasts are overall and very vague which cannot cover every aspect of the ranges within WA comprehensively. If you live and possibly die by the forecast bummer. I view them as general "What's up".

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cj001f said:

cracked said:In these two examples, if the victims were using beacons, wouldn't they have had a much better chance of surviving? So encouraging people to use beacons in avy terrain would be positive, right?

57% of people buried don't survive (from this study http://www.avalanche.org/~moonstone/rescue/avalanche%20survival%20chances.htm). Your best chance of survival is if your dug out in under 15 minutes - and it'll take about that long for people who know what they are doing to dig you out.

Saying that 'only 57% survive' is true, but misleading. From that link (thanks, great info, BTW)

 

"The only finding giving grounds for optimism is that the initial survival probability is much higher than previously assumed. Indeed, of the 123 skiers extricated within 15 min, only 8 were dead and, moreover, only 2 had died of asphyxia (extrication times 10 and 15 min), whereas the remaining 6 skiers had all sustained fatal injuries during descent of the avalanche. The survival probability then plummets from 92% at 15 min to only 30% at 35 min, in contrast to the hitherto-accepted gentle decrease from 67 to 55% (ref. 3) over the same period."

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Cpt.Caveman said:

When we left the house the Wx forecast was for 3-6 inches and the avie forecast was "considerable" above 4000'/"moderate" below 4000 feet.

 

I had no doubt this was probably one of the worst days to be in the hills. Also noting it fell on a weekend when mobs of people might be out in areas like this.

 

Too bad.

 

Those forecasts are overall and very vague which cannot cover every aspect of the ranges within WA comprehensively. If you live and possibly die by the forecast bummer. I view them as general "What's up".

 

thumbs_up.gif on your comment about the forecasts. i saw the one that said "considerable above 4000' and moderate below" it was definitely considerable on the source lake trail.

 

 

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It was glaringly apparent when we were in the parking lot that the forecast was wrong,

 

I don't understand. I just rechecked at the NWAC forecast issued at 2:30 PM on Saturday, and the forecast issued at 2 PM on Friday. Both forecasts predicted high avalanche danger above 3-4k, and considerable below 3-4k, for Saturday.

 

The text of the forecast issued on Friday at 2 PM is included here:

 

WASHINGTON CASCADES NEAR AND WEST OF THE CREST...

...AVALANCHE WATCH FOR SATURDAY...

Considerable avalanche danger above about 4000 feet and moderate

below Friday. Avalanche danger increasing and becoming high above

about 4000 feet and considerable below Saturday.

 

The text of the forecast issued on Saturday at 2:30 PM is included here:

 

WASHINGTON CASCADES NEAR AND WEST OF THE CREST...

...AVALANCHE WARNING...

Avalanche danger increasing and becoming high above 3000 feet and

considerable below Saturday especially Cascade passes. Avalanche

danger decreasing and becoming considerable above 4000 feet and

moderate below Sunday.

 

Why are you saying the forecast was wrong?

confused.gif

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