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ptavv

Do climbers typically take avy beacons?

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Not being a stereotypical climber (I rarely climb something I'm not going to descend on my skis), I'm not familiar with what's standard and not among mountaineers.

 

So, do climbers typically take avalanche beacons with them when climbing in avalanche prone terrain? If no, why not?

 

Forgive me if it's a stupid question, it's just something that the recent tragedy on Mt Hood has made me curious about.

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yes, many do

 

however at the time of their climb I think avy conditions were minimal. it wasn't until after the big storm that they got bad.

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Yes, a lot of climbers do, particularly climbers who enjoy ski descents.

 

It's important to realize the following, however.

 

If buried in an avalanche, your survival rate is less than 50%, with or without a beacon. Trauma kills many avalanche victims outright (think of putting yourself in a giant rock tumbler the size of a football field). The most important thing, therefore, is that ability to recognize and avoid avalanche prone terrain, through knowledge of recent weather/snowfall, geometry and aspect of slope (including those above you), time of day, etc., as well as knowing how to test the stability of local terrain safely.

 

Having said this, you must always assume that victims buried in an avalanche cannot breath. Without a beacon, it is almost impossible to find a fully buried victim in time to prevent asphyxiation if this is the case. Even with a beacon, regular practice is needed (as well as intimate knowledge of the workings of your particular type of beacon) to bring your search time down to, ideally, well under 5 minutes. Recently avalanched terrain, which is jumbled and difficult to travel across, can make this a challenge even in good weather conditions. Once you've located a buried victim, digging through avalanched snow, which is generally sets up like cement, increases the time pressure. If the buried victim is still alive, a beacon is by far the best way to locate them in time to save them.

 

One final note: avalanche beacons have a very limited range, and are of little value in locating the wearer unless the searchers are already in the immediate vicinity.

 

 

Edited by tvashtarkatena

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Climbers avoid big snow like the plague, so 99% of the time its not avalanche conditions and beacons are not warranted

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My wife was asking me yesterday about why someone wouldn't take an avy beacon along instead of an MLU. Had to think about the pros & cons of that one a bit. I can see a well-equipped team perhaps taking along one avy beacon on a climb, even if you don't expect avy conditions, and leaving it turned off. If you did end up having to ride out nasty weather and wait for the cavalry to come, telling them roughly where you are and then turning on the beacon could definitely be helpful to searchers. I don't think I'd want to necessarily leave it on full time however, wandering all over the mountain, in case someone else in the area actually needed to do a search.

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Generally speaking I'm not going to be climbing anything steep anyway if avvy hazard is higher than low. I have only taken a beacon once when winter climbing.

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One final note: avalanche beacons have a very limited range, and are of little value in locating the wearer unless the searchers are already in the immediate vicinity.

Wasatch Backcountry Rescue has recently tested heli based, long range, receivers to search for avy beacons. This addresses the range issue, but is not much help in terms of recovery time unless there happens to be a suitably equipped heli in the area at the time of burial. Probably most useful when searching for someone who is lost or for doing a recovery. The same could be said of the RECCO system.

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The practicality of it in the particular situation that arose on Mt Hood wasn't really the issue.

 

I've been buried in a slide, and was dug out unhurt because I had a beacon on. I wear it most days when I'm skiing in bounds, and every day when I'm skiing out of bounds. The question arose in a conversation I was having with a friend of mine about the Hood situation and whether they could use beacons to search for them. If nothing else it would provide an easier method of locating people in a snow cave if the entrance wasn't easy to locate.

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I have never tried climbing with a beacon. I know of a some backcountry types that even when solo carry and use a beacon just in case location or search is required. It would work for snow cave location especially if the inhabitants were incapacitated.

 

I think for that scenario the important part would be that the SAR team knew to take recievers. Unless it is an avy most folk I know don't look for beacons. Good question though.

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I know that SOP for first responders to any sort of avalanche in bounds at resorts is to search for beacon signals.

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This is true. But SOP inbounds is not the same as SOP when not. If there was a callout for a search on Mt Adams of an overdue climber. Searching for Avy beacon would not be on the top of the list. My point is that if the SAR crew knew that the person had and used one I'd bet they wouldn't mind carrying one along to help in the search.

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Yeah, I understand that SAR work in a resort is completely different.

 

I was just stating that they're often used in situations where it's very unlikely that the victim was wearing one. This is done because it is so helpful and time saving in the unlikely event the victim was wearing a beacon.

 

Beacons aren't heavy, nor cumbersome. I was just wondering if they were standard climbing gear or not. Seems that the answer is "mostly not."

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I'd revise that to say, at least around here, with ski mountaineers, the answer is mostly yes. On snow climbs during avy season, the answer is some, and on winter climbs not involving much accumulated snow, the answer is no.

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Beacons are not standard climbing gear, but I carry one on almost every winter trip, whether skiing or not and usually my partners do as well. I started doing this after reading several reports in ANAM aboutr people being buried on approaches to ice climbs and of course, who could forget the Alex Lowe tragedy, where conditions were perfect down low but the release occurred over 1,000' above where slides were natural.

 

I don't carry one past the spring or early into the fall, so I guess I only use one about 15-20% of the total time I am out in the bc in a given year.

 

Regardless, you and your partner still need to know how to use one properly and efficiently, and they should not be used as a crutch for moving out onto loaded slopes or in high avy conditions, as it was noted in a previous post, there are no guarantees that you would live through a slide...

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Speaking as someone who benefits from a "somewhat" less volatile maritime PNW snowpack (vs much of AK for instance) I think most PNW "alpinists" would not be inclined to carry them because they would not be inclined to be climbing in borderline avy conditions the way say a back country skier would be. Not that they don't climb in those conditions at all (some die every year doing it), its just that they would be more inclined to developing the smarts to avoid avys then to relying on yet another "post incident" recovery gadget.

 

Having said that, last year we took them up Hood in February but later decided (for various reasons) that it would have been better not to bring them.

 

Less gadgetry, more smarts.

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I avoid avalance land whenever I can so I can travel faster solo.

No need for a beacon here because as a lone climber, I'm likely to be toast. Not in this instance.

 

If I have a partner and we were not tied together maybe I would take one. Maybe, because we might both be toast. Maybe one person will have a hard time finding me, but maybe he wouldn't. Depends on how quickly he could get to me. Gray area.

 

In a group of people, who are spread out in case of avalanche, I would take one. They should all have their own units, probes and shovels. I might survive this scenario if the weight and force of the avi hitting me did not toast me then. But this is the ideal situation to take one.

 

I have been thinking about a PBL (satelitte beacon) since that just makes what is essentially a 911 call with your GPS coordinates.

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An avy beacon is most useful as a team self rescue device. Each member of a climbing (or ski) team wears one. Best practice when traveling in avalanche terrain is to limit the teams exposure to one person at a time (better still is to avoid the terrain in the first place). If someone is caught in an avalanche, the rest of the team switch their beacons from transmit to receive and start performing a search. A person buried has minutes to be found, usually over 30 minutes ends up being a body recovery.

 

An avy beacon is really targeted towards team self reliance while a PLB is a call for an external rescue.

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Having said that, last year we took them up Hood in February but later decided (for various reasons) that it would have been better not to bring them.

Unless the beacons are giving you a false sense of security (possible, but totally mental, and something that needs to be avoided), I can't imagine that you'd have been "better off" without them.

 

They're small and unobtrusive, so I don't really understand what negitive effect they could have beyond the mental aspect. Would you care to elaborate? After I got buried last year (not in the PNW) I began skiing with mine nearly every day, in bounds and out.

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