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Avy, seven buried, one dead

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Mountaineer trip leaders are not under any undue pressure to "stick to outing plans" and may change objectives as conditions dictate. Or turn around.

 

Hmmm, I somewhat disagree, at least in repsect to climbing outings for class credit, where credit is not given for the climb unless the summit is reached (unless this policy has changed). I think this creates an inordinate amount of pressure to continue, and strife in the groups, as some people are trying to get summits in under graduation time limits.

 

I do believe that observing a significant ski traffic on a run will lull a great many of us into thinking that a slope may be more stable than it is. Examining lessons learned to guide our own future decisions could save lives. Finger pointing or second guessing will not.

 

Yep, yep, and yep.

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"...a prudent choice" ???

We can all play monday morning quarterback. The NWAC reports aren't indicative of local conditions. Therein, how were local conditions assessed by the group? We'll all find out soon enough.

 

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Just from personal experience, I've been on and lead quite a few Mountaineer trips and the trip leader ALWAYS has the choice of continuing or not. Seattle's branch seems a bit more goal oriented but in any case, I'm not sure I'd want to be lead by someone who chose not to turn around just because I could get some summit logged to finish a class. Death is pretty final.

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It almost doesn't matter what local snowpack evaluation the group did or didn't perform. Either they failed to do any, or they did their tests but misinterpreted the results.

 

If you're on a slope that your analysis at home told you is likely to be dangerous, and you dig a pit that tells you the snowpack is "all clear", how much do you trust that result?

 

Personally, I'm conservative and relatively inexperienced. For me, a slope is good to go only if my research prior to the trip gives me confidence in its safety AND I don't find evidence to the contrary during the trip.

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Either they failed to do any, or they did their tests but misinterpreted the results.

 

slope stability analysis is a fairly inexact science.

 

i think we occaisionally see accidents were based on the available information we can point to mistakes more experienced or wiser people would have avoided. i do not think this particular tragedy falls into that category. based on the available information it sounds like this is something that could have easily happened to me or most of the people i ski with; probably i think even most experienced and safety oriented backcountry skiers. i think it highlights the fact that in avalanche terrain the danger can be reduced but never completely eliminated.

 

from the reports i have read it sounds like a layer of hoar frost may have contributed to the slide. along with depth hoar, hoar frost layers can be a sneaky killer. it is not always something we look for when digging a pit, and can be a very localised phenomenon.

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It almost doesn't matter what local snowpack evaluation the group did or didn't perform. Either they failed to do any, or they did their tests but misinterpreted the results.

 

Basically you're saying that they didn't a priori identify that the snow was going to avalanche.

 

Well duh.

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"They did everything correctly," Costie said. "They responded within minutes. They did everything in textbook fashion. I doubt there was a better prepared group in the backcountry that day."

 

This is from the Seattle Times article.

 

While sorry for the loss, I don't think "they did everything correctly" and I feel it is wrong to make this kind of statement, especially in the paper. Even referring only to the rescue portion of the slide, this shouldn't have been said.

 

It is very important what the general public reads and sees (TV) concerning backcountry activities.

 

chris

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Of course snow science is inexact. But the risk that day, on that slope, was clearly high. The NWAC forecast on 12/28 (when this group would have had access to it) said in plain English: "the greatest danger is expected on mainly northeast through southeast facing slopes above about 5000 feet in the north and 5500 feet in the south where triggered slab releases are probable on steep slopes that have received wind deposited snow." What more would you need to convince you to stay out of Cement Basin that weekend?

 

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i'm not going to restate what many others have already said about the number of days during the winter when the avi danger is at least "considerable". peter, i suspect you are going to limit backcountry skiing activities to the springtime, which is fine and what a lot of people do, and i think pretty much a requirement for the levels of certainty you're asking for.

 

While sorry for the loss, I don't think "they did everything correctly" and I feel it is wrong to make this kind of statement, especially in the paper. Even referring only to the rescue portion of the slide, this shouldn't have been said.

 

i think he may have been trying to say that when you enter avalanche terrain you can do everything right and still get killed, which is something everyone should know.

 

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Mr. Costie could have been misquoted as well. When I talked to the reporter, he was not using a tape recorder, so what I told him he paraphrased at best. In my case, what I really said and what Mr. Welch wrote were close enough to be acceptable. I can't speak for Mr. Costie's interview.

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They did everything correctly," Costie said. "They responded within minutes. They did everything in textbook fashion. I doubt there was a better prepared group in the backcountry that day."

...

While sorry for the loss, I don't think "they did everything correctly" and I feel it is wrong to make this kind of statement, especially in the paper. Even referring only to the rescue portion of the slide, this shouldn't have been said.

 

It is very important what the general public reads and sees (TV) concerning backcountry activities.

 

Maybe the statement "did everything correctly" is too strong, but I think there's nothing wrong with the newspapers saying that with knowledge and experience, risks cannot be entirely eliminated.

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Basically you're saying that they didn't a priori identify that the snow was going to avalanche. Well duh.

 

No. The "a priori" knowledge this group did have (or should have had) was that the slope in question was basically a death trap, to the extent that no amount of local stability evaluation could have completely exonerated it. "Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence."

 

I think the mistake this group made was to go to Cement Basin on that day in the first place, and to (perhaps) believe that their snow evaluation skills would allow them to find safe slopes in that area. All other decisions or actions leading up to the accident are probably irrelevant.

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Peter-

It sounds as if you do not do much backcountry skiing, or are not much of a fan of powder skiing. Yes, if you want to be safe you should stay home in such conditions as when there is a "considerable" avalanche hazard (or maybe you could go out but stay in dense timber). But if you want to ski fresh snow, that is exactly when you WILL head for a slope just like that which they were on. As I noted in my earlier post, they clearly made some mistakes and, as need not be stated at all, those mistakes were fatal. You can draw some lessons about safety evaluatation from this incident, but the idea that they did not apply common sense, or that they were somehow wreckless, ar not among them.

-Matt

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I noticed Jens mentioned terrain anchoring which is one of the factors considered when evaluating a slope.

 

I wanted to make a note I've observed this winter about that.

 

On the poorly bonded initial crust I've seen several releases all the way to the ground despite terrain anchoring. Several on Rainier and one on the wide open talus slopes to the east of Kent Peak and Mclellan's Butte. The one I triggered was a wind packed layer of snow approximately 1 to 2 inches deep that collected speed and more snow for 500 feet. I'm not certain that it would have done any damage to anyone below, but it was really disconcerting to see such a widely dispersed small layer of snow cut loose like that when I could see rocks sticking out all over the place.

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"when you enter avalanche terrain you can do everything right and still get killed, which is something everyone should know."

 

Entering avalanche terrain is an obvious risk AND NOT the right thing to do. You can do alot to help protect yourself but it is hardly ever the right thing to do.

This I know.

 

 

chris

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chris wrote:

Entering avalanche terrain is an obvious risk AND NOT the right thing to do. You can do alot to help protect yourself but it is hardly ever the right thing to do.

This I know.

 

chris, i think the point others are trying to make is that ALL terrain with snow on it is "avalanche terrain" under the right conditions. the risk can never be reduced to zero. i think as bc skiers and climbers, our goal should be to understand the level of risk we are taking and to be sure that we are ok with accepting that level of risk. knowingly taking risks is not (necessarily) foolish, what is foolish is to be unaware of the risk we are exposing ourselves to. we make a deliberate decision to tolerate a certain degree of risk in order to achieve something we desire: powder turns, winter solitude, whatever.

 

we would be fooling ourselves to believe that we can ever, through knowledge or experience, completely eliminate danger in the mountains.

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Okay, I'm calling bullshit. I toned down my initial response considerably before I posted it, but after reading your subsequent bullshit, no mas.

I may be wrong about the percentages, but I'd guess the avalanche 'science' is about 60% knowledge and 40% voodoo hodge/podge shit. I busted my ass up the standard route on Granite Mtn on the 29th and the avy danger there was low to nonexistent. Sure we can all speculate to no end on what MAY happen, but nobody can definitively say what WILL happen. And yet we get these monday morning quarterbacks quipping about what 'prudent' is, what 'readily available' info there was, how three bumfucks in Timbuktu got rescued in five minutes... on and on.

There are many variables to consider. Until you know what factors contributed to this slide (and the following rescue), it's a bit presumptuous to speculate otherwise, especially with such strong words. Now if you dug a pit on that slope that day and used whatever prior avy research you had taken from NWAC to factor in this assessment, I'll shut my mouth.

"Death trap"... I'd say something, but it'd just get edited out. I apologize to others if my post seems harsh but sometimes you got to take a stand and I say Peter Baer is full of shit on this one.

I didn't even know the people involved but why don't you wait until someone from the scene gives an evaluation. Then maybe we can all learn from this, if there is anything to be learned.

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I busted my ass up the standard route on Granite Mtn on the 29th and the avy danger there was low to nonexistent.

 

There was a sizable slide up there in the last few days. It started on the east side of the main gully that most people climb in the winter and ran down nearly to the waterfall.

 

There were lots of rocks and other terrain anchors visable along it entire path.

 

Scary conditions out there. Be safe.

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Thanks for all the feedback on this and hope this and my experience will be a learning tool in the future. I'm doing fine and plan on still backcountry skiing again in the near future but be much more careful. I hope they find the 2 skiers around White Pass area. Witnessing the avalanche last Sunday was enormous and I hope they didn't run into similar fate.

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There were lots of rocks and other terrain anchors visable along it entire path.

 

I have seen this term/concept "terrain anchors" mentioned before. I am curious where you learned it.

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