Fatality, Avalanche Discussion and Pit – December 9, 2014
With the recent incident in the Alaska Range involving a friend of mine who survived, I could not help, after reading his first hand account this morning in the Alaska Dispatch, to make some observations that relate to our current conditions in Thompson Pass.
As backcountry skiers, we are taught from day one that the most obvious sign of instability is the sound of the snow whomping. Outside of natural activity occurring, the mountains can’t scream any louder at you to run away. Once again the human factor influenced the choice to ignore ominous signs and proceed into steeper terrain, where the chaos ended with one human fatality, a dog fatality and a brutal self-rescue from frozen debris by the only survivor.
Last weekend, with the same whomping on Catchers Mitt along with epic powder skiing conditions, I turned to digging a pit to confirm the instability I was hearing. Once again the pit was inconclusive despite a remote trigger nearby. Once onto the broad slopes beneath The Notch, the whomping continued and I baled, mentioning that I had never encountered this condition to the other skinners. So with the my 3-Strike Rule: (1)Whomping, (2)remote triggers and, (3)increasing slope angles heading into larger slopes, I turned around. Two other skinners continued up through the Notch and eventually to the top, while I sat below questioning my denial of a route I have done dozens of time. I still think they were being a bit “averse to risk” given the clues I was dissecting and the recent incident in the Alaska Range. But I have my rules and ways of countering a deadly act of recklessness, and sometime that means I miss the goods, which is better than getting the goods by being lucky.
Today was tame finding good powder on the Little Odessey lower above the lake on the snowpack profiled below. As I approached mid-mountain I triggered two muffled whomps under a blanket of new snow and thus, stayed on lower angles away from connections to steeper terrain and enjoyed some simple touring for a few turns, but more importantly, more information. This profile shows good stability on the lowers. As I skinned higher, the hard layer eventually thinned and whomping commenced.