As I mentioned in my last post, I spent this past weekend on
After Lunch on Saturday we did some Avalanche beacon training. Essentially, learning how to locate a fellow climber who may be buried. A friend of mine Derek Fox, recently gave me a brand new and very expensive Avalanche beacon. So I was able to use my own tools and learn about how to use it. It was very interesting and I certainly plan to carry mine with me on my travels into avalanche terrain in the future.
wind loading taking place high on the Boot Spur ridge.
Sunday we ventured up the mountain, hiking up the Tuckerman Ravine trail. As a group, Marc had told us the day before to make decisions as a group, hike, climb or ski as a group, basically instilling good team work ethics in our minds as we headed up the trail which increases the safety of the whole team. That brings me to Sand Bag # 1! He had said in class on Saturday he was going to "sand bag" or "trick" us and less than half a mile up the trail, we learned that we had been taken! Marc was at the front with some of the younger skiers and they were skinning up the trail. When I say "skinning up the trail" what I mean by that is they have climbing skins on the bottom of their skis that allow them to ski up steep inclines with ease. I was hiking but only just behind the leading group. I quickly caught up as they stopped to shed a layer or two of clothing. It was ten minutes between the leaders, mid-pack hikers and skiers and the tail end of the team. One of the kids (as I call them) set a blistering pace from the start. Marc was happy to allow this to happen since the lesson was that we needed to keep everyone together as a team, fast and slow hikers/ skiers alike. When we all were back together he pointed all this out and prepared us for the next trick or two. The rest of the hike I remained close to Marc, listening to him tell stories of his past trips, pointing out features of the mountain I had never seen, talking about his daring ski descents of gullies like Yale and Damnation in Huntington's Ravine. He even pointed out the avalanche prone slopes which are the reason they shut down the Summer Lion Head hiking trail in the winter and even the gully where Albert Dow had been killed in an avalanche while on a search and rescue looking for Hugh Herr back in 1982. All of these things he was talking about had my ears glued to what he was saying.
That leads into sand bag #2! He started up the Summer Lion Head trail; we all walked by the bright orange sign that says "TRAIL CLOSED IN WINTER". I quickly thought to myself surely he is not going to take us up this trail but he probably has something to show us out of harms way. We stopped at the base of a slide path with obvious avalanche debris where we were standing. He then asked "Where are we?" We all looked around, up and down, left, right, finally someone said "We are in Avalanche Terrain" "That’s right" said Marc. "And how many of you thought as we were hiking by the trail closed sign, where are we going?" "Why didn't you say something?" he asked. The lesson was to communicate and prepare as a team before heading into that type of terrain so everyone is in the know as to where the group is going....We all thought well, he is the guide and there must be a reason he is going up here! Exactly what he wanted us to do...Lesson learned! The Gully he took us into is appropriately named Sand Bag Gully.
Recent destruction in the slide path of Hillman's Highway.
High winds moving snow into areas down off the Boot Spur Ridge.
We arrived at
I took in a lot of useful information during this training course that will make my adventures into this type of terrain much safer. It really comes down to making good decisions based on all the available tools at ones disposal. As Marc pointed out to us, "As scientific as they are, avalanches are somewhat unpredictable in that, even on a low risk day, things can still go bad. It is critical to be able to asses your level of acceptable risk on any given day, travel in the safest terrain possible, read the Avalanche reports, check the weather before you go, take observations along the way and don't be afraid to call it quits and return to safety. The Mountains will always be there another day."