"Keep Our Mountains Free. And Dangerous" from NY Times

Grab your bear can or camp chair, kick your feet up and chew the fat about anything Sierra Nevada related that doesn't quite fit in any of the other forums. Within reason, (and the HST rules and guidelines) this is also an anything goes forum. Tell stories, discuss wilderness issues, music, or whatever else the High Sierra stirs up in your mind.
User avatar
mrphil
Topix Regular
Posts: 308
Joined: Sat Jun 10, 2017 12:04 pm
Experience: Level 4 Explorer

Re: "Keep Our Mountains Free. And Dangerous" from NY Times

Post by mrphil » Fri Feb 02, 2018 3:51 pm

There are lot's of reasons people die in avalanches, but for those fully buried, those with a beacon have about a 50/50 chance, straight off the top. A lot of it depends on you not only wearing a beacon, but what you do from the moment the ride starts. Of the people that die in avalanches, about 2/3 were not wearing/carrying proper rescue gear. And of the people that survive and are subsequently located and successfully extricated, 93% of those found within the first 15 minutes (you should see how that survival curve plummets after that!) survive if it's a simple burial and there are no major traumatic injuries. Even without statistics, anyone that knows backcountry winter travel will tell you that you're a fool to not wear a beacon, because if that beacon even saves them precious minutes, it's worth it. Even if it's a 1% chance, that's better than nothing. But, it's the PLS, the read on the slope and spotting debris patterns, both your yard sale gear and natural, that are the first tells. Having a beacon on in order to help a friend/rescuer more accurately pin down your location, as well them knowing how to interpret the signals, and above all, probe and dig like your life literally depends on it, is where the rubber meets the road.

I was trained and have participated in avalanche rescue extensively with some of the best there are. If you're under snow, and I'm standing there without a signal to work off of, you better hope I'm better than I know I am, because all you've left me with is luck and one 6mm probe hole at a time in a general area of where I only think you might be. With your beacon/ and mine, I can locate you, and your friend, down to less than a square meter in usually about 2-4 of those critical minutes.

But, I will say this though: better than all the gear and rescuers in the world is being able to know what slopes to avoid, and when to avoid them.








User avatar
gdurkee
Founding Member
Posts: 747
Joined: Tue Nov 08, 2005 8:20 pm
Experience: N/A

Re: "Keep Our Mountains Free. And Dangerous" from NY Times

Post by gdurkee » Fri Feb 02, 2018 5:42 pm

Cross Country: Are you seriously arguing that because there's only a "very small percent of people" who could be saved it must follow that backcountry skiers shouldn't carry them? As bad luck would have it, I've been partially buried by an avalanche as was one of the others in our party. We were on the Kahiltna glacier in Denali a zillion miles from anyone and anywhere. The third member of our party was outside the slab zone and not caught. When she saw the slab go, she immediately switched her beacon to receive and was watching us (training, practice and experience!). The good news is we had each mostly dug ourselves out before she got to us. Another 20 feet of travel and we would have been completely buried and the beacon lifesaving. I've also set off (but not been caught in) 2 other avalanches. I can't think of one of my ski mountaineering friends who hasn't set off a slab. We all wear beacons. In backcountry skiing situations, you're the rescue team. No one else is going to get there in time to do you any good.

mrphil covers the stats very well. Also, when you're caught, the ideal is to form an air pocket around your face using your arms. A number of skiers have done just that and survived but only because their beacon helped to quickly locate them. Another consideration is that, even if the person dies, it helps find the victims more quickly. A critical need when carrying out a search in an active avalanche zone.

For the record, then, my experience -- 45 years in SAR and as a ranger, 25 of those as a snow surveyor and hut relief at Ostrander Ski Hut, 5 years as a ski instructor and guide, USFS Avalanche School grad and several other avalanche field and classroom classes and, generally a pretty safe guy who wants to get home at the end of a trip -- gives me the opinion that you carry what will help keep you and your team alive. Everyone has a shovel, everyone has a beacon or I don't travel with them in gnarly terrain.

User avatar
Harlen
Topix Expert
Posts: 542
Joined: Sat Mar 11, 2017 9:13 am
Experience: Level 4 Explorer
Location: California

Re: "Keep Our Mountains Free. And Dangerous" from NY Times

Post by Harlen » Sat Feb 03, 2018 12:52 am

There are lot's of reasons people die in avalanches, but for those fully buried, those with a beacon have about a 50/50 chance, straight off the top. A lot of it depends on you not only wearing a beacon, but what you do from the moment the ride starts. Of the people that die in avalanches, about 2/3 were not wearing/carrying proper rescue gear
mrphil
bear under f pass.jpg
All very pertinent stats., but Bear and my favorite statistic is that over 90% of backcountry skiers caused the avalanche that caught them. Another hopeful statistic has to do with the lessening likelihood of skiers setting off avalanches as they gain experience. Can't find the book where I saw that, it was one of Bruce Tremper's books. Even he, who has become avie expert par excellence wrote that he was lucky to survive his first few years of winter adventures.
Also, I submit that backcountry folk on ski-tours are much less likely to be endangered by avalanches than straight tele, or AT skiers. People on ski tours usually have more route options, and with a pack full of food, can wait out dangerous snowfall. And I for one, have zero interest in deep powder skiing- rather, I avoid deep fresh snow, and live for solid spring corn.
But perhaps gdurkee is correct in calling us beckonless guys crazy, I certainly don't wish to be normal!
summer2009 271.jpg
You do not have the required permissions to view the files attached to this post.

User avatar
mrphil
Topix Regular
Posts: 308
Joined: Sat Jun 10, 2017 12:04 pm
Experience: Level 4 Explorer

Re: "Keep Our Mountains Free. And Dangerous" from NY Times

Post by mrphil » Sat Feb 03, 2018 6:41 am

Bruce Tremper was one of my early NAS instructors. He was a big advocate for taking the time to do snowpack analysis in the field and reliance on weather reports. Most of the backcountry skiers try to stay pretty religious about it. Pits and Rutschblock tests are pretty reliable indicators of stability, so in addition to transceivers, probes, and shovels as standard gear, someone usually has a saw and a full test kit.

It's generally the skier or mountaineer that's loaded the slope and introduced the trigger. Just like a gun just sitting there until acted upon. Experience is everything, in anything, and people on guided tours, especially heli-skiing, will usually have the benefit of that experience through their guides or someone in the company to make up for anything they don't possess themselves.

There's a shift in the trends occurring now though; it's the snowmobilers that are getting it. Currently, slightly less than half of the avalanche related deaths that occur annually. I guess that as backcountry skiers and mountaineers more or less understand the implications of the dangers and learn to plan, analyse, and act more methodically, there are more people with no experience that have access to machines that like to just blow up slopes with not much more than the thought of the rush. Back in my days, I can remember reading the reports where the witnesses stated that their friend that died was there one minute, blasting up the hill the next...headlong into destiny with nary a care in the world other than cutting fresh tracks and winning the high-bank contest. Seldom were any of them wearing a beacon or carrying shovels (the absolute, number one best chance for survival you're ever going to get when buried and can't self-extricate), so they were left just standing there in shock and awe, helpless to even begin making a real effort to do anything meaningful about it as the clock ticked down.

So now we end up full-circle back to the original question of who's really responsible for an individual's behavior and actions? Was it someone else that was supposed to do their thinking for them and protect them from doing intrinsically stupid stuff? If anyone thinks so, write me a fat check and I'll be more than happy to tell you not to go poking sticks into hornet's nests. [-X

Cross Country
Topix Fanatic
Posts: 1309
Joined: Thu Dec 24, 2009 11:16 am
Experience: Level 4 Explorer

Re: "Keep Our Mountains Free. And Dangerous" from NY Times

Post by Cross Country » Sat Feb 03, 2018 12:48 pm

Gdurkee
You put words in my "mouth". Of course I wasn't saying what you said I said.

User avatar
Harlen
Topix Expert
Posts: 542
Joined: Sat Mar 11, 2017 9:13 am
Experience: Level 4 Explorer
Location: California

Re: "Keep Our Mountains Free. And Dangerous" from NY Times

Post by Harlen » Sat Feb 03, 2018 1:53 pm

Gdurkee
You put words in my "mouth". Of course I wasn't saying what you said I said.
Crosscountry

No of course not. I recognized the euphemism straight away.
Who here has been "trapped" under snow? I was trapped for less than 30 seconds in a snow drift. I almost couldn't get myself out. If I had gotten out 20 seconds later I would probably have died of suffocation. My experience gives me the opinion that a VERY small percent of people could be saved by an avalanche beacon.
Crosscountry

Yes, I too have been "trapped in a snow drift" like that many times. Others call it a "face plant," but that's a silly sounding phrase, isn't it? I much prefer the phrase: "High speed stop." So how did you get out Crosscountry? I had great difficulty, because Bear was barking at me, and pouncing on my back- as if he had never seen anything so humorous! I was trapped for at least 50 seconds, and maybe a minute- so I guess I am VERY lucky to be alive. :)

Cross Country
Topix Fanatic
Posts: 1309
Joined: Thu Dec 24, 2009 11:16 am
Experience: Level 4 Explorer

Re: "Keep Our Mountains Free. And Dangerous" from NY Times

Post by Cross Country » Sat Feb 03, 2018 5:09 pm

My problem was that my skis were almost directly above me and the snow was so soft that pushing against it with my hands was almost ineffective. I got out that way but just barely.

User avatar
mrphil
Topix Regular
Posts: 308
Joined: Sat Jun 10, 2017 12:04 pm
Experience: Level 4 Explorer

Re: "Keep Our Mountains Free. And Dangerous" from NY Times

Post by mrphil » Sun Feb 04, 2018 8:55 pm

Cross Country wrote:My problem was that my skis were almost directly above me and the snow was so soft that pushing against it with my hands was almost ineffective. I got out that way but just barely.
There's a huge difference between being planted in a snowbank and being in an avalanche.

There are basically two kinds of avalanches; wet and dry snow. Wet avalanches are usually slower if the slope isn't too steep, and tend to be more like fluid motion. This type doesn't kill people as often as the big, classic, roaring blast of snow and air that dry avalanches do.

As Gdurkee and I both mentioned, it's what you do with what you have, right from the get-go. First, you "swim". You're body mass is about three times heavier than the surrounding snow, so you always try to stay on top of it if you can, because your tendency is going to be to sink ("sink or swim"). Some people have actually found that swimming has helped them to avoid obstacles like trees and rocks. Secondly, you try to create an air pocket around your face. As you found out, without it, disoriented, no air, not being able to breathe becomes the single most pressing issue in life. You not only have to create as much of an area in front of your face as possible in order to buy you and/or your rescuers time, you need to try to avoid "ice-plugs" from forming in your nostrils and throat that will suffocate you within minutes, no matter how much breathing room you managed to give yourself.
"
But what you experienced with the snow remaining "so soft" isn't the norm after an avalanche. If you think it was hard to punch out of a snow bank that was basically just sitting there and doing its relatively static snow bank thing, with plenty of entrained air, avalanche deposition has been pretty accurately likened to fast-setting concrete; If you don't dig out fast, you're not digging out at all as it sets and redeposits itself without the benefit of air. Roughly, generally speaking, and not taking into account geographical region, snow is 90% air and 10% water. Ice is 10% air and 90% water. After an avalanche, the air has not only been forced out of what's moved, that snow has gone through changes on a molecular and crystalline level. Those crystals have been broken down, subjected to friction (inclusive of at least some heating), jammed downslope in sometimes huge volumes, at sometimes high velocity, and what was once a light and fluffy snowpack with a lot of air in it becomes a more densely packed mass of smaller rebonding crystals that resembles ice more than snow within a very short amount of time.

All in all, I would say you got off easy and still came to the conclusion that it completely sucked. When it counts for real, it's a lot more gratifying for all concerned when it's a rescue, not a recovery. I'll tell you, for a few hundred bucks, and for something you won't even know you're wearing after 10 minutes, the second you feel that probe hit you from the surface and then see the first inkling of daylight a few minutes later, you'll know that wearing a beacon was better than not. Everyone would rather dig you out and wrap you in a blanket than dig you out and put you in a bag...all you need to do for your best chance at a happy ending is buy them the time to do it.

User avatar
gdurkee
Founding Member
Posts: 747
Joined: Tue Nov 08, 2005 8:20 pm
Experience: N/A

Re: "Keep Our Mountains Free. And Dangerous" from NY Times

Post by gdurkee » Mon Feb 05, 2018 5:15 pm

Everything's on YouTube. Excellent video of avalanche and rescue. Note how initial rescuer immediately turns his beacon into receiver mode (which, as they note, is a mistake until you get to safe terrain...), starts a traverse search and, as he gets closer, the beeps increase in rate and sound level. They acknowledge mistakes -- the write up is great and self-critical. Note also towards the end the upslope view shows once recent slide and a couple of older ones. When I was caught in Alaska, we descended and, looking up, notice maybe 4 slab releases (though not sure they were there on ascent. I like to think not... .)

The good news in this one was the snow stayed relatively soft but, as mrphil points out, it can turn to cement. So, always carry a metal shovel, not plastic. Someone also came in with probes (though the buried guy might have had probes, unless that was a shovel on his pack). My last couple of sets of poles could be converted to probe poles.

That said, the initial guy and folks joining from below did an outstanding and very rapid response.

Video here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F6840kqTk74

Their write up here:
https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php? ... 0037279985

If you need a break from kitten videos, here's another video with good write up:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bOnBRguDZ1I
http://avalanchesurvival.tumblr.com/

Oh, in the 2nd one, note in the write up the buried guy's comment:
I had a shovel and probe in my backpack and I was wearing a transceiver, however, the others were only carrying a shovel and probe.
Oooops.

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 2 guests