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Author Topic: Jan 25-26, 2014, Baker via heliotrope and accident  (Read 27660 times)
patrick
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Jan 25-26, 2014, Baker via heliotrope and accident
« on: 01/27/14, 05:51 PM »

My wife and I left Seattle Saturday PM, hoping to join 3 friends at camp on Heliotrope for a summit push Sun.  We began skinning up the road (closed 2 miles from the trailhead) just as the last daylight left.  About a mile in a snowmobiler gave us a lift the final mile to the th.  Very appreciated.
Thin, patchy snow made us opt for the summer trail - we didn't want tricky bushwacking and creek crossings in the dark. The summer trail went fine, but it climbs slowly and is way less efficient that the winter route.  We were able to skin icy slush for much of it, maybe from 1.5 miles in until treeline.  We encountered a group of 3 with an activated Spot device awaiting rescue - one of them had fallen into a tree and wasn't able to walk anymore.  They were well-provisioned and in good spirits, so we pressed ahead.
Above treeline a thin sheen of ice covered everything.  We switched to ski crampons, and in about 5 minutes Sarah was sliding backwards uncontrollably, self-arresting with fingertips in bootprints.  We switched to real crampons from there and booted up and up, the ice easily yielding to the spikes.  Another warning we didn't spend much time mulling: every time we dropped something - a water bottle, an ice axe (!) - we could do nothing but listed to it slide off into the darkness, gaining speed.  I did learn enough to attach a leash to our other ice axe.  (We also had a whippet.)
We never found our friends - I think they were in thatoneguydave's paty (http://www.turns-all-year.com/skiing_snowboarding/trip_reports/index.php?topic=30505.0) - so we made camp on Heliotrope at 10:45pm around 6500'.  An uneventful night, though in retrospect we should have staked the tent with some serious hardware to prevent it from sliding (a scary thought). 
Left camp at 8:15 am and cramponed up and up in a spectacular morning.  The high alpine is really another world.  We cramponed almost the whole way, though we did skin for about 10 minutes over frozen sastrugi on a flat part around 8000'. 
The Roman Wall was also heinous - large frozen ice globs atop breakable snow.  It cramponed just fine, but skiing would have been horrible.  Gorgeous view from the summer, gorgeous descent to camp.  Skis on our backs almost the whole time; we skied maybe 2000' of the whole mountain.  The best turns were on the frozen sastrugi.  Oy.
From camp we followed a party of four skiers down the winter route to the car.  More of the slippery ice sheen, but it made for easy crampon plunge-stepping.  Sarah had a whippet and I had a poor-man's whippet - an ice axe ski-strapped to a ski pole.  We were strolling and chatting happily, and suddenly Sarah was down and beginning to slide.  I lunged for the tops of her skis (attached to her pack), made contact for an instant and found myself quickly picking up speed.  I fumbled with my "whippet," trying to orient the ice axe right.  I stupidly fought for purchase with my feet, which of course flipped me upside down.  I don't know how far I slid, but it was fast and I could see shrubs and rocks flying by me.  The party of skiers below us watched me get air over a rollover.  I had time to wish my helmet was on my head instead of in my pack.  I eventually managed to use my ice axe to turn the right way round, and then on a less steep part to finally self-arrest. Sarah had stopped maybe 50 yards above me in some alder.  Holy shit.  I took inventory of myself and it was clear that I wouldn't be using my left arm anymore that night.  (Dislocated shoulder - probably from the self-arrest.)  Sarah got away with just a bruised rib, so she's mobile but destined for a few weeks of pain. 
The other party climbed up to me quickly and got me seated, slinged, and wrapped in layers (the arm I could move, anyway).  Those guys were awesome - completely on top of the situation and great positive attitudes.  Without them we would have had to leave a ton of gear behind, and I'm not confident that just the two of us could have managed a safe continued descent in our shook-up mindsets. 
Here's a puzzle: how do 5 people get 6 people's gear down a mountain when all of them have heavy overnight packs with glacier gear?  I cramponed down with a spotter below me while they puzzled it out.  The solution: a splitboard fed through the A-frame carry straps of two backpacks, for a double-height backpack.  What a beast.  I think I had an easier walk out cradling my arm than the guy with the double pack did. 
The injured descent probably took 1.5 hours, half bushwacking with crampons and half walking down a snowy road.  I popped a codeine at the road and nearly took a turn up the wrong road as I walked ahead of our rescuers.  Not a fun experience, but I had lots of time to think about what an ordeal a leg injury would have made for.  And on the plus side, I completely ceased to be aware of my sore feet.
We hit the car maybe an hour after dark.  I'd say my ordeal ended two hours later when the Bellingham ED started me on an IV of the good stuff and popped my shoulder back in. 

Lots of takeaways from this.  In no particular order:
- Being a skilled ski mountaineer doesn't make you competent on ice and crampons.  I went out there with total confidence in our abilities in the alpine, and most of my experience does not apply to ice sheets/ 
- All the basics.  Without an ice axe leash I never would have self-arrested.  With more recent practice self arresting I probably would have stopped quickly and suffered no injuries.  Similarly, Sarah might have been able to stop herself with more practice.  She found it hard to move from holding the whippet like a trekking pole to get her hand in the self-arrest position.  The hand strap impeded her in this.  And it wouldn't have hurt to bring the Spot device on this trip. 
- We were too cavalier as we neared the bottom of the mountain.  The walking was really pretty trivial, our day was mostly over, and we did not act appropriately to our exposure.  We'd long since removed our helmets, for example.
- It was dumb to lunge after Sarah as she fell.  If she was going to be hurt, she would have been truly screwed if I got injured too.  That said, I shudder to think of how else she might have come to a stop had I not deflected her into the alders.

- I feel incredibly lucky.  We both took long, fast slides, without helmets, in a gully that ended in trees and a rocky river.  If we'd fallen higher up on steeper terrain, our falls would have been much longer and more kinetic, and our walk out would have been really epic.  But in any situation, it's really easy to see either of our slides ending with a spine injury or a cracked skull.  With a cut-up face and an arm in a sling, it's good to be alive right now.  Not even going to consider hypotheticals involving Sarah. 
- And I'm incredibly grateful for the other party.  They had the situation totally under control, and our exit would have been dangerous and even more unpleasant without them. 

Sarah on this experience: "it's like a teenager getting chlamydia."  A powerful learning experience that allows for a complete recovery. 
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T. Eastman
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Re: Jan 25-26, 2014, Baker via heliotrope and accident
« Reply #1 on: 01/27/14, 08:00 PM »

Quote
Being a skilled ski mountaineer doesn't make you competent on ice and crampons.  I went out there with total confidence in our abilities in the alpine, and most of my experience does not apply to ice sheets/ 

 I am going to be harsh...

... people need to re-evaluate their evaluation of their skills.  While rare in these parts, such conditions are part of ski touring and most certainly part of ski-mountaineering.  Ice axe arrests are a poor substitute for footwork, with and without crampons.
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r1de
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Re: Jan 25-26, 2014, Baker via heliotrope and accident
« Reply #2 on: 01/27/14, 08:03 PM »

Wow. Thanks for sharing. Glad to hear you're both okay.  Having just learned of a fall-on-ice related fatality this weekend, I can say you're truly lucky.
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-bp
Eckels
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Re: Jan 25-26, 2014, Baker via heliotrope and accident
« Reply #3 on: 01/27/14, 08:26 PM »

I had a similar experience skiing on the SW side of Baker on Saturday. everything West facing was totally locked up and shiny.

While traversing above a rollover to reach a south face that would be skiable my edge gave out and I began to slide with a whippet and regular ski pole and no gloves.

The first time I dug my whippet in I was not able to stop (partly due to the awkward position having skis on my feet put me in), instead of stopping I was flipped head first.

Once facing into the slope again I dug my whippet in with the same result.

Only when I reached the bottom of the 100 vert slope that very luckily had a relatively long flat runout was I was I able to stop.

Came out of it unscathed other than scraping the skin off of most of my knuckles and a good portion of my left thumb.

Very glad I did not begin to slide on an exposed slope. 
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Charlie Hagedorn
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Re: Jan 25-26, 2014, Baker via heliotrope and accident
« Reply #4 on: 01/27/14, 08:33 PM »

Very glad you're okay. Slides on ice are scary.

Stable powder and soft corn will return soon; there's always a next time.
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Cornfed
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Re: Jan 25-26, 2014, Baker via heliotrope and accident
« Reply #5 on: 01/27/14, 08:54 PM »

Some jackass always has to be a know it all; and they know they are a jackass because they start by saying "I'm going to be harsh".  You should ignore all such posts, you've already beaten yourself up over it.  I wanted to say, thanks for sharing, and nice job getting out despite having injuries (and a little bit of help), though I suspect you'd have gotten out anyhow, but maybe had to leave some gear.  It is easy to share all that goes well in the mountains, but much harder to humbly share our mistakes.  Much better to ready mistakes so we all can learn.

Also makes me feel better about being home with the family this past weekend despite the beautiful sunny weather.  Snow is finally on the way!
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T. Eastman
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Re: Jan 25-26, 2014, Baker via heliotrope and accident
« Reply #6 on: 01/27/14, 09:37 PM »

It isn't anything about "know it all" attitude, it is about people skiing being honest about their skills and judgement.  Always being polite and supportive avoids realistic criticism. 

By posting such an account, I would expect some fair evaluation...

... do you get soft fuzzy reviews at work, where the consequences are less likely to result in death?
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Charlie Hagedorn
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Re: Jan 25-26, 2014, Baker via heliotrope and accident
« Reply #7 on: 01/27/14, 10:03 PM »

I'm pretty certain that low friction and gravity offered sufficient feedback. Falls like this one are no fun, and aren't easily dismissed. Whenever I think on it, I thank my lucky stars not to have lost a ski partner in a similar event.

Thank you, Patrick, for sharing your story that others might learn.
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Snoqualmonix
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Re: Jan 25-26, 2014, Baker via heliotrope and accident
« Reply #8 on: 01/27/14, 10:04 PM »

I am going to be harsh...

... people need to re-evaluate their evaluation of their skills.  While rare in these parts, such conditions are part of ski touring and most certainly part of ski-mountaineering.  Ice axe arrests are a poor substitute for footwork, with and without crampons.

Thank you for succinctly & kindly stating what immediately crossed my mind.  I perceived no malice or "jackass-ness" in what was expressed above, simply some honest critique for someone who considers themselves to be a skilled mountaineer about some basic tenets of mountain travel....footwork (and who also made a decision to publicly share and open themselves up to feedback).  God forbid a member of our entitled society get told they need to re-evaluate their skills and not just get a gold star for trying.

Why should we "learn from someones mistakes" but not talk about what were some major technical mistakes that contributed to, and exacerbated, the situation.  People's reliance on whippets (or even axes in un-arrestable terrain for that matter) is often very troubling to me when they seemingly don't realize that they are only one piece in a chain of protection options that begin with proper foot & crampon technique and end with roped climbing.  Even with a heavy alpen-stock, an un-roped fall above high consequence exposure on steeper icy terrain is often not enough to arrest the fall; if you don't want to take my word for it, read any year of 'Accidents in North American Mountaineering' and see how many accident causes were "Fall on snow.  Failure to arrest".

If people only want "likes" and good-vibes from close calls(mistakes), post for your friends on Facebook.  When you "do your business in the street" by airing it all out on a public forum of backcountry skiers in one of the gnarliest mountain states in the country, I reckon one is open to "constructive criticism".

To the OP, I respect your immediate reaction towards your woman & your admittance of luck.  I'm grateful for you and the people who love you that they're not looking for your raven in the mountains tomorrow.
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"Point your tips and be brave"

If someone skis in the Cascades and doesn't post on the internet, did it even happen?
Jim Oker
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Re: Jan 25-26, 2014, Baker via heliotrope and accident
« Reply #9 on: 01/28/14, 12:20 AM »

Patrick - thanks for sharing your tale, and I'm of course happy to read that you guys got down and will hopefully recover fully (though the shoulder may never be quite the same if it's your first dislocation of it).

I'm guessing you don't think the responses are overly harsh. A good friend who helped introduce me to the NW mountains almost 20 years ago hammered home for me that, even with regular practice, ice axes aren't magic, and as a few others have noted, won't guarantee and arrest, even if you have done plenty of good practice. Even on firm snow, let alone shiny ice. I've fortunately only seen this lesson in action once, on fairly steep snow that was balling up on our crampons yet still quite firm below the thin mush - fortunately my partner didn't go too far before landing injury-free in some dirt and rocks (I was the slowest descender in our party as I was not trusting a single step - was testing for balling with each foot placement before committing weight, which became rather tedious and tiring). Sure, practice arrest more, but don't assume that the outcome here would necessarily have been different once the slides started. 

I hate steep snow and ice exposure w/o my skis on my feet!
« Last Edit: 01/28/14, 08:49 AM by Jim Oker » Logged
Oyvind_Henningsen
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Re: Jan 25-26, 2014, Baker via heliotrope and accident
« Reply #10 on: 01/28/14, 06:46 AM »

I am so happy that you are safe and sound and can gain and learn from this experience.

During this dry period our area from Rainier to Baker has experienced a high rate of accidents resulting from slip on hard snow.  It is easy to underestimate the lack of friction and the result of a slip.

Lets hope we get some of the white stuff soon !
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Lytt til erfarne fjellfolk!
thatoneguydave
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Re: Jan 25-26, 2014, Baker via heliotrope and accident
« Reply #11 on: 01/28/14, 08:41 AM »

Patrick thanks for sharing your story and I'm glad that you and Sarah walked away with only the injuries you received.  I've met you once before with Erik at Second Ascent, but was looking forward to a day of climbing with you and Sarah on Baker.  While we were aborting our trip and dealing with the ice we were constantly wondering what you two would end up deciding to do once you saw the conditions or if we would run into on the way out.

There is a lot to learn from personal experience and others stories in the mountains this weekend.  This can only be done by people sharing their stories for all to take note of whether good or bad.  Thanks for posting the details of yours.  During our car ride home I had already started to think about the situation, the what ifs, the what should we have done, and such.  I mentally took a lot of notes from our trip and your trip report and hope it leads to better decision making and thought process next time.

Glad your OK. 
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Stefan
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Re: Jan 25-26, 2014, Baker via heliotrope and accident
« Reply #12 on: 01/28/14, 09:07 AM »

thanks Patrick for telling your story.  I am happy for you for the positive outcome on what could have been worse.

Keep getting out!
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Jason4
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Re: Jan 25-26, 2014, Baker via heliotrope and accident
« Reply #13 on: 01/28/14, 11:40 AM »

Thanks for sharing the details and lessons.  I've heard rumors of a few of the other accidents that Oyvind mentioned this weekend from a couple of different sources but your's is the first that I've seen details of on the internet or the news.

I'm happy for you that you both got out in relatively good shape.
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Free your heel, free your mind.
Fix your heel, fix your problem.
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Good2Go
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Re: Jan 25-26, 2014, Baker via heliotrope and accident
« Reply #14 on: 01/28/14, 12:51 PM »

The conditions you were facing were unusual for that spot, especially this time of year, and sounds like it was borderline in terms of what tools/practices were required under the circumstances for safe travel.  My understanding is that similar conditions and circumstances (e.g., underestimating the risk of a simple slip) resulted in the death of the Rainier climbing ranger a couple years ago (i.e., it can happen to anyone).  Knowing when to employ additional safety measures is an art, and we likely all get lucky sometimes in making the more expedient choice.  Thanks for the reminder.
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Snoqualmonix
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Re: Jan 25-26, 2014, Baker via heliotrope and accident
« Reply #15 on: 01/28/14, 02:23 PM »

Knowing when to employ additional safety measures is an art, and we likely all get lucky sometimes in making the more expedient choice.  Thanks for the reminder.

Well said.  Pure luck is sometimes a good check for the ego.  I never used to believe in luck, until the mountains made me.
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"Point your tips and be brave"

If someone skis in the Cascades and doesn't post on the internet, did it even happen?
oldman takealookat
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Re: Jan 25-26, 2014, Baker via heliotrope and accident
« Reply #16 on: 01/28/14, 02:28 PM »

I am going to be harsh...

... people need to re-evaluate their evaluation of their skills.  While rare in these parts, such conditions are part of ski touring and most certainly part of ski-mountaineering.  Ice axe arrests are a poor substitute for footwork, with and without crampons.

T.Eastman,
Did you ever have one of those alpine experiences that enabled you to realize all that you didn't know?  If not, how did you come by that realization?  I'm truly curious, as I'm another one who had to learn the hard way.  
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String
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Re: Jan 25-26, 2014, Baker via heliotrope and accident
« Reply #17 on: 01/28/14, 05:42 PM »

Yeesh, I feel your pain. Mine popped out on the park headwall last may. That ride down and walk out was the worst. Here's to a speedy recovery and some good old fashinoed pt!
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glenn_b
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Re: Jan 25-26, 2014, Baker via heliotrope and accident
« Reply #18 on: 01/28/14, 07:26 PM »

Thank you, Patrick, for sharing your story that others might learn.
Wishing you a speedy recovery and happy tours afterwards.
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T. Eastman
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Re: Jan 25-26, 2014, Baker via heliotrope and accident
« Reply #19 on: 01/28/14, 08:09 PM »

Quote
Did you ever have one of those alpine experiences that enabled you to realize all that you didn't know?  If not, how did you come by that realization?  I'm truly curious, as I'm another one who had to learn the hard way. 

We all learn from mistakes but also from the culture of sport and the mentors we encountered early in the ongoing learning process.  I was fortunate to have safety drilled into my head from an early age when developing as a climber, mountaineer, and a skier.  Crucial to that was that when looking at accidents, it seemed as though most accidents occurred during routine trips when either someone spaced out, was tired, or when conditions were not as anticipated.  Take away from that was that you must always be cautious and the mountain will kill you given a chance.

I did become somewhat skilled at these pursuits and spent plenty of time in the shooting gallery taking chances.  Yes there were some close calls and insights were gained.  Importantly though, I early on decided that some goals were worth risking a lot for and others were not.  Essentially, when deciding to do something that pushed my limits I was willing to accept the risks as part of the game.  But, I did not want to spend each day climbing, mountaineering, or skiing as time spent in the shooting gallery.  I felt that there was loads to be learned from being out doing these activities at a lower risk and technical level on a frequent basis than constantly exposing myself and friends to those risks on a near daily basis.

Development of skills is not dependent on constant risk exposure and time spent observing the mountains offers tremendous lessons in snow and weather behavior.

Most importantly, I refuse to this day to think I am an expert at any of these things; rather I think I have spent time on the crags and in the mountains but I am still learning every trip.

Todd
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n16ht5
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Re: Jan 25-26, 2014, Baker via heliotrope and accident
« Reply #20 on: 01/29/14, 10:19 AM »

thanks for sharing your story, glad you made it out. We can all learn from your experience to better prepare ourselves. I think every person here has been up on a mountain and at some point in their life made a potentially fatal mistake.

I was up on Baker the weekend before just for some day sled skiing, and turned back not far above where the sheet of ice started, even as I watched several people continue on. I knew that I would definitely not feel comfortable at all climbing to the summit with the expectation to ski the mountain in an even remotely safe way. I always do a double check on my skill level when assessing conditions, I have been in over my head before.
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chmnyboy
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Re: Jan 25-26, 2014, Baker via heliotrope and accident
« Reply #21 on: 01/29/14, 11:29 AM »

Man, at least you summited before the incident!

Joking aside, you might want to reassess your opinion of a skilled ski mountaineer not needing ice or crampon expertise. Without that, you're a freeskier.

T.Eastman,
Did you ever have one of those alpine experiences that enabled you to realize all that you didn't know?  If not, how did you come by that realization?  I'm truly curious, as I'm another one who had to learn the hard way.  

I don't think T.Eastman was criticizing patrick for making a mistake - you're right, most everyone screws up and learns the hard way. To me, what stands out in the original post (and I think this is what T.Eastman was getting at) is the lesson learned, that "being a skilled ski mountaineer does not make you competent on ice and crampons." In my opinion, the lesson learned should have been "as a ski mountaineer, I should brush up on my crampon/ice ax skillz, be able to assess an icy slope before my party gets on it, and decide if we should ski it or put on crampons.

I've also never met T.Eastman, so there is a very real possibility that he is a jackass know-it-all, but that's not how I read his post.
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samoon
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Re: Jan 25-26, 2014, Baker via heliotrope and accident
« Reply #22 on: 01/29/14, 11:40 AM »

We all learn from mistakes but also from the culture of sport and the mentors we encountered early in the ongoing learning process.  I was fortunate to have safety drilled into my head from an early age when developing as a climber, mountaineer, and a skier.  Crucial to that was that when looking at accidents, it seemed as though most accidents occurred during routine trips when either someone spaced out, was tired, or when conditions were not as anticipated.  Take away from that was that you must always be cautious and the mountain will kill you given a chance.

[/quote

as always TEastman, who's your captain?.....anybody that posts to this site should appreciate any subtle expertise that you may so cautiously provide....this season reminds me of the 2004/05 winter, when we got 400" in April....that's when the real season will begin.
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Mofro
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Re: Jan 25-26, 2014, Baker via heliotrope and accident
« Reply #23 on: 01/29/14, 12:09 PM »

Crucial to that was that when looking at accidents, it seemed as though most accidents occurred during routine trips when either someone spaced out, was tired, or when conditions were not as anticipated.  Take away from that was that you must always be cautious and the mountain will kill you given a chance.

Just to add one more- not altering or changing objectives in the face of sub-optimal or down right dangerous conditions, be it trying to ski the big line right after a big storm or being on a slope with minimal purchase.

I understand the draw of the outdoors, the sense of self-accomplishment of attaining the objective, all while trying to fit in in to the weather window provided and doing it under the time constraints that life throws at us. At the same time, I am sort of mystified at the number of reports of people out tackling objectives under "survival skiing" and "slide for life" or generally unfavorable conditions. When does the reward outweigh the consequence the when the risk is unnecessarily high? 
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not always bad
burns-all-year
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Re: Jan 25-26, 2014, Baker via heliotrope and accident
« Reply #24 on: 01/29/14, 12:30 PM »

^^^^I've been thinking the same thing:  mystified by the willingness to tackle these objectives with inappropriate gear.  Does the ability to post a trip report on the net affect decision-making for these people?  Inexperience?  High risk tolerance?  Can't be just plain stupidity.  I wonder....
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