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Author Topic: February 7th, 2014, Lane Peak- the Fly & Avalanche  (Read 21401 times)
melger00
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February 7th, 2014, Lane Peak- the Fly & Avalanche
« on: 02/09/14, 12:49 PM »

We decided to go ski in MRNP on Friday, weary of the hoar frost layer that has been plaguing Snoqualmie pass and Stevens Pass area.  We waited to make a decision as to where to ski when we got into the park, based on visibility.  Knowing that the wind had been active Thursday and Thursday night, we discussed options on the Paradise glacier or the Tatoosh.  Based on the visibility around 9:45am, we weren’t sure if Mt Rainier was going to remain clear at lower elevations, or if it was going to be engulfed by clouds.  Not wanting to be up in the alpine during a whiteout, we discussed skiing Lane Peak – specifically the Fly Couloir.  We had both read NWAC reports that morning and were aware of the considerable rating, due to isolated pockets of windslab, specifically on SW – N aspects.  Lane peak is North – slightly NW facing. 

The first hour or so was route-finding through the trees, which (while a lot better than a month ago) provided some opportunities to work on ‘advanced skinning techniques.’  After we crossed Tatoosh creek, we started up the fan underneath lane peak.  We skinned up climbers right in the trees, and stayed generally right out of the open slopes.  We discussed localized pockets of wind slab that we saw, along with pockets of wind scour and pockets of deep powder.  We also did a several hand shear tests in various locations on the pockets of wind slab and discovered the slab was failing on the soft powder layer beneath the slab.  It wasn’t  a very clean failure.
Once we got close to the Y, near the start of the couloir, it was clear that skinning wasn’t going to work and we started boot packing.  This was a mix of deep powder wallowing, mixed with good boot pack on wind scour.  We noticed some more wind slab in the couloir, specifically on climbers left.  We ascended the couloir ½-2/3 of the way before we noticed an increase in wind slab and deemed it time to descend.

We stated the decent around 1pm.  Descent through the couloir was fine – we skied down one at a time and veered left into the chute from lover’s lane (I believe it is called) to avoid sluff.  After that, we skied one at a time to a spot beneath the cliff where the crown is shown in the picture by the bold red line. 

Skier 1 descended w/o incident to the ridge on skiers right.  I skied down a very similar path, and was swept off my feet by the sluff/slab as I was traversing (with some decent speed) up to the small ridge.  I think some of my speed helped carry me towards skiers right of the slide, which resulted in me tumbling towards small trees and more shallow terrain.  I started tumbling in the slide and lost both skis and poles.  I think some alder helped slow me down (the only time I have EVER been thankful for alder!) and I stopped on a small tree.  My pack and legs were buried, but my head and arms were free.  I yelled three times and skier 1 heard my yells and located me within 30 seconds to one minute.    He dug me out fairly quickly and I was on my feet again in a couple of minutes.  I was very lucky to be OK with no injuries other than a couple of bruises and small scratches.
   
The crown was around 18” tall and about 30-40 ft wide.  Luckily, a lot of the slide path was fairly scoured and the slide wasn’t able to pick up much new snow as it progressed downhill.  From looking at the crown, the slab broke on the soft snow below the slab.  It wasn’t a clean break.   
We searched for about 2 hours for my gear.  First, finding a pole in the alder on the surface of the snow (Thanks again, alder!).  Later, finding one ski smashed against a tree with only 6” of the tip out of the snow.  It was lucky we even saw it.  Around 3 pm, we decided that we needed to work on getting out before darkness fell, knowing that getting out sans ski could be interesting.  We put our engineering minds together and cobbled up a “shovel-shoe” which kind of worked.  We later improved it by wrapping a skin around the shovel handle, with the shovel blade behind my boot (face down) and my boot strapped to the shovel handle via voile straps and webbing.  Between that and one ski, that worked well enough until we got into the forest a ways, were it was consolidated enough to walk w/o post holing.  We made it out about 5pm.
 
Lessons: we were well aware of the wind slab potential, and localized pockets that could be reactive.  We spent a lot of time on the way up discussing these places, and avoiding them.  In the couloir, we did the same thing.  Once out of the couloir, when the ‘hardest part was over,’ we let down our guard to some extent.  That is one thing that got us in trouble.  In retrospect, with the considerable rating and the aspect of Lane peak, we should have skied something else completely that was either lower angle or a different aspect.  I am happy that we decided to turn around in the couloir part way, as I don’t want to think about what the consequences may have been if we triggered a slide in the couloir. 

I am really lucky to have walked away with just some lost gear from this incident.  It has really shaken me up and made me really question what knowledge I thought I had.  I think another aspect that played into the mental games is the fact that the windslab was so localized.  It made it seem like it could be avoided pretty easily with some caution (as long as you don’t put your guard down. . ).  I hadn’t internalized the fact that skiing a good distance away from wind slab can still trigger an avalanche.  After reading up on wind slab avalanches, it is very common to overload the slope below the wind slab.  I have been playing the scenario out over and over in my head and really beating myself up over the mistakes we made.  It is extremely frustrating that I let myself get into that situation.  I know that avalanche terrain doesn’t grant very many learning experiences like this that one can live to tell about or walk away from and I am going to be approaching terrain and decision making even more cautiously than I already was (or thought I was).  I now fully understand the power of getting caught in an avalanche – enough that I definitely never ever want to get myself in that situation again. 

I expect to get some heat for the decisions we made.  Flame on if you wish.  My hopes is that myself and others can learn something from my experience on Friday and be smarter while in the backcountry.

If you happen to be in that area and find a DPS Wailer ski or Black Diamond Traverse pole, I’d love to have them back!  A reward will be provided along with tons of good ski karma!  I would expect the ski to be somewhere in the larger trees on skiers left.  Alternatively, if anyone wants to join me in the late spring/early summer for a bushwhack ski hunting adventure, I’ll provide the beer.


* lane_peak.gif (152.09 KB, 800x450 - viewed 2501 times.)

* lane_peak_avy_detail.gif (201.29 KB, 800x687 - viewed 2456 times.)
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melger00
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Re: February 7th, 2014, Lane Peak- the Fly & Avalanche
« Reply #1 on: 02/09/14, 12:56 PM »

more pictures.  sorry about the quality, I don't have any good programs to resize the photos and my work firewall won't let me download one.

mt rainier from fly col

avalanche crown - taken from in the debris field.


* 2.7.14rainierview.gif (193.07 KB, 600x800 - viewed 2462 times.)

* 2.7.14lanecrown.gif (174.38 KB, 800x600 - viewed 2527 times.)
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vogtski
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Re: February 7th, 2014, Lane Peak- the Fly & Avalanche
« Reply #2 on: 02/09/14, 01:04 PM »

Glad everyone is OK!  Bummer about your gear.  Thanks for having the courage to post about a mistake of the type that many of us have probably made.

FWIW, those trees at the right margin of your 1st photo provide a much safer route to the top of Lane from behind...
« Last Edit: 02/09/14, 01:07 PM by vogtski » Logged

I feel like I'm diagonally parked in a parallel universe.
olymountainman
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Re: February 7th, 2014, Lane Peak- the Fly & Avalanche
« Reply #3 on: 02/09/14, 01:07 PM »

Wow, I'm very glad you guys made it out without injury or worse. I'm also glad I advised my buddy against climbing The Zipper yesterday. Sorry about your gear!
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RonL
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Re: February 7th, 2014, Lane Peak- the Fly & Avalanche
« Reply #4 on: 02/09/14, 01:30 PM »

Thanks for sharing and I am glad you are OK. I have donated a ski in the name of avy research myself. It sucks but it is a small price to pay.
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Marcus
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Re: February 7th, 2014, Lane Peak- the Fly & Avalanche
« Reply #5 on: 02/09/14, 02:04 PM »

Thanks for sharing the story melger.  A lot of us have been there (me included) and appreciate the willingness to share the thought process behind the accident.  You are (as I was) pretty fortunate to have had the experience and come away able to question your knowledge without major recovery time.  It's a tough chunk of pride to swallow, for sure - thanks again for writing it up here.
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ski2fly
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Re: February 7th, 2014, Lane Peak- the Fly & Avalanche
« Reply #6 on: 02/09/14, 03:58 PM »

Thanks for sharing your story,
  If you do not find your ski until Spring make sure to remove all the screws and check the condition of the core, epoxy/helicoil as appropriate.  Made the mistake of not doing that a ways back with a pair of 710 FOs and the binding pulled out the next season.
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cstefanic
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Re: February 7th, 2014, Lane Peak- the Fly & Avalanche
« Reply #7 on: 02/09/14, 05:00 PM »

I'm in for a ski finding expedition Smiley
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avajane
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Re: February 7th, 2014, Lane Peak- the Fly & Avalanche
« Reply #8 on: 02/09/14, 07:26 PM »

No flame and very pleased that you were fine. But since you asked....

I am not a backcountry expert or snow expert, but I have skied an extremely large amount of powder miles. After a lifetime of west coast skiing, I have been lucky enough to have had a seasons pass at Whistler for the last 15 years. A combination of in and out of bounds skiing on big terrain has taught me three things:     (of course I've broken these rules from time to time)

Save your steep skiing for inbounds terrain if the danger is elevated.
Stay in the trees when the danger is high.
Wait a day or two after a big storm.

I love steep skiing, but I know with certainty that it's the steep slopes that slide. I can't tell you how many times I've booted up Flute at Whistler and have observed the various lines and slopes under every imaginable condition. I've been doing this since way before they started bombing and patrolling it. The slides are nearly always in the same places - and the one thing they all have in common is steepness!

I know this is not a cure all, but I also know that I have NEVER seen a big slide in the trees, and I have never seen a patroller bombing the trees. There is something in the holding power of trees that normally keep things intact.

Most of the slides I've seen have been shortly after or in the middle of heavy snowfall.

Keep skiing everything you want
Keep skiing powder
Keep skiing the steeps

But be smart enough to do it at the right time - so that you can keep doing it...
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Brian Izdepski, Facebook TAY
CookieMonster
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Re: February 7th, 2014, Lane Peak- the Fly & Avalanche
« Reply #9 on: 02/09/14, 08:00 PM »

Usually you can go out in most conditions ( even high danger ) and do whatever you want without any consequences at all. A friend of mind is fond of saying "Did you make the right decision or did you get away with it?". You ignored a bunch of red flags and didn't get away with it, but I've done far worse many times.

It's really hard to know how to manage your state of mind. I mean, in life in general, at least it is for me. It takes me a lot of effort on most days just keep myself in a workeable state of mind in terms of all the stuff I have to deal with, all the phone calls I get, all the stuff that chip-chip-chips away at my mental resources. I'm not speaking for anyone else, but I think this is fairly common. I mean, no one ever teaches you how to think, or how to manage your thoughts or stay on top of your own psychology. Most of our parents try awfully hard, but it's really like skiing... eventually you have to go do it for yourself, and maybe you're not really so sure how it's supposed to go.

For decision-making in avalanche terrain, you have to learn how to manage your own psychology so that desire ( or other stuff ) doesn't get the better of you. I wish I had some good advice, but I don't. I learn most things in life by doing them, and I rarely do anything right the first time. AvaJane has a great list of mantras; that technique works extremely well for some folks.

Maybe your problem was more in the arena of managing your psychology than it is in your knowledge? Do you have a lot of experience making decisions in high-risk situations? Have you thought about how your general worldview and impulse control might participate in decisions? I mean, I know what it's like to go out into the snow with the same countenance as a junkie looking for a fix. I've made lots of bad decisions on those days.

Glad you're alright. It would fantastically interesting if you would/could discuss your state of mind and that of your friends.

PS. I'll add myself to the list of people who want to help find your ski. Anyone have a metal detector?

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ND
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Re: February 7th, 2014, Lane Peak- the Fly & Avalanche
« Reply #10 on: 02/09/14, 10:09 PM »

Glad you made it out sans gear without injury. Easy to buy gear, money won't buy your health.

Far left in the first pic is lovers lane, then zipper and fly. I don't know that offshoot climbers right is named.  I've been in the zipper before when a west wind wrapped around the mountain and came billowing up the couloir.  Don't think those walls a
will block westerly or easterly winds.
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John Morrow
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Re: February 7th, 2014, Lane Peak- the Fly & Avalanche
« Reply #11 on: 02/10/14, 06:54 AM »

I, too, am very appreciative of you sharing this experience. 
I am wondering what your guess of the slope angle at the crown would be.  I do not see it in the write up, maybe I missed it. 
Glad you came out without injury.

A friend of mind is fond of saying "Did you make the right decision or did you get away with it?". 

Too often I ask myself that same question at the end of the day....
« Last Edit: 02/10/14, 07:11 AM by John Morrow » Logged
melger00
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Re: February 7th, 2014, Lane Peak- the Fly & Avalanche
« Reply #12 on: 02/10/14, 09:21 AM »

Usually you can go out in most conditions ( even high danger ) and do whatever you want without any consequences at all. A friend of mind is fond of saying "Did you make the right decision or did you get away with it?". You ignored a bunch of red flags and didn't get away with it, but I've done far worse many times.

For decision-making in avalanche terrain, you have to learn how to manage your own psychology so that desire ( or other stuff ) doesn't get the better of you. I wish I had some good advice, but I don't. I learn most things in life by doing them, and I rarely do anything right the first time. AvaJane has a great list of mantras; that technique works extremely well for some folks.

Maybe your problem was more in the arena of managing your psychology than it is in your knowledge? Do you have a lot of experience making decisions in high-risk situations? Have you thought about how your general worldview and impulse control might participate in decisions? I mean, I know what it's like to go out into the snow with the same countenance as a junkie looking for a fix. I've made lots of bad decisions on those days.

Glad you're alright. It would fantastically interesting if you would/could discuss your state of mind and that of your friends.

PS. I'll add myself to the list of people who want to help find your ski. Anyone have a metal detector?



Thanks for everyone's input.  This is exactly what i was hoping to accomplish through this Trip report - a place to discuss what happened and come out with a better understanding about how to avoid avalanches in the future. 

I know exactly what you mean with the 'junkie looking for a fix' analogy.  The frustrating thing is, I am not like that at all in the backcountry.  I never intentionally put myself at high risk to 'ski that line' or get to that one summit.  In fact, i consider myself safe and risk-adverse.  I think those that know me would agree.
 
I think one of the key mistakes we made on Friday was thinking that we could use our knowledge to safely assess and travel on that slope on that day.  That was part of our psychology/thought process.  A huge take-a-way for me is that you can't approach avalanche terrain with that mindset.  Maybe we could have safely navigated the slope.  9/10 times, that is what happens and I would have came out more confident, and thinking we executed good decision making and possibly make the same mistake next time.  It goes back directly to what you said - did we make good decisions or did we get lucky. 
This experience is a huge eye opener as to terrain selection.  Skiing in steep avalanche terrain during considerable conditions seems to be a bit like russian roulette.  Obviously not entirely luck, but if you keep doing it during 'dangerous avalanche conditions,' it seems only a matter of time before a mistake or error will catch up with you.

As my dad said when I was talking to him about this - 'any airplane crash that you survive is a good airplane crash.'  I guess this was a 'good avalanche.'
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savegondor
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Re: February 7th, 2014, Lane Peak- the Fly & Avalanche
« Reply #13 on: 02/10/14, 09:55 AM »

Just my input and just so you know if you hit a 'rocky mountain snowpack' all bets are off in the trees.  the only OB AVI i've ever been privileged to experience was on a 20 degree slope in thick trees.  not steep.  in trees.  well 'anchored'. hoar frost.  it was fast, it was dangerous.  i was lucky.

but in bounds being safe?  that's just plain stupid.  as are some of the openings patrol have done in my experience.  I've set off a couple on cowboy ridge that to my shame put others in danger.  and i've seen some good wet snow slides at crystal run into the groomers and endanger many a gaper. 

just helping you not jinx yourself.  as for your comments on steep i tend to agree.  if I ski a slope like this one mentioned above i'm going to assume a likelihood of a slide.  the different types of conditions only make for the type of slide.  some types of slide i'm okay with risking depending very much on a variety of factors.  but slabs really scare me the most as with anything associated with hoar frost and long periods of dry cold weather.  here again I'm thinking more of Montana snow.

but if there's going to be a debate there are a couple other lines that seem much more fraught with danger that people ski all the time.  see: the phantom, the slot, really just about gosh danged anything near alpental has some good exposure to stuff from above. 

No flame and very pleased that you were fine. But since you asked....

I am not a backcountry expert or snow expert, but I have skied an extremely large amount of powder miles. After a lifetime of west coast skiing, I have been lucky enough to have had a seasons pass at Whistler for the last 15 years. A combination of in and out of bounds skiing on big terrain has taught me three things:     (of course I've broken these rules from time to time)

Save your steep skiing for inbounds terrain if the danger is elevated.
Stay in the trees when the danger is high.
Wait a day or two after a big storm.

I love steep skiing, but I know with certainty that it's the steep slopes that slide. I can't tell you how many times I've booted up Flute at Whistler and have observed the various lines and slopes under every imaginable condition. I've been doing this since way before they started bombing and patrolling it. The slides are nearly always in the same places - and the one thing they all have in common is steepness!

I know this is not a cure all, but I also know that I have NEVER seen a big slide in the trees, and I have never seen a patroller bombing the trees. There is something in the holding power of trees that normally keep things intact.

Most of the slides I've seen have been shortly after or in the middle of heavy snowfall.

Keep skiing everything you want
Keep skiing powder
Keep skiing the steeps

But be smart enough to do it at the right time - so that you can keep doing it...
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BillK
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Re: February 7th, 2014, Lane Peak- the Fly & Avalanche
« Reply #14 on: 02/10/14, 10:06 AM »

I'll take a different tack.  You should be embarassed by your decision-making.  That objective during a period of considerable danger is just dumb.  You really need to consider your perception of your skills, and the actions you take as a result of those perceptions.  Glad you made it out OK. 
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T. Eastman
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Re: February 7th, 2014, Lane Peak- the Fly & Avalanche
« Reply #15 on: 02/10/14, 10:08 AM »

Why aren't there any trees in that area?
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DCM
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Re: February 7th, 2014, Lane Peak- the Fly & Avalanche
« Reply #16 on: 02/10/14, 10:24 AM »

I was skier #1 on this trip.  As the more experienced person I feel responsible (and embarrassed by - as someone else mentioned above) for the many poor choices that we made that day.  I wanted to write down my thoughts on what happened, as well as run through my version of the day’s events.  Mostly, I think writing this down will help me better organize my thoughts on the day, but since someone else may benefit from this as well I will post this here.  Sorry for the long write-up.

For me, I think that the root cause of the incident is based in a sense of complacency that has overtaken me with regards to avalanche safety.  Despite the fact that it is still always at the forefront of my thoughts as I am out touring, I have noticed that my observations have had less and less of an effect on my decision making process.  Years ago when I was just starting out touring in the BC I would always err on the side of caution, avoiding open slopes or choosing mellow terrain when there was any potential risk of avalanches.  I have taken classes (avy I & II) to increase my knowledge, and I continually brush up by reading and rereading the avalanche books that are out there.  Yet, as the years have passed and I have toured more and more I have found that my “experience” has led me to continually ratchet up the risk level in favor of skiing interesting lines or bagging summits.  All of the positive reinforcement (I have only had one previous avalanche incident and it was very minor) from my experience has given me a false sense of security.  As CookieMonster mentioned above, what was the real basis for this “experience,” did I avoid any avalanche incidents because I made good decisions or was I just damn lucky.  In reality it was certainly some of both over the years.  I like to think that I generally make good decisions, but then when you get caught with your hand in the cookie jar with an incident like this it clearly highlights the fact that you do not always make good decisions, and in fact you sometimes make really stupid decisions.

Even just a couple of years ago I never would have chosen to ski this line in these conditions.  I probably would have spent a day like that skiing somewhere in the trees or on a different aspect slope that had less wind affected snow.  Both of us really wanted to ski that line that day though.  I found myself finding justifications for continuing higher and higher up into the couloir as we climbed.  Climbing up the base of the fan was quite reasonable with mostly unconsolidated snow.  As we approached where all of the alder was near the top of the fan the snow became quite variable.  In some areas it was a hard crust that was perfect for booting, in other areas it was unconsolidated snow, and in other areas it was soft wind slab varying in depth up to a few inches.  This was the first on snow clue that we should be considering skiing something else altogether, but I found myself thinking that we could easily avoid the wind slab and skin through the powder.  As we approached the point where the Zipper and the Fly converge our tongue of unconsolidated powder narrowed enough that skinning through it was no longer possible.  We switched to booting and moved out left to the more supportable snow that was better for booting.  Here we could clearly see the wind slab that we had seen down lower was still evident here, but it was quite a bit deeper.  I did a couple of quick hand shear tests that confirmed that the wind slab was reactive, although very localized.  This would have been another good opportunity to turn around and go ski somewhere else, but we were just about in the couloir now and it looked so good.  So, I suggested that we should continue on, staying to the right to avoid the wind slab that was lurking out climbers left.  We now found ourselves on excellent booting snow that was very supportive and allowed us to make quick work of climbing up into the couloir.  As we neared the upper reaches of the couloir it narrowed and steepened, until we finally reached a point where it was obvious that was no longer possible to avoid the wind slab, which clearly reached across the entire couloir.  At this point I found myself searching for justifications that would allow us to continue to the top.  We were so close, and I so badly wanted to ski this line.  I did a couple more quick hand shear tests, telling myself that the shear quality was not very clean.  It would be alright, it is only a small pocket of wind slab.  We could just quickly climb over it and point our skis through it on the way down.  It won’t slide.  Fortunately, I made a rational decision and decided that it was not wise to continue and that we could always come back another day (probably my only rational decision of the day).  I’m glad I made this decision, although I wish I had made it much earlier in the day (like as we climbed up the fan). 

After transitioning, we skied back out of the couloir, being careful to stay away from the wind slab, making tight turns on the tongue of powder that remained on skier’s left.  We stopped to regroup where the other couloir meets the Fly.  At this point we felt that we were through the dangerous part, as we were nearly out of the couloir.  What could go wrong now?  Oh, right, the wind slab that was still lurking out skier’s right at the top of the fan.  I forgot about that part.  In fact, I was so stupid as to suggest that we ski down to the top of the fan, stopping right below the rocks where the red horizontal line is shown in the picture above, right where there was some wind slab that we had identified on the way up.  I am left dumbfounded that I made this decision.  I was so lost in the notion that we were out of the dangerous part that I forgot that we were still in dangerous terrain. 

After regrouping in this stupid area, I skied down some and pulled off right towards a small rib that separates two of the different drainages as they run out on the face of the fan.  I turned around to watch Skier #2 as he began his descent, I then looked away for an instant, and when I looked back I saw what I thought was a large slough coming down.  I decided that I should move further to skier’s right to get on the other side of the small rib as it looked like a large slough that I probably did not want to get hit with.  When I looked back again I saw the large chunks of soft slab rocketing down the slope at unimaginable speed.  The unbelievable was happening…an avalanche.  I looked back up hoping to see Skier #2 safely above, but all I saw was the crown and the smooth bed surface.  I pulled my beacon out, switched it to search mode, and began to ski down the slope as slowly as possible.  Almost right away I hear Skier #2 yelling for me.  I put my beacon back in the holster and skied down to him following his voice.  Fortunately he was only partially buried and not injured.  We were both extremely lucky. 
I don’t think that it is often that one gets an opportunity to learn from one’s mistakes in avalanche terrain, and I am very thankful that we were given this opportunity.  I don’t plan to squander it.  I find myself thinking about what would have happened if we had just skied straight out of the couloir, following our up track without stopping where we did.  It is highly likely that we would not have triggered an avalanche, and we would have skied back to the car proud of our good decision to turn around that day.  We may have discussed our proximity to the wind slab pockets and how that may not have been the best choice of terrain for that day, as I usually try to be critical of the choices that I make on every tour, but this sort of reflection would have offered a fleeting lesson at best and more likely none at all.  I also find myself reflecting back on previous tours and wondering about the decisions that I have made in avalanche terrain in the past: was I making good decisions or was I just #%$&ing lucky?

Going forward I will be erring more on the conservative side with my terrain choices and lines, although I wonder how long that will last before the graveness of this lesson fades and the complacency starts creeping back in.  I am not yet sure how I will contend with this element.  I think the most important thing will be to remember that I don’t always make good decisions, particularly when there is a reward at play (like skiing a great line or bagging a summit).  Hopefully, if I can keep that thought in my head I will be able to be more introspective about my decision making process. 

Lastly, to answer the question from John Morrow above.  I did not measure the slope angle where the slide occurred, but I would estimate that it was in the low thirties.  I wish I had taken some time to better document things at the slide site, but we were hopeful that we could find the skis to make getting back to the car easier.           
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T. Eastman
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Re: February 7th, 2014, Lane Peak- the Fly & Avalanche
« Reply #17 on: 02/10/14, 10:42 AM »

DCM, that is an extremely well considered analysis.  Thank you for speaking with such honesty and humility.
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BillK
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Re: February 7th, 2014, Lane Peak- the Fly & Avalanche
« Reply #18 on: 02/10/14, 11:07 AM »

Indeed, very good self-analysis.  Examining our thinking and decision-making is probably the most important thing we can do.  Go or no-go is probably the simplist, but hardest and most critical decision we can make. 

The one time I "got slid" was very avoidable and should not have happened....lots of no-go signs.  Even a few yards away would have been safer.  
« Last Edit: 02/10/14, 11:18 AM by BillK » Logged
n16ht5
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Re: February 7th, 2014, Lane Peak- the Fly & Avalanche
« Reply #19 on: 02/10/14, 11:15 AM »

wow, thanks for posting this up and glad you are OK[tt][/tt]
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Andrew Carey
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Re: February 7th, 2014, Lane Peak- the Fly & Avalanche
« Reply #20 on: 02/10/14, 11:17 AM »

DCM, that is a great write up, acknowledging the power of positive reinforcement over warning signs and a priori information.  Yes, there will be an increasing danger of complacency for just the same reason.

One suggestion occurred to me:  print out your write-up, put it in a baggies, and rubber band it around your transceiver every evening after skiing.  It probably is the absolute best reminder you will have about the psychology of decision making.

Glad you guys are ok.
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... want your own private skintrack? Better move to the yukon dude. (B'ham Allen, 2011).
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Andy Carey, Nisqually Park, 3500 feet below Paradise
BillK
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Re: February 7th, 2014, Lane Peak- the Fly & Avalanche
« Reply #21 on: 02/10/14, 11:19 AM »

^^^^That's a great idea Andrew!
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Chamois
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Re: February 7th, 2014, Lane Peak- the Fly & Avalanche
« Reply #22 on: 02/10/14, 12:58 PM »

Thanks so much for the narrative and photos.

Just a couple of added observations.  It seems that you knew, somewhere in your brain, about the risks you were taking.   But these were not verbalized either on the ascent or the descent.  I've gotten into the habitat of initiating discussions on the "avy plan" at several junctions - at the car, at the beginning of a terrain change, and before the descent. 

Possibly if you had these discussions you would have spoken about the risks aloud with the group, which would have allowed for a more insightful analysis.  Or, at the very least, a safer descent plan.    There's a lot of inertia that gets built up on BC trips, for many reasons - urge to get out, personalities, blue-bird syndrome, whatever.

Push through and develop a plan at the beginning of the day and discuss it at several junctions.  Glad you are only banged up - be safe.
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patrick
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Re: February 7th, 2014, Lane Peak- the Fly & Avalanche
« Reply #23 on: 02/10/14, 01:36 PM »

Skiers 1 and 2, thanks for sharing your leaning experience with us, and thanks for you detailed analysis.  I'm sure I'm not the only one who's experienced a similar mindset approaching an objecting.  This is a reminder we can all use. 

A lesson I've beef lucky to learn cheaply is the danger inherent in "advanced" decision-making.  I don't know if this comment applies to your particular case, but either way it's worth adding.  As you gather more years of experience and travel with more capable companions I think there's a tendency to concoct pretty complex arguments for continuing in the face of a risky NWAC forecast.  You feel confident saying, "well, these dangerous factors are present, but the snow's not cohesive, or the bed surface is rough, the weak layer isn't present here, or the slab is shallow, so we're safe."  And you'll *probably* be right.  I've learned to ask two questions when I find myself making this type of argument:
1) How confident am I of my assessment?  Even 99% confidence isn't enough when a slide would be disastrous.  I developed this rule after thinking back on a great day that definitely violated it. 
2) How robust is my assessment to changing conditions?  If only one condition needs to change for your argument for safety to collapse, then you run a good chance of being surprised.  I've been amazed by the short distances over which a slab will deeper or stiffen. 

And finally, skier 1, can I ask for more data about your experience during the slide?  If you'd had an airbag or an Avalung, do you think you would have been able to deploy it successfully, or was the fall too violent?
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melger00
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Re: February 7th, 2014, Lane Peak- the Fly & Avalanche
« Reply #24 on: 02/10/14, 02:17 PM »

Skiers 1 and 2, thanks for sharing your leaning experience with us, and thanks for you detailed analysis.  I'm sure I'm not the only one who's experienced a similar mindset approaching an objecting.  This is a reminder we can all use. 

A lesson I've beef lucky to learn cheaply is the danger inherent in "advanced" decision-making.  I don't know if this comment applies to your particular case, but either way it's worth adding.  As you gather more years of experience and travel with more capable companions I think there's a tendency to concoct pretty complex arguments for continuing in the face of a risky NWAC forecast.  You feel confident saying, "well, these dangerous factors are present, but the snow's not cohesive, or the bed surface is rough, the weak layer isn't present here, or the slab is shallow, so we're safe."  And you'll *probably* be right.  I've learned to ask two questions when I find myself making this type of argument:
1) How confident am I of my assessment?  Even 99% confidence isn't enough when a slide would be disastrous.  I developed this rule after thinking back on a great day that definitely violated it. 
2) How robust is my assessment to changing conditions?  If only one condition needs to change for your argument for safety to collapse, then you run a good chance of being surprised.  I've been amazed by the short distances over which a slab will deeper or stiffen. 

And finally, skier 1, can I ask for more data about your experience during the slide?  If you'd had an airbag or an Avalung, do you think you would have been able to deploy it successfully, or was the fall too violent?

Patrick - thanks for sharing your assessment strategies.  These seem like good techniques.

Thanks for everyone else's input as well.  Andrew - great idea on re-reading the write up prior to going on every tour.  That seems like it would strike enough of a self response every time to ground me again.

Regarding the slide, I am not sure if i would have been able to pull an airbag or get an avalung in my mouth.  I saw the slide for a split second before it hit me, but it knocked me down almost instantly.  It seemed violent and the only things I recall doing and thinking about were trying to swim, trying to stay loose (ragdoll affect) in hopes of preserving my bones and muscles, and then as the slide slowed, putting my arms up near my face to create an air pocket.    And really hoping that my partner wasn't also in the slide.  It seems like I could have pulled a cord or grabbed the avalung from my shoulder strap, but I can't say for sure.  Being able to deploy an airbag would not be out of the question, had I had one.   
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steadyski
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Re: February 7th, 2014, Lane Peak- the Fly & Avalanche
« Reply #25 on: 02/10/14, 03:51 PM »

I'm with Billk on this. Embarrassing is a good word for the situation. Just a note to all, "this year is going to be different" keep it in mind, it reminds me of winter 1977. I climbed more than i skied in those years.

greg 
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Floater
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Re: February 7th, 2014, Lane Peak- the Fly & Avalanche
« Reply #26 on: 02/10/14, 05:50 PM »

Thanks for writing this report and do not feel bad this happened.  It can happen to anyone that ventures into the backcountry.  All you can do is digest it and learn from it. 

By writing this you helped me.  This is an area I will definitely avoid.  I was playing around there last year and it sure had a lot of avalanche debris.  Much appreciated report, very well written.
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avajane
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Re: February 7th, 2014, Lane Peak- the Fly & Avalanche
« Reply #27 on: 02/11/14, 12:20 AM »

Savegondor said:
Just my input and just so you know if you hit a 'rocky mountain snowpack' all bets are off in the trees.  the only OB AVI i've ever been privileged to experience was on a 20 degree slope in thick trees.  not steep.  in trees.  well 'anchored'. hoar frost.  it was fast, it was dangerous.  i was lucky.
but in bounds being safe?  that's just plain stupid. 


I've climbed lots of big walls and big mountains, rafted dangerous rivers, and skied steep slopes my whole life. I think a few times I have been lucky to have survived - but most of the time it's been because I'm not stupid.  Wink

I'd love to ski the Rockies sometime, but that's neither here nor there. I was talking about Pacific Coast snowpacks where most of us tend to hid in the trees from time to time. (or go resort skiing)

I never said inbounds was safe. Just that on elevated danger days - if you want to ski the steeps, stay inbounds. If you don't trust your ski patrol, then make your own decisions or go somewhere else where you do trust them. I  have witnessed a potentially deadly inbounds avalanche at Whistler, but I like to believe them when they say they've never had an inbounds fatality at Whistler. (That's a lot of skier days - on a hell of a big mountain!) I know there no absolute guarantees, but if I get knocked off in an inbounds avalanche, I doubt many will call me stupid.

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Brian Izdepski, Facebook TAY
JCK
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Re: February 7th, 2014, Lane Peak- the Fly & Avalanche
« Reply #28 on: 02/11/14, 07:10 AM »

Thanks for sharing your experiences---it is brave and a really useful analysis of what went wrong.  Much appreciated.
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Charlie Hagedorn
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Re: February 7th, 2014, Lane Peak- the Fly & Avalanche
« Reply #29 on: 02/11/14, 08:36 AM »

Thank you for posting!
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garyabrill
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Re: February 7th, 2014, Lane Peak- the Fly & Avalanche
« Reply #30 on: 02/11/14, 09:41 AM »

Wow, fabulous review of your avalanche incident from both of you.

A couple of thoughts. It sounds like you have a firm grip on what happened. I like to think about having a risk profile. And as skier number one (DCM) said in his write-up, his profile was becoming too risky and he was aware of that.

Chamois brought up a good point when he spoke of communication. I think that is particularly true if one is the lead duck. It is important to stop and talk over your choices and to discuss the reasons for making them. When one is the leader this is important so the group doesn't make a choice that is too risky for one of the members who is not as much of a risk taker.

Finally, in as much as this was an incident rather than an accident, it will be important for both of you to keep in perspective that with a few things changed this could have come out a lot worse so that you can truly learn from this experience.
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andyrew
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Re: February 7th, 2014, Lane Peak- the Fly & Avalanche
« Reply #31 on: 02/11/14, 09:43 AM »

1) How confident am I of my assessment?  Even 99% confidence isn't enough when a slide would be disastrous.  I developed this rule after thinking back on a great day that definitely violated it. 
2) How robust is my assessment to changing conditions?  If only one condition needs to change for your argument for safety to collapse, then you run a good chance of being surprised.  I've been amazed by the short distances over which a slab will deeper or stiffen. 

Great advice.
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Micah
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Re: February 7th, 2014, Lane Peak- the Fly & Avalanche
« Reply #32 on: 02/11/14, 09:58 AM »

Thanks so much for posting your experiences. I'm sure it is not easy to do in front of your community, but your report is a big service to the the rest of us. I'm glad all the recent close calls have turned out OK and that there was no serious injury or loss of life.

I wanted to ask if you (folks involved in this incident and the community generally) think assessing the snow in the couloir from the top after climbing up another route would have worked out better. I'm not familiar with the area, so I don't know if the line can be accessed in a way other than climbing it or if alternate up tracks are any safer. I am not advocating for one practice or the other (climb what you ski or check things out from the top). But, from your account, it seems like you might have had more definitive information at the top where the slab may have been the most developed and decided to stay out of the couloir altogether instead of poking around at the bottom of the instabilities until you felt the conditions were too dangerous. OTOH the slide occurred on relatively tame terrain below the steepest slopes, and you would likely travel through similar terrain on any up track.
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ND
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Re: February 7th, 2014, Lane Peak- the Fly & Avalanche
« Reply #33 on: 02/11/14, 10:50 AM »

I wanted to ask if you (folks involved in this incident and the community generally) think assessing the snow in the couloir from the top after climbing up another route would have worked out better. I'm not familiar with the area, so I don't know if the line can be accessed in a way other than climbing it or if alternate up tracks are any safer. I am not advocating for one practice or the other (climb what you ski or check things out from the top). But, from your account, it seems like you might have had more definitive information at the top where the slab may have been the most developed and decided to stay out of the couloir altogether instead of poking around at the bottom of the instabilities until you felt the conditions were too dangerous. OTOH the slide occurred on relatively tame terrain below the steepest slopes, and you would likely travel through similar terrain on any up track.

That's a double edged sword.  I believe it was stated earlier in the thread that trees climbers right can be taken to get to the top of the fly, I can't confirm since I've never tried.  You can easily go up the col climbers left to the top of the zipper. 

Yes taking that approach will reduce your exposure time greatly, however you also will have no real idea what you're really getting yourself in to.  The top section you can belay in to will not tell you if a cornice fall hit the couloir mid pitch earlier in the week exposing an icy bed surface.  If you went flying off in to the zipper right now cowboy style you wouldn't know that the chockstone was thin ice on the rock a few weeks ago, that could go badly. 

The flip side of this is that climbing the line you are exposing yourself to objective hazard the entire time.  This is extremely important to remember later in the spring when solar effects are greatest.  I've had my own close calls with rock/cornice fall (see my report of bad decisions on CJ last spring for example) and in general will not do lines like this if I can't get a proper alpine start.  Mid winter that isn't as much of a concern, but it's still there.  The bankers hours at Rainier really screw that up. 

In general I want to climb what I will ski, I ride more confidently when I KNOW what I'm about to get in to.  If I think that the objective hazard is high enough that I don't want to climb it then I probably shouldn't be skiing it anyway.   
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Mofro
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Re: February 7th, 2014, Lane Peak- the Fly & Avalanche
« Reply #34 on: 02/11/14, 10:54 AM »

Thank you for sharing your experience, which hopefully has led you to what I have come to call a Risk Assessment Reset Episode. All of our actions in the mountains involve some element of risk and usually the risk tolerance is determined by our level of experience, confidence in our abilities, and our confidence in our own assessments, which can often be jaded by "what we were able to get a away within the past". These RARE moments, are to my mind are critical parts to avalanche awareness and increased safety over the long haul, because they serve as reminders that the mountains do not care about our experience, proficiency, confidence, or desire for an objective. 

One can talk about the stupidity or lack of awareness that leads up to a RARE event, or the luck involved in their avoidance or in coming out of one unharmed. But it is only blind luck or stupidity if we don't take the queues from the learning experience as an opportunity to alter our behavior and reset or reduce our risk tolerance such that a RARE occurrence does not become common place.   
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not always bad
Robert Connor
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Re: February 7th, 2014, Lane Peak- the Fly & Avalanche
« Reply #35 on: 02/12/14, 09:28 AM »

but in bounds being safe?  that's just plain stupid.  as are some of the openings patrol have done in my experience.  I've set off a couple on cowboy ridge that to my shame put others in danger.  and i've seen some good wet snow slides at crystal run into the groomers and endanger many a gaper.

I too have triggered a slide on Cowboy Ridge.  I think it was too small to endanger people below me, but I don't know for sure.  I do know that it was scary as hell being carried towards a tree studded gully thinking "this is not good, this is not good, gotta stop."  I am shaking enough it is hard to type just thinking back to it.

I don't know that I can blame patrol for having it open.  The line that slid was 20-30 feet away from where they had done explosive control.  It was just a slightly different shape and position that got more wind loaded than where they had blasted. I am sure they thought they had the area well controlled.  Maybe they should have been more conservative in their determination, but I know for sure that I should have been more conservative in my decision making.
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aaron_wright
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Re: February 7th, 2014, Lane Peak- the Fly & Avalanche
« Reply #36 on: 02/12/14, 10:51 AM »

Interesting. Good post incident analysis. You guys essential ski cut the wind slab from below. Is that rib where skier 1 stopped really a terrain feature or the debris fan from Zipper? It looks like if you had skied the fall line out of the coolie that you might have avoided the slab. Not that it matters, as you've noted you shouldn't have been there.
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DCM
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Re: February 7th, 2014, Lane Peak- the Fly & Avalanche
« Reply #37 on: 02/12/14, 12:09 PM »

Thanks for all of the good replies everyone.  There have been some very useful thoughts posted here, many of which we will likely incorporate into our routine.  In response to Aaron_Wright's post about the rib, I am not sure if that was really a terrain feature or not, as I have not been there in the summer time.  If it was from avalanche deposition, it was still significant enough in size to confine the slide to that one path down the fan.  Also, I agree that it is possible that we never would have triggered the slide if we had skied more skier's left, but that tongue of unconsolidated snow over towards skier's left was still pretty narrow at that point on the slope.  Even if we had avoided the slide, it would have been due to dumb luck.
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savegondor
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Re: February 7th, 2014, Lane Peak- the Fly & Avalanche
« Reply #38 on: 02/12/14, 03:18 PM »

I too have triggered a slide on Cowboy Ridge.  I think it was too small to endanger people below me, but I don't know for sure.  I do know that it was scary as hell being carried towards a tree studded gully thinking "this is not good, this is not good, gotta stop."  I am shaking enough it is hard to type just thinking back to it.

I don't know that I can blame patrol for having it open.  The line that slid was 20-30 feet away from where they had done explosive control.  It was just a slightly different shape and position that got more wind loaded than where they had blasted. I am sure they thought they had the area well controlled.  Maybe they should have been more conservative in their determination, but I know for sure that I should have been more conservative in my decision making.

clarification of my 'stupid' remark:  puns aside I meant to say that it is stupid in my opinion to ASSUME safety just because I'm in-bounds.  and even more so in controlled 'side-country'.  do I generally feel 'safer' in bounds?  absolutely.  these slides are more rare.  but it's the ASSUMPTION that i take issue with especially in areas I'm familiar with aka Alpental, Crystal, Mission Ridge, Baker, White Pass. 

secondly I don't generally blame patrol for controlling or not controlling a slope.  there just needs to be good communication about it.  i.e. I do think skiing from OB into IB on cowboy should probably be prohibited on Cowboy.  and maybe it already is.  just seems like a liability disaster waiting to happen.  my slide didn't hurt anyone...but the other skier involved probably lost his ski forever under 10-12 feet of snow.   

I have seen or observed evidence of many an inbounds slide that happened while the ski area was open and not during control work.  hence my opinion on the matter.   to pick on cowboy...that sucker scares me more than the line this thread was originally posted about. 
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savegondor
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Re: February 7th, 2014, Lane Peak- the Fly & Avalanche
« Reply #39 on: 02/12/14, 03:24 PM »

my only input on the FLY is that given the conditions there doesn't really seem to be a safe zone anywhere in those pics you offered.  if i'm going to take some chances I'm going to look at something that has a nice ridge-line...like those AK skiers do with all  their 'sluff-management' skilz.  probably a topic for hot air.  i digress. 
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avajane
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Re: February 7th, 2014, Lane Peak- the Fly & Avalanche
« Reply #40 on: 02/12/14, 07:02 PM »

I do think skiing from OB into IB on cowboy should probably be prohibited on Cowboy.  and maybe it already is.  just seems like a liability disaster waiting to happen.  my slide didn't hurt anyone...but the other skier involved probably lost his ski forever under 10-12 feet of snow.   

In Whistler there are lots of areas that are "out of bounds" but they don't really care. For areas where they really care - they have signs that say "Permanently Closed Area" and some more wording making it clear that they will pull your pass if they catch you there. These are areas like "Mondays" above West Bowl, and certain sections in the Spankey's Ladder area. They are all similar to Cowboy Ridge at Stevens in that an avalanche triggered there could affect skiers in the resort below. The ski area should be able to have the "teeth" to protect their skiers.
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Brian Izdepski, Facebook TAY
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