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Author Topic: 3-17-14 Mt Hood instabilities  (Read 14947 times)
rong
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3-17-14 Mt Hood instabilities
« on: 03/18/14, 06:32 AM »

I partnered up with Stoudema for what looked to be a nice shot at some late season Mt Hood powder.  We toured west from Timberline starting at 8:45am.  Temperatures were in the low 20's with a strong west wind, thin cloud cover and continuing snow fall.  The forecast overnight had been for 10-12" with a daytime forecast of less <1", but in reality there had been 16-18 in 10 hours, with continuing accumulation.  On the tour we noticed frequent compression cracks and the occasional shooting crack on low angle slopes.  Hasty pits revealed a weak sun crust from the previous 2 days of warm weather covered by 5" of low density with the upper portion of the new snow being higher density due to the effects of the wind.  We crossed Sand canyon in the vicinity of the PCT and once again did a couple hasty pits on the west side (E/SE aspect) of the canyon and found the lower unconsolidated layer to be reactive and or concerns were heightened but not to the point of a turnaround as there were plenty of options ahead in avy safe areas.  Our next crossing was the Little Zigzag canyon also on the PCT track.  When we reached the rim of the canyon we were in single travel mode, and I descended first to the bottom of the canyon, about a 100' drop.  Stoudema  followed after my go ahead signal, and we regrouped for a moment to discus our climb out strategy.  Once again it was one at a time protocol, and I took the lead again.  I started up the west wall (SE aspect). I had traveled about 20', and decided to put my Dynafits in ski mode as a precaution, but leaving my leashes with breakaways connected. My plan was to move a little further and perform another hasty.  Traversing another 50 or so feet which put me about 20' up the wall a large shooting crack projected out and slightly down in front of me, and I realized instantly that the slope was going.  I looked up and Yelled "slide".  At this point I had about 2 seconds before the first wave over ran me, and thought I could brace and withstand it, but it crested right above me about chest height, and knocked me downhill on my left side.  I was carried down hill under the pile for a couple seconds, fighting to gain the surface, but it continued to get darker.  I was able to keep my right hand clear as things slowed, and try to clear snow away from my mouth, but was aspirating small amounts, and choking.  Right as the pile came to a rest for me what appeared from my view as another wave passed over me thinning the coverage to where I could see light.  With my free right arm I was able to punch through the 18" of pile above me and clear a small hole, get out a short wave, and a choking yell.  My mouth and upper throat were filled with snow, but i was still able to get air through my nose, and with my free hand was able to dislodge most of what was in my mouth and continue to clear a breathing area.  I heard nothing back from Stoudema, and at this point was starting to believe the run out had overtaken him as well, creating a much heightened fear in me.  I only had the mobility of my right hand, as my head torso and so forth were encased.  I will be the first to admit I have visualized this scenario, but never expected to play it out.  As I continued with my assumed attempt at self rescue, a face peered down through my hole.  Cheesy .  Instant calmness overwhelmed me, and now I could see the impact the event was having on Matt.  The run out had indeed passed him by a few feet, but didn't knock him down.  He was able to get clear in a few seconds, and did notice my hand poking out, and hear a muffled yell.  He had to survey the slope above for continuing danger, and after a determination that the entire slope had released, move towards my position, and dig me out.  As he started to my position he lost track of the exact spot, as my hand was back under, and took a moment to pull out his transceiver.  By his recollection I was only under about 2 minutes til he arrived, but it seemed like forever to me.  He was able to dig me out in 5 minutes, my skis were still leashed to my boots, as this had been a non-violent episode, but they were strained.  I was uninjured.  My poles were gone, and required over an hour of excavating to find.  One was below and behind me, and the other was about 6 feet ahead of me, I assume where it had been ejected when the wave hit me.  As stated earlier my head was about 1.5' under and my feet were ~3-4' down.  I had been carried 25'.  The debris pile at it's deepest which appeared to coincide with my burial location was 5'.  The length of the slide path was ~150' with ~100' of vertical fall.  The width of the slide is indeterminate as we could not see the upper flank in the continuing storm, but the lower flank was about 150' down from our position.  At this time we guess the width to be 300-400'.  Slope angle is 30 to 35 degrees, steepening at the crown.  The crown was variable from 1' to 2.5', and the bed surface was a Q1.  I was the trigger.  This was the only place we noticed this low a Q value throughout the day.  Other locations revealed the weak structure in the storm snow, but not the bonding weakness.  We did continue our trip, and encountered nothing more, besides powdery bliss.  The options for skiing were limited to trees, and under their shelter there was none of the slabbiness encountered earlier.  4 hours of continued touring and skiing brought us back to the same place of the slide, only form the top side now, at which time we did extensive stability testing in the form of hasties, cutting, and  stomping.  No instability was noticed, and the judgement was that 4 hours was the cure.  The lower density snow near the crust was now non-reactive.  We continued our tour home with no further incident. This extended time beyond the incident allowed for discussion on how we had fallen into this trap, and how further incidents can be avoided.  Also, discussed were how to improve travel and ski protocols.  Over the years of no incidents we get sloppy.  I believe it is human nature, and what happened on this trip revealed it.  We did enough to survive; we could have done more.  As to how we fell into this trap, I am not going there specifically. All the information is embedded in the story above.  I think there is some things in this event that will help others, and it has been interesting for me to write.  I thank Matt for saving my butt, and owe him many beers in the future.  R 
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TAndrewSki
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Re: 3-17-14 Mt Hood instabilities
« Reply #1 on: 03/18/14, 07:10 AM »

Thanks for the write up, was looking at doing Hood on Thursday. Glad you made it out ok.
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Andrew Carey
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Re: 3-17-14 Mt Hood instabilities
« Reply #2 on: 03/18/14, 07:51 AM »

Close call; nice write-up.
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... want your own private skintrack? Better move to the yukon dude. (B'ham Allen, 2011).
...USA: government of the people by corporate proxies for business.

Andy Carey, Nisqually Park, 3500 feet below Paradise
JoeMack
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Re: 3-17-14 Mt Hood instabilities
« Reply #3 on: 03/18/14, 08:52 AM »

Wow! Glad you guys made it out safely.

Since it was St. Patrick's Day, you must have been wearing some green to be so lucky?
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pk
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Re: 3-17-14 Mt Hood instabilities
« Reply #4 on: 03/18/14, 09:33 AM »

Thanks for posting and I'm very happy you're ok (we shared some trail time on a sunny corny day at MSH a few years back).   I agree that it's a constant battle to overcome normalization to risk ("Over the years of no incidents we get sloppy") but accounts like this one can serve as a reminder to stay alert.  Mainly for that reason, I am always very appreciative of reports like this.   
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bfree32
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Re: 3-17-14 Mt Hood instabilities
« Reply #5 on: 03/18/14, 10:34 AM »

Is the Enter/Return key broken on your keyboard? Glad you're safe.
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Patarero
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Re: 3-17-14 Mt Hood instabilities
« Reply #6 on: 03/18/14, 11:23 AM »

Glad you made it out Ron, close one. 
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T. Eastman
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Re: 3-17-14 Mt Hood instabilities
« Reply #7 on: 03/18/14, 08:51 PM »

Speaks volumes to the use of hasties, cutting , and stomping when slope cracking has been noted...
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rong
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Re: 3-17-14 Mt Hood instabilities
« Reply #8 on: 03/18/14, 09:13 PM »

Here are some photos from the day. 

https://plus.google.com/photos/103077181882908407248/albums/5992335518035603937?authkey=CP_c4ujU3vbqGA

Photo #3  Me traversing up the slope that failed seconds before.
Photo #4  Some of the debris pile, bed surface, and crown above.
Photo #5  Me looking for 2nd pole in the hole where i was buried.
Photo #10 Map of the location (red dot in center) of the incident.
« Last Edit: 03/19/14, 06:49 AM by rong » Logged
cascadekid
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Re: 3-17-14 Mt Hood instabilities
« Reply #9 on: 03/18/14, 10:14 PM »

We saw your tracks while out today. With scoured lee slopes and intimidatingly widespread wind-loading we saw no reason to travel into little zigzag canyon.

I think the location that you're referring to is actually en-route to little zig zag. In the future, you might consider traveling up about 750' vertical where that moraine can be end-run at the top. That's a good way to get pas tthat terrain trap and access the terrain beyond.

Found your tracks in the trees too. That's where it was nice today.

Glad that you're unscathed. This is a strong story about human factors.
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rong
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Re: 3-17-14 Mt Hood instabilities
« Reply #10 on: 03/19/14, 06:40 AM »

We saw your tracks while out today. With scoured lee slopes and intimidatingly widespread wind-loading we saw no reason to travel into little zigzag canyon.

I think the location that you're referring to is actually en-route to little zig zag. In the future, you might consider traveling up about 750' vertical where that moraine can be end-run at the top. That's a good way to get pas tthat terrain trap and access the terrain beyond.


GPS location for the incident  45.3378 - 121.7272.    Elevation 5836.  Descripion: Intersection of the Pacific Crest Trail and the Little Zig Zag Canyon.

I have crossed above the little zig zag at ~7000' due west of the top terminal for the magic mile lift on several occasions, but consider it a no go during the storm cycle, which we were in the day of the accident.
Below that there tends to be heavy cornicing and the first "safe" crossing is where we got trapped.  ~6" of snow fell that day with moderate to strong winds, so for us it was a decision to stay at or below the tree line.  Perhaps you are referring the Zig Zag canyon which is a much larger feature 3/4 miles further west/northwest.  If that is the case, I agree, it was a no ski on 3-17, as well as all other open terrain.  Trees were the only option, and that is where we ended up after our delay.

Of other note: we observed strong wind loading and deposition on lee slopes (east) and scouring on windward slopes (west).  The slide occurred on a SE slope.

Others are confused by some of the images.  I will go back and label them.  Thanks for the input and comments.  Ron


* avy_location_3-17-2014.JPG (110.35 KB, 594x624 - viewed 1589 times.)
« Last Edit: 03/19/14, 07:02 AM by rong » Logged
Edgesport
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Re: 3-17-14 Mt Hood instabilities
« Reply #11 on: 03/19/14, 07:58 AM »

Wow, so glad your okay.  Scary stuff.  That crossing is a necessary evil much of the time for all the reasons pointed out and all the elements are there; trap, angle, loading.  I can't think of anywhere to dig prior to that crossing that would be representative of that slope and there is no where to do hasties, stomps, or cuts that mimic that slope either.  I wish the hood community contributed more on this site because one really has to have traveled that crossing to have a discussion about your situation.  I don't know what else you could have done.  Again, so glad you two are okay. 
« Last Edit: 03/19/14, 08:20 AM by Edgesport » Logged

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BillK
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Re: 3-17-14 Mt Hood instabilities
« Reply #12 on: 03/19/14, 08:37 AM »

I don't know what else you could have done.  Again, so glad you two are okay. 

"but in reality there had been 16-18 in 10 hours, with continuing accumulation.  On the tour we noticed frequent compression cracks and the occasional shooting crack on low angle slopes"


Stayed home?
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Micah
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Re: 3-17-14 Mt Hood instabilities
« Reply #13 on: 03/19/14, 09:51 AM »

Rong: glad you are OK, man! Thanks for distributing this info in such a detailed and forthright manner. This case is tough b/c the slope that slid is such a small barrier on a route I would otherwise say is safe. And the slope is so small that it is hard to take is seriously -- this is good reminder that even small slopes can result in a burial if the stars align.  One thing I have noticed this season is multiple folks in the same party are getting caught, sometimes in 'safe' areas, when things go bigger than anticipated. I think this points out the difficulty in mitigating exposure by spacing out -- if the avalanche-prone slopes are very large at all, exposing one party member at a time results in very slow travel.

BillK: I would certainly have been out on 3/17 if I had the chance!
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Floater
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Re: 3-17-14 Mt Hood instabilities
« Reply #14 on: 03/19/14, 09:58 AM »

I hope you are not dissed for writing this.  There may be folks that critique your decision making process, but hopefully they will not do it in arrogant manner.  This could have been any backcountry skier who loves to ski powder.  It is a roll of the dice.  If you want to really ski powder out of bounds you have to assume some level of risk.  All you can do is improve your odds.  At zero odds the powder skiing is often not as enjoyable.  All you can do is balance risk to your level of enjoyment knowing the serious consequences.  I got back from a long ski trip and we made some sketchy decisions, more sketchy than yours.  We got away with some stuff.

Thank the Snow Goddess you are here and that she only baptized you.  I wish you have many more years of turns.  

Thanks for sharing, much appreciated.   Smiley
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BillK
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Re: 3-17-14 Mt Hood instabilities
« Reply #15 on: 03/19/14, 10:04 AM »

BillK: I would certainly have been out on 3/17 if I had the chance!

Good for you, Micah!  And maybe you would've ended up dead, like this guy almost did.

You guys romanticize this sport to the point of ridicule...."a roll of the dice"...give me a break!  It doesn't have to be a gamble or a guessing game.  Significant snowfall, windloading, shooting cracks all tell me that you should stay off terrain (even micro-terrain) that may slide.  The guy gambled and lost....almost lost his life.

The upside of their experience is that both of them learned very valuable lessons that may prevent something similar, or worse, in the future.  I've met Stoudema....hell of a nice guy.
« Last Edit: 03/19/14, 10:20 AM by BillK » Logged
Garth_Ferber
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Re: 3-17-14 Mt Hood instabilities
« Reply #16 on: 03/19/14, 10:12 AM »

Thanks for the write up and glad you are ok!
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cascadekid
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Re: 3-17-14 Mt Hood instabilities
« Reply #17 on: 03/19/14, 10:16 AM »

If you want to really ski powder out of bounds you have to assume some level of risk.  All you can do is improve your odds.  At zero odds the powder skiing is often not as enjoyable.  All you can do is balance risk to your level of enjoyment knowing the serious consequences.

While it's true that we always assume some risk while skiing in the backcountry, or in the resort for that matter,  I think it reveals an ill-considered and unfortunate assumption to equate increased risk with increased enjoyment.  It is possible to ski fun powder on high danger days. It is also possible to die. The difference lies ~Entirely~ in terrain choices.

There is no question that this party made a mistake by thinking that travel techniques could mitigate hazard when they had observed numerous red flags including recent loading, cracking, wind transport, and reactive hand pits. Not only did travel techniques fail to prevent an avalanche, but the avalanche nearly buried both partners, indicating inadequate separation.

You are right to say that this could have happened to any of us-- on the wrong day, we may be primed to make the wrong decisions. Still, it's incorrect to equate enjoyment with risk.
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rong
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Re: 3-17-14 Mt Hood instabilities
« Reply #18 on: 03/19/14, 10:18 AM »

E-sport and Billk you are both right in my opinion.  In hindsight going home would have been the ABSOLUTE safe decision and choice.  Frankly at this point it is one I wish we had made.  A slide involvement has never been on my to do list, but it is always a possibility.  I feel we did enough to mitigate a serious incident, but not enough to avoid it.  After the fact, we discussed an upper crossing as Cascade Kid suggested, or a lower crossing where less slabby conditions would have prevailed.  We were tuned into the conditions, and had done testing in sand canyon just 5 minutes prior.  It is similar aspect and slope angle, but due to smaller size and some trees it is not fully representative.  Less wind = less wind slab. Approaching any slope from the bottom increases risk.  Honestly, I didn't think it would go.  At the bottom it was not wind affected although we did discuss the probability of loading near the crown.  We were below the cornice formation that usually occupies the west rim of this feature by about 100'.  As I started the traverse climb I noticed nothing to indicate an unusually weak bond or weak layer.  No ski slippage, no compression cracks, no shooting cracks, until the crack that indicated propagation, and at that point it was too late.  As stated in the main report we had witnessed a small crack earlier on the tour, and a few compression cracks.  We were aware, and alert.  I will say this, I would love to have seen it from a different position, as it was a spectacular scene as the slab fractured into a thousand smaller pieces and proceeded towards me.  I have renewed respect, as well as perspective.
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cascadekid
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Re: 3-17-14 Mt Hood instabilities
« Reply #19 on: 03/19/14, 10:25 AM »

GPS location for the incident  45.3378 - 121.7272.    Elevation 5836.  Descripion: Intersection of the Pacific Crest Trail and the Little Zig Zag Canyon.

I have crossed above the little zig zag at ~7000' due west of the top terminal for the magic mile lift on several occasions, but consider it a no go during the storm cycle, which we were in the day of the accident.
Below that there tends to be heavy cornicing and the first "safe" crossing is where we got trapped.  ~6" of snow fell that day with moderate to strong winds, so for us it was a decision to stay at or below the tree line.  Perhaps you are referring the Zig Zag canyon which is a much larger feature 3/4 miles further west/northwest. 

Of other note: we observed strong wind loading and deposition on lee slopes (east) and scouring on windward slopes (west).  The slide occurred on a SE slope.

Ron, thanks for the clarification.  Want to clarify-- I'm just very interested in what happened as it's an area where I often travel, and I've considered this crossing to be an unfortunate obstacle in the past. I'm glad that you're alright.

The location is the one that I had in mind, but I have been incorrectly referring to the smaller canyon between little and big zigzag at little zigzag for some time. Do you think the high crossing is a "no go" during a storm because of visibility issues? When we were out yesterday we came to what must have been very near to your accident site and were sketched by the looks of it. By skiing down well below treeline, it is possible to cross the canyon where is is smaller and the walls are more treed. You lose elevation and it's more work, but it's something that I will certainly be doing more in the past.

As to the at/below tree line decision, I have an observation; in the terrain typical of the Mt Hood region, densely treed or gladed areas are divided by treeless moraines of considerable size. While the surroundings may have seen limited wind-effect, these terrain features are more prone to odd wind-effects like up- and down-canyon winds that can extend at/above-treeline type hazards into select zones well below treeline. I think that this can be deceptive. I have certainly fallen prey to misunderstanding the terrain in this way.

One last point-- will you consider posting an avalanche report on the NWAC website? Spatial record of these incidents is pretty valuable.

http://www.wwu.edu/huxley/spatial/maps/nwac/
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rong
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Re: 3-17-14 Mt Hood instabilities
« Reply #20 on: 03/19/14, 10:50 AM »


The location is the one that I had in mind, but I have been incorrectly referring to the smaller canyon between little and big zigzag at little zigzag for some time. Do you think the high crossing is a "no go" during a storm because of visibility issues? When we were out yesterday we came to what must have been very near to your accident site and were sketched by the looks of it. By skiing down well below treeline, it is possible to cross the canyon where is is smaller and the walls are more treed. You lose elevation and it's more work, but it's something that I will certainly be doing more in the past.

As to the at/below tree line decision, I have an observation; in the terrain typical of the Mt Hood region, densely treed or gladed areas are divided by treeless moraines of considerable size. While the surroundings may have seen limited wind-effect, these terrain features are more prone to odd wind-effects like up- and down-canyon winds that can extend at/above-treeline type hazards into select zones well below treeline. I think that this can be deceptive. I have certainly fallen prey to misunderstanding the terrain in this way.




Visibility is the key concern for not going above the tree line.  I don't like stumbling into the unexpected.  It is just a self rule I have.  Storm days are for trees, and blue bird days are for the upper mountain, and bigger features.

As for what you noticed yesterday in the area where Matt and I were Monday I can't speak.  Possibly it was near or at where the slide was, possibly not. On Monday it looked like the other 125 or so days when I have crossed it.  We were alert, but not enough to turn back.  Admittedly a mistake.  Our objectivity was clouded but not totally negated by our over familiarity.  I will be seeking other ways across this canyon in sketchy conditions in the future.

I call the area you refer to between the two canyons as the "ziggy bowl".
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rong
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Re: 3-17-14 Mt Hood instabilities
« Reply #21 on: 03/19/14, 11:13 AM »

Good for you, Micah!  And maybe you would've ended up dead, like this guy almost did.

You guys romanticize this sport to the point of ridicule...."a roll of the dice"...give me a break!  It doesn't have to be a gamble or a guessing game.  Significant snowfall, windloading, shooting cracks all tell me that you should stay off terrain (even micro-terrain) that may slide.  The guy gambled and lost....almost lost his life.

The upside of their experience is that both of them learned very valuable lessons that may prevent something similar, or worse, in the future.  I've met Stoudema....hell of a nice guy.

Bill,  I am not trying to romanticize anything, just get some information out there that might help some others to not replicate our mistake.  Yes, I have learned a valuable lesson, as has Stoudema.  I know this from followup discussion over the last couple days.  We partner often and well, and have open and free discussion on how we are going to approach problems.  I won't partner with anyone who won't share  burden, and stand on equal footing with me.

Micah,  I would also have skied on the day in question, just in a different location, or with a modified crossing of the little ziggy.  In fact we did continue our trip after the mishap as stated in the TR.

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BillK
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Re: 3-17-14 Mt Hood instabilities
« Reply #22 on: 03/19/14, 11:30 AM »

Rong-

Sorry...No, I wasn't referring to you romanticizing....it was the other guy with the "roll the dice" BS, and the "don't know what you could've done differently". 

You just gave info; it was a good write-up.  My armchair QB'ing was just that, armchair.  The shooting cracks and new snow you mentioned caught my eye immediately.  I've got kids, dead friends from avy's, so my risk tolerance is much less than yours at this point in my life.  Those were field observations that would have turned me back on a mountain like Hood.
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Floater
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Re: 3-17-14 Mt Hood instabilities
« Reply #23 on: 03/19/14, 05:17 PM »

Yes, there are lessons to be learned from this.  This is why I read the report and all that follows.  Ron G could have not gone out, he could have turned around and not crossed that slope or chose somewhere else to ski.  Maybe made a slight adjustment in where they chose to cross to avoid a potential weak point or a hump indicating a possible stress point.  He  possibly could have gone a bit higher or lower to avoid the slope.  There are so many coulda, shoulda wouldas.  I am certain by RonG's post he learned a lot.  I learned a lot since I may choose to ski there and he pointed out a sensitive area and provided a map.  This is why I thanked him, but I do not dis him since one I am not familiar with the area, I was not there when he made his choices and I did not know all the mitigating factors.

However I have this to ask of Mr. BillK, our local avalanche expert, who does not think he ever rolls dice.  The world is essentially a mass of probabilities and this activity is no different.  I live on a corner and folks always never look and run the stop sign.  There is a finite probability I might die getting my mail.  Yep, even getting the mail I roll dice.  I reduced the probability by changing the mail box location.  However, there is still some risk.  In this activity all you can do is improve your odds.  Yes you can do it to make the risk almost zero.  It is similar to stocks and bonds.  As you increase the risk it expands your options increases your potential return, but with higher potential for serious consequences as the level of risk increases.  I have been for a ride partially buried, I know friends and friends of friends who are not here and I have dug someone out luckily alive.   Many of these folks were much wiser than me.  We all know the consequences. 

I am just not going to be high and mighty and never think I am not rolling dice.  Maybe Mr. BillK never does and that is his choice.  How that is possible I do not know.  The vast majority of skiers at some point assume some level of risk and thus they are rolling dice.  Perhaps not a six sided one, I would surely hope not.  Even a 1/100 die is not usually a wise choice.  However, this is a game of probabilities.  We often do not even know for certain what the actual probability of the situation we are in.  We only have a good idea.

Thus if you do not like the term Mr. BillK I have to ask are you alive?  Did you get up this morning?  If you did you live in a world where you assume risk......yep even while watching your television.  Come off your high horse and realize you are rolling dice everytime you drive your car or get in the car with someone else.  Perhaps more than RonG did during this experience depending on where you drive.

I am no avalanche expert.  I will never be an avalanche expert.  The more I read, the more I experience the more I realize that.  I realize how little I know.  Just how lucky I am.  As we say in stock trading arrogance usually results in bad trades.  I think that applies here.  This is why I will show humility, listen, read and continue to thank folks like RonG for posting this possibly vital information and yes continue to roll dice and hopefully enjoy a few turns while doing so and put up with folks like BillK who know everything about this subject.  Yes there is a Romanticsm with the sport it is what draws people to it, the fresh air, being out in nature, the virgin snow, but along with it there is some risk.
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chieftaffy
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Re: 3-17-14 Mt Hood instabilities
« Reply #24 on: 03/19/14, 05:42 PM »

Thanks for the write up.  I am out of towner that was recently poking around the same real estate after the big snow a few weeks ago and had a lot of my questions about terrain choices answered in this thread.  Glad all are safe.
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Jim Oker
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Re: 3-17-14 Mt Hood instabilities
« Reply #25 on: 03/19/14, 06:21 PM »

rong - thanks for the writeup, and for reflecting on what you'd do differently in the future on this terrain (and for your constructive tone in responding to all the comments).

I have some mental image of this from hiking through there this past September (and I have a fairly vivid image of crossing the V of Little Zigzag on the trail with fairly hot sun beating down), which makes this at least slightly less that fully-abstract for me.
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stoudema
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Re: 3-17-14 Mt Hood instabilities
« Reply #26 on: 03/19/14, 06:55 PM »

I generally prefer not to weigh in on these threads since many times they become reduced to back and forth arguments about whose dick is bigger, and because if things aren't worded just right (from someone else's perspective), people feel the need to blast off.  But, as some have indicated, there is valuable information to be gained that others can use to not repeat the same mistakes we made on our trip, so here's my two cents....

As has been stated several times, there were several red flags rong and I encountered on our trip (compression cracks, windslab, recent heavy snowfall, etc.).  Also, as folks know and have alluded to, even when avy conditions are high, there are safe areas to ski, as many of us (including me) who like to ski powder seek out routinely.

This being said, there are a few key takeaways from this event for me that stand out as different from what I usually encounter and from how I make decisions on considerably/high avy danger days.  As a side note, the rating for the day was considerable by NWAC.

First, the Little Zigzag is basically the only objective hazard on the route to get to the "safe" skiing zones, where as other zones I generally ski the entire ascent/tour are free of what I consider to be objective hazards.  In this case, the Little Zigzag is also a relatively small feature on Mt Hood.  That is one of my key takeaways.  Small slopes, especially small slopes, can be deceiving and pack a punch.  You may not think too much of that 50 foot slope, but it can bury and kill you, and should be treated with the same respect as a larger slope.  This is something I will pay keen attention to in the future, especially when ski/cornice cutting or other measures aren't possible and when approaching from the bottom.

Second, avoiding the risk all together, as stated above, would have been prudent in this case, most likely by descending down to a safer crossing several hundred feet below.  Turning around and finding another place to ski is also an option we'll likely be giving much more merit to in future tours if similar conditions are found.

Lastly, good travel techniques, including spacing out when crossing slopes is essential.  Rong and I were spaced out fairly well, even though the toe of the avalanche ran past me by two feet.  I actually thought I was in a spot that would be out of the way of the deposition zone if anything happened, but in hindsight I should have been another 30 feet or so back (slightly up the slope of the opposing wall).  In the future a more critical eye to a potential runout path is something I'll give much attention to, and likely apply a safety factor to that.  

And Ron, you owe me nothing, but I'll gladly drink some of your beers if you're offering Wink

« Last Edit: 03/19/14, 07:03 PM by stoudema » Logged

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Floater
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Re: 3-17-14 Mt Hood instabilities
« Reply #27 on: 03/19/14, 07:57 PM »

Stoudema

Thanks for your perspective as well.  It even clarifies the situation a whole lot more.  If I ever ski down at Hood I have flagged this area and its risks.  It is these types of reports that help in making safer skiing choices.

From the pictures you did find some nice turns.
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Edgesport
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Re: 3-17-14 Mt Hood instabilities
« Reply #28 on: 03/19/14, 09:37 PM »

I missed the part about shooting cracks when I read the report at 6am this morning so that changes things a bit for me.  I am still not sure I would have turned around given I have crossed that gap so many times in similar conditions.  I constantly struggle to remind my self the objective is to always watch for signs of instability; not for signs of stability.  And that one sign of instability always trumps all other signs of stability.  This changes things a lot for me since it is a slope I know so well.  Pretty scary.  Thanks for sharing and well said Stoudema.
« Last Edit: 03/20/14, 05:54 AM by Edgesport » Logged

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buell
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Re: 3-17-14 Mt Hood instabilities
« Reply #29 on: 03/20/14, 01:16 PM »

Thank you both for posting this.  Rebecca and I are glad you guys are ok.  Matt, that was a nice write up.  First hand accounts of slides and the decision making process leading up to them are very helpful to me.  I use them to try to give clarity to possible mistakes that could easily be made in the field. 

I think one issue with these reports is that they are often (not always) the result of hours of introspection into the signs and the mistakes that were made.  By the time it is written, to the reader, it appears everything was obvious.  In the field, there is often a lot more ambiguity and, at times, a bit of risk acceptance. 

 





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steve_f
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Re: 3-17-14 Mt Hood instabilities
« Reply #30 on: 03/20/14, 03:15 PM »

Glad you made it out Ron, and thanks for the well written report. Having skied that area with you a few times, my takeaway is the same as stoudema's. I'll be giving relatively small slopes a bit more respect from now on.
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rong
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Re: 3-17-14 Mt Hood instabilities
« Reply #31 on: 03/20/14, 06:05 PM »

  Thanks all for the support.  Immediately after the incident I felt OK, and Matt and I decided to continue our tour and ski.  All was good, but later things got tougher for me as the drama continued to play out in my mind, and honestly sleep came with difficulty.  The support of family, friends and this forum community has helped immensely. 
  The comments, and suggestions are also helpful as reinforcement for me as I continue to put together what caused our error in judgement, because we 'were' aware of the signs.  There are so many factors that when combined caused us to make an unsound decision.  One that has not been addressed here is 'over familiarity', and I fault myself on this.  I ski this area 25-30 times a year, Matt much less.  In fact I was back in there today, to do an aftermath assessment for my own benefit, and also collect a few turns  Smiley .
  I think in the long run this will be a positive thing for Matt and myself, as well as the TAY community, as it allows us to share thoughts and ideas, to trouble shoot, and most of all to stay flexible when in the field making decisions.  Knowing when to call it is important.  Knowing when to modify the trip plan is important.  There are always options.
 
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T. Eastman
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Re: 3-17-14 Mt Hood instabilities
« Reply #32 on: 03/20/14, 09:21 PM »

Ron, I learned about avi stuff while spending many years living in the Colorado mountains.  It has an entirely different snowpack, but the small terrain traps at treeline and just below were often sketchy.  We also spent lots of days in that zone as the bigger above treeline slopes were either bare or scary.  These smaller areas there and here demand respect,and as you have written, you have developed a better sense of potential trouble where you had not expected it. 

Thanks for initiating and participating in this discussion.
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