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NWAC Avalanche
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| | |-+  Avalance Report 12/17 Big Trees and Unstable Snow
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Author Topic: Avalance Report 12/17 Big Trees and Unstable Snow  (Read 16340 times)
Good morning

Posts: 4

Avalance Report 12/17 Big Trees and Unstable Snow
« on: 12/19/15, 03:01 PM »

Are you a pussy or are you an idiot? We usually take a moment to reflect on this question and the present snow conditions before we take any questionable line. Today we didn't think twice. We should have.

Snow was falling hard and swirling about. On the open slopes above source lake it felt stable enough; loose unconsolidated delicious powder on a dense layer that was well adhered to the bottom crust. NWAC described the day as considerable but rising. What we failed to consider was all that spin drift piling up in the concave region below the cliffs. We were slightly off our intended line, to skier's right of Big Trees below Pineapple Pass. There was plenty of tree anchoring. We were above two usually skiable cliff bands. I dropped the first one and cut right for maybe a turn or two. Then the ground gave way-that ugly feeling...

I think I was still upright and kind of skiing when a wave of snow hit me on the side of the face. Now I was full in. I tried to find bottom to arrest. No bottom.  I tried to keep my limbs about me. I tried to stay upright, protect my head, swim, I can remember bouncing off things. I tried to keep my wits about me. I can remember slowing enough to steer towards some smaller trees. I hit one and grabbed hold. I remember fighting to keep my mouth clear and climb up as the snow washed over me. Another wave of snow hit me from behind. I remember taking as big of a breath as I could.

Then it was over. For a long moment my world was white and I hugged that tree.

My partner could see that as soon as I got below the cliff a 1.5 foot fracture propagated to the side and the whole slope failed. He saw me on top of the snow and struggling for a ways then I disappeared from his sight as I went over the second cliff band. He started descending the slide path. He went to take one turn around a small tree on a low angled section just off the slide surface and into undisturbed snow. As soon as he got on the soft snow it triggered right up to the cliff face, maybe 25 feet. That slid onto him and carried him slowly across the low angle section into some small trees, burying him to the waist and spraining his knee in the process. Had he been carried around the trees he might have followed my much longer and rougher path.

The snow was soft and I was able to push my way to the surface. I took a long breath, several breaths. Body check: ok enough. I was out of my foxhole and calling out. I had one ski, no hat or goggles, but both poles. I never ski with the straps on, but they helped me defend against some of the thing I bounced off. As my partner was digging himself out and trying to assess the damage to his knee we made visual contact. He waved. We were damn happy to see each other. From there it was a matter looking for gear and limping out. He skied one leg. I skied one ski. We were both happy nothing worse happened.

So today we were indeed idiots. Yes, we knew better, most people who get swept do. Thinking it though, I must have undercut all that spindrift piled up at the cliff base. It hit me like a breaking wave. I never got to see the fracture crown. It was over 200 yds and a cliff band above me. Fortunately, I think, I got flushed down a sideways runnel through the cliff. The lessons seemed to be a) we developed an assessment on the slopes we climbed that we unthinkingly carried over to the cliff bands- a totally different terrain setup. B) if you’re above when it slides ski only the slide path. Venturing just a few feet off that surface, even on a low angle section, triggered a second slide that could have had dire consequences for both skiers. As it was the pole he lost ended up just 20 feet below where I stopped. We found my hat another 60 feet down from that. The slide ran for several hundred more feet.

My ski and goggles will probably melt out in the spring. If you happen to find a Coomback 189cm with older Dynafit STs and an iridium lens goggle, give me a call. I know the probability is low, but if you're up there, or anywhere, even if NWAC only says "CONSIDERABLE", do consider our little question. Consider all the variables.

See you in the bar.
Dave from W Seattle 769-7448

Posts: 129

Re: Avalance Report 12/17 Big Trees and Unstable Snow
« Reply #1 on: 12/19/15, 03:31 PM »

Glad you made it out OK.
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