Safety Review of the Avalanche Tragedies of last weekend

From: Val
Sent on: Tuesday, April 16, 2013 1:27 PM

 

Safety Review of the weekend's Avalanche Tragedies:

There were two accidents last Saturday, during massive snowfall and bad weather. While some of us know better, we all make mistakes from time to time and unfortunately, these mistakes can turn deadly instantly. Mountaineering is beautiful but unforgiving, lets learn from it:

 

A: Red Mountain. A large group broke trail underneath the exposed slopes of Red Mountain. Needless to say, they shouldn’t have been there at all. But they were lucky, only to be hit partially by the avalanche. The two that got partially buried were quickly dug out by the others.

 

A lone women Joy (a Peaks member), following the group wasn’t that lucky. Because she was alone, precious time elapsed. She was only dug out after her dog bark and alarmed the large group. It took 45 minutes to completely free her. While she was alive, she sadly died (of mechanical asphyxia due to being trapped under a snow avalanche for too long) on the long rescue trip off the mountain. (Her dog was rescued by Bent’s Guye peak Group the next day) .

 

Mistake #1: DO NOT go into or under exposed slopes, especially with that much snow falling. The avalanche safety triangle was not observed. (Terrain, Weather, Snowpack) It was obvious that avalanche danger was high.

 

Mistake #2: SPACE OUT. That so many people of the large group were hit by the avalanche shows you that they did not space out, and were obviously un-aware of the danger above.

 

Mistake #3: DO NOT FOLLOW TRACKS unless you determine this is a safe route. Joy’s possible assumption that “They” knew what they were doing was wrong. Sometimes it’s obvious. Other times, not. The tracks may have been made hours earlier, when it was colder, when avalanche risk was low. But with warming up or more snow or sunshine, earlier safe tracks may be deadly later.

This applies to avalanche slopes as well as cornices as well. Everybody needs to pay attention and not just blindly follow other people, or tracks! 

(This also is true directionally. Don’t follow tracks unless you want to go into that direction. The people in front of you may be lost and there is no reason to follow them!)

 

Mistake #4: DO NO HIKE ALONE. Companion help is the fasted way to get out of trouble and provide help!

 

 

B: Granite Mountain: A group of three got swept 1500 feet down a gully. 2 dug themselves out, while one remained missing and is presumed dead. While I know less about this, looking at the pictures again makes things pretty clear:

 

Mistake #1: DO NOT go into or under exposed slopes, especially with that much snow falling. It was obvious that avalanche danger was high.  

The gully is known for avalanches and causes death and injuries every other year. There are numerous safe winter routes, mostly the wooded ridge left of the gully from the last tree to the dead tree. But even there are a 200 feet stretch were one may find avalanche danger after heavy snowfall. A long rope would mitigate the danger.

 

Mistake #2: SPACE OUT. That all 3 people of that group were hit by the avalanche shows you that they did not space out, They were obviously un-aware of the danger above.

 

Mistake #3: DO NOT FOLLOW TRACKS unless you determine this is a safe route. The tracks may have been made hours or days earlier, when it was colder, when avalanche risk was low. But with warming up or more snow or sunshine, earlier safe tracks may be deadly later. 

There are always tracks in that gully. Just because others have been lucky, doesn’t make it any safer!

 

In Conclusion:

WINTER ROUTES: Like I preach, no safety gear will keep you safer than avalanche avoidance in the first place. Most mountains can be climbed safely taking special winter routes via ridges and tree lines. Summer routes are often deadly in the winter.. and even on a low risk day, why take the change?

 

DANGER ABOVE: Digging avalanche test holes at 4000 feet WILL NOT tell you the danger above and what is coming down from 6000ft and hitting you unexpectedly!

 

SPACE OUT: This applies to open slopes, cornices, crevassed glaciers, snow bridges or creeks. To become a safe mountaineer, it has to become instinctive, automatic, intuitive.

 

EQUIPMENT: DO carry safety equipment with you to stay overnight in an emergency. While you may only be 2 hours from the car on snowshoes, once someone gets hurt, falls into a creek or you offer assistance to others… there is a good change you come out the next day. 

Even on short hikes, as group equipment, I recommend a Multi person bivi-pack, warm dry packed cloth, a stove, extra food etc….. on long hikes, obviously more! First Aid Kit. 

If somebody has severe mechanical asphyxia (Joy's official cause of death), there is usually nothing that can be done on a mountain. Oxygen and IV + medicine may get them live a little longer, but survival is still uncertain, as per emergency doctor. TIME (to be found) is the essence of survival!

 

SPEAK UP: You may not make yourself very popular with other groups, or their leaders, but DO SPEAK up when you see unsafe practices. As it is your moral  responsibility to help others in need, isn’t it better to prevent them from getting into trouble in the first place?

 

Even on the Sunday when Bent’s group rescued the dog Blue, he saw many other “mountaineering groups and meetups” doing stupid things like attempting Guye peak without snowshoes and choosing an unsafe route to avoid the deeper snow on the safe winter route. And wearing helmets wouldn’t  save them either!?!?!

 

 

 

As you know, when I see trouble or potential unsafe procedures in Peaks, we have a serious talk. But I also leave friendly reminders on other groups web pages, or email the leader directly to prevent what could easily turn into a troublesome event.

 

I too make mistakes and don’t mind at all when others call that to my attention. We all have to learn and try to prevent events like last weekend. We do this for fun, not to die out there!

 

Valentin Caspaar

[masked]

[address removed]

Peaks Adventures

Austrian Alpine Club

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