Friday, February 3, 2006

Glory Slide - not so Glorious

Today I got a little reminder of how dangerous travel in avalanche terrain is. It’s not that I have gotten comfortable, since my training has ended I have read three books on the subject, so I’m not resting on my laurels… and I consider myself to be very cautious. Today, like most days, we were up at 6am to hike the 1,800 feet to the summit of Mount Glory. However unlike a normal day the avalanche danger has been increasingly concerning. This morning the report said we received 6” of new snow, and it was “Considerable” at mid and high elevations. I knew the wind had been out of the S – SW. I also witnessed the South aspects melt/freeze later mid last week as well as the surface hoar. So I knew there was:
a) loading on E to NE slopes
b) a nice weak layer for a slab to slide on

Today after the requisite 45-60 min hike to the top of Mount Glory I had finished my analysis of the conditions. It went without saying we would not be skiing any open bowls and we would stay out of terrain traps. Second I had decided that SE was obviously the aspect to avoid. My ski partner, we’ll call him Bubba, had been talking about these cliffs we had dropped a few days ago and how he really wanted to hit those same cliffs this morning. As we geared up I verbally went through my logic out loud so he could here it (he has no avy training). It didn’t appear to work… silence. Not only did he not really listen to me, but he was trying to talk me into skiing the SE slope to the cliffs. So I disagreed and went over my reasoning again reminding Bubba that “you can not let your objective get in the way of good decision making”. After that went unheard as well, I put my foot down and said, “I am not skiing that route, I’m heading down this way”, and I skied off. Thankfully he followed.

As we descended the powder was a bit heavier than normal for J-Hole, and it was obvious there was a foot of consolidated slab on the top. Believe me though the turns were still incredible. This ridge however, which I had only skied once before, turned near the end to face SE.
“As it did I started to get nervous and I let Bubby know it. Yes we were on a ridge, and yes we had trees for anchors but they were spaced out enough to allow a considerable amount of snow to slide if it went. I kept thinking about something I had read in Snow Sense, "Even creek banks less than 40 feet (12 meters) high have produced deadly avalanches”. Well that is pretty much exactly what we were on, about 40 x 40 slope into a creek bed (terrain trap). I ski cut the slope and it went. As you can see in the photo the slab was about a foot. As it ran my heart raced and I told Bubby “we gotta get outta here”. I think my avalanche analysis earned me a bit more trust from Bubby today.

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