Forums Trip Reports Backing Away and Staying Safe Viewing 12 posts - 1 through 12 (of 12 total) Author Posts April 5, 2012 at 6:04 pm #576750 summersgone 820 Posts This is not a standard trip report. In lieu of the scary season we have in the United States, I wanted to start a different thread on backing away from lines. This is actually my first TR this year. We always put up TR’s of successful trips, but this year has been different for me, and I want to share. I backed away from more lines that I can count this year. I backed off for logistical reasons, missing the line and getting cliffed out, not feeling right, and of course snowpack assessment. I’ve dug 2x as much pits, backed off 10x as many lines, and been frustrated a lot. 😡 It has been a challenging year to say the least, so I wanted to start this to have a collective place for people to add their experiences of getting shut down. We have had too many loses this year, so I want to celebrate people that feel they made the right decisions. Hopefully people will learn from this. This one in particular was difficult for me last weekend. We had a group of 5 out for the Splitfest. After a week of positive reinforcement on similar aspects and finally stablized snow in Silverton, I had made the decision to push up into a face that I had looked at last year quite a bit. It is a NE face that starts at 12,200 ft, 2K of vert, measuring at about a sustained 40 degree face with not a ton of safe zones. We would probably have to ski it top to bottom. To give comparison I had been riding a NNE face at 12.4K the past two days and had been gaining confidence in the snow. I was switching the aspect by 15-20 degrees and 200 ft lower starting zone. But needless to say, it is a committing line that I have looked out and never felt comfortable getting on until this day. A lot of time I get shut down at the car, but I felt we could get this one today. I may have been ambitious. We started early that day knowing that the heat would have an effect. I thought we would have a good chance of getting the line if we were riding prior to noon. The NE faces had not been getting baked much. But it was a 5 degree warmer day then the past week, and the forecast called for around 50-55 degrees at 11000ft that day, with small amount of wind. Not much different then previous days. The face. We wanted to ride the lookers right open face. Making it up the ridge, I was breaking trail, and started to get collapsing in certain spots that contained rocks. The snowpack was shallow, so I wasn’t overly concerned as it wasn’t a fair representation of our slope. The faceted layer was present though, so I was getting red flag #1. We got to the top at 11am, and the heat was picking up more then I had expected (maybe there was inversion the night before, not sure). Red flag #2. I had a bad feeling. I proceeded to dig a quite large pit. Normally, I will dig a pit 4-5 ft deep, but today, because of the deep slab instability, I choose to dig to the ground. Me digging down deep. It was hard testing the pack with a pit a foot taller then me. On my pit test I got in between results. On my CT, I recieved a CT12Q3, but my pit contained a rock in it that had a created more facets higher. I didn’t write off my results yet. On my ECT, I got a ECT28Q2. :scratch: I felt it was a lot of force to go. The block broke about 4.5 ft down. So I felt it was tough to go, but would be large if it did. If I had not dug to the ground, I probably would not have got a result at all. The previous week I had got no results digging a 4ft pit on a N aspect at 11k ft. Part of the ECT block. Solid and powerful. Because our group contained 5 people (lot of stress), the slope did not have a lot of safe zones, we made the collective decision to back off the line. These dynamics were the large factor for me in the decision. If it was me and another person, I’m not sure I would have made the same decision as I thought the chances of this going were slim. I was not happy to ride the trees, but I felt it was the right decision to make. With a year of not even getting out on days due to the avalanche danger, and the stability finally firming up, I wanted to get after it. I was getting impatient. But we turned away and rode crappy trees down. The snow was corn and the terrain tight. Our tour of two faces turned into one face of crappy trees. It sucked, I was pissed, I swore a lot in my head coming down. It also didn’t help my mentality seeing another 3 riders ride an adjacent ridge without consequence as we turned away. At the car, we let it go, as it was what we decided and there was no going back that late in the day. We said it was the right decision, but I was still not happy. Driving out, we looked up at the face we were going to ride, and noticed to my surprise that the face had let go, quite large. It was probably 30 minutes after we were up there, and probably on the way down. High fives commenced in the car and stoke level returned that we made the right decision. :grouphug: The slide. As you can see, it started at a point release from about 1ft wide at the two small rocks. I’m not sure if it would of buried a person, but wet slides are not something to mess with. A skier had died in a wet slide the day prior in Silverton on a SE face at 4:30pm. It is not often you get instant reinforcement of a decision to back off a line. It was nice to get this reinforcement after a trying year of backing off and getting shut down and not knowing if it was the right decision. I was happy to be done the day drinking rum at the bar and watching my buddies ride a separate face safely. Most importantly I was happy me and all my partners were safe. :pals: Please continue to add to this thread anything you would like. Even if you did more :guinness: then riding, that may have been a safe decision. Stay safe everyone. April 5, 2012 at 6:28 pm #654598 philip.ak 679 Posts Awesome post. Smart and awesome. April 5, 2012 at 9:47 pm #654599 fustercluck 668 Posts I’ve backed off a bunch of times, for all sorts of reasons – stability, time, daylight, not having enough food/energy, etc. Gotta have a plan B. Having instant validation of your decision was nice. Sometimes it’s tough trying to convince myself and my partners that we made the right choice when deep down inside I feel like a pussy, but I’m still riding and haven’t lost any friends yet, so I count that as validation. April 5, 2012 at 10:24 pm #654600 HikeforTurns 1113 Posts Here it is from the bottom on our way out later. April 5, 2012 at 11:17 pm #654601 keffler 319 Posts I personally have a hard time backing away from things as I think most people do. That’s why I try to go for things that have lots of options. I seem to be better at changing plans on the fly rather than scraping the whole thing. But sometimes, you have to make a hike with only one line to ride. I’m glad you guys backed away as it looks like at the very least, someone would have been injured. Great TR and life lesson. Thank you for sharing. Better to walk away and live to ride another day than to throw caution to the wind and ride your last line. I guess this was a good year to be grounded with a new born. April 6, 2012 at 12:28 am #654602 barrows 1490 Posts Thanks for that Jason. Backing off is never the wrong decision as far as I am concerned. There is (almost) always plenty of time to come back another day, or another year. One person, who is no longer with us, is Marco Siffredi. One of the best big line riders and snowboard mountaineers of all time. My feeling is that he might still be with us if he had had the mental acuity to back off from the line he perished on-yes, I was not there, and I easily could be wrong, but from an outside perspective it seems there were a lot of things going “wrong” for him that day, and my feeling is that he felt a lot of pressure and that the pressure may have had an adverse effect on his decision making. After spending the better part of a day hiking in to Blaine Basin beneath the beautiful N. Face of Mt. Sneffels, and spending the night, my partner and I got up early the next morning, brewed up, and approached the Snake Couloir. About 100 feet up the couloir, we started punching through beyond our boot tops, and when we stood still, we could hear the sound of running water beneath the snowpack. It was clear that was not the day to be there, and we left. The following year we came back and had great conditions. We went N to Canada, our primary goal being a climb and descent of the Skyladder route on Mt. Andromeda in the Canadian Rockies. This was our second serious attempt on the line, the first being abandoned a few years previous when we were involved in a heli crash during some warm up heli riding. We climbed 2000′ up the icefall, and onto the upper glacier to where we could get a good view of the lower part of the line. We were very happy to find good snow conditions, with 5″ to 7″ of old settled powder a top a firm base, perfect conditions for a steep exposed line like this. Then it started to snow, we waited for a couple of hours, but this looked like a real storm. There was no choice other than to retreat. We spent the next few hours in the Icefields Information Center, with a very helpful female ranger, looking at their computers trying to figure out how big the storm was. After determining that the storm was going to last a week, and then realizing we would have to wait at least another few days for the new snow to settle, we made the hard choice to get back in the van and head home to Colorado. I still have not ridden Skyladder, and according to most contacts in Canada, global warming has melted out the line so much that it is very unlikely to come into condition at all. April 6, 2012 at 12:58 am #654603 SchralphMacchio 474 Posts Thanks for sharing – well written and a great report! Good value to the community here. I think that Ed Viesturs said, “I make mistakes all the time – the key is to make them in the right direction.” Backing off a line can rarely kill you, unless it adds hours to your trip and a huge system, or dramatic change in snow conditions is coming your way. So, as much as desire burns … backing off and waiting is something I just chalk up to a training run for the time when things will actually line up. You’ll just have had that much more experience in that area and knowledge of how to get ‘er done efficiently. For me, I don’t have a personal problem backing off, but I do know that group dynamics tend to get me to push harder while keeping me emotionally comfortable, which is not always great in a situation like the one you shared. The choice to back off because you had 5 people in your group appeared solid! Large group = multiply the amount of time for the descent, and maybe add some extra too … that would mean continued exposure on a warming slope. Big groups don’t deserve big terrain unless all the other variables (snowpack, weather, ability, etc) are taken out of the picture, IMO. Some questions and comments about the choice to dig a pit and how the results factored into your decision making – not so much to question your decisions that day, but to try to learn from your experience myself and see what I would/could do in a similar situation next time I’m out. 1) With an ECT, my understanding is that you can’t really test snow instabilities more than 1.5m deep anyways, so with your full depth pit were you looking more to do layer profiling, looking for anything scary down deeper? 2) Were there any really deep layers that you knew might be there, or did you find anything deeper than 1.5m by checking with fingers or a card? 3) If so, did you think to do a PST for those layers? I have a personal negative opinion on PST being done by anyone other than professionals, because failure correlation in the field is not as straightfoward as an ECT, and I also don’t think that PST-initiated failures correlate very well to real-world mechanical failures when weird crust/facet layers are involved. (I am not a professional, and I don’t do PSTs) 4) How deep was the CT12 failure? Was this related in any way to the wet slide? 5) What did the surface snow feel like just walking around? Was it getting much heavier, wetter than it was earlier in the day? Was it supportable, unsupportable, feeling clumpy/sticky to your boots? Until things are in a true M/F, I do have a hard time figuring what that balance is of how much heat/water the snow can take before she starts letting go. True corn always feels way easier to gauge for wet slide/wet slab potential than still-transitioning winter snow. 6) IMO, the snow failure had very little to do with your pit CT or ECT results – it was a warming instability that caused a failure in the surface. From my distant armchair, it looks like the wet slide verified your ECT results – that a 4.5′ deep ECT28q2 failure is really hard to trigger, even if thousands of pounds of wet snow is tumbling downslope. The wet slide clearly could not find a trigger point on that aspect/terrain features to step down to the deep layer of your concern (though I guess more complex areas with convexities and thin points would be a different story) – so some snowboarders wouldn’t have done it either. What I’m saying is, had it not been warm, and had you not had 5 people, you *maybe* (likely?) could have gotten it done and shared beers with everyone to talk about it … The scary thing we had in Tahoe for 6 weeks was a buried facet layer that was causing Q1 failures on ECT 24-30, pretty deep in the snowpack. It caused 2 fatalities, and one was a verified stepdown of a windslab failure. The other one might have been as well … meaning really hard for a skier/boarder to find the trigger point but a lot easier for a windslab running downslope to find the magic weak spot and cause critical crack propagation. Anyways … thanks again guys, good read. PS – also asking because you guys in the San Juans have to deal with a lot more with deep PWLs than we ever do in CA, so it’s been a totally different game for us for 6+ weeks until the last round of warming we got out here. April 6, 2012 at 1:27 am #654604 brainsteak 87 Posts a very unique trip report. thanks for sharing that one. yeah, i’m familiar with cussing on the way back out, unhappy with how things went. one thing i realized many years ago was that if you get out enough, your bound to have off days. no amount of planning can change mother natures mind. your the one who has to be flexible when there are warnings. good job for listening to her that day! April 6, 2012 at 4:19 am #654605 summersgone 820 Posts Schralph, I edited my response a bit (too much :guinness: made me ramble). @schralphmacchio wrote: 1) With an ECT, my understanding is that you can’t really test snow instabilities more than 1.5m deep anyways, so with your full depth pit were you looking more to do layer profiling, looking for anything scary down deeper? The issue we have had this year is deep slab instabilities. We had large storms in Nov that still caused a problem, and were there throughout the year, and spooky as hell. The snowpack had not fully being transformed to an isothermic layer on NW to NE aspects and I wanted to see what was going on far down. Also, with a large party, the big planar slope, and minimal safe zones, I wanted to know everything in the snow, which meant going deep. @schralphmacchio wrote: 2) Were there any really deep layers that you knew might be there, or did you find anything deeper than 1.5m by checking with fingers or a card? I knew they were there from a few things. Shoveling you could tell that the facets were bad, and finger presses revealed that easily. Also, as I dug the pit deeper, I kept sinking, which made me want to go the ground. It was about a foot of depth facets. Also I saw it from my shovel sheer test, and also CAIC had been reporting it for a few weeks on northerly aspects. CAIC was saying it was tough to trigger, and my pit results verified that. @schralphmacchio wrote: 3) If so, did you think to do a PST for those layers? I have a personal negative opinion on PST being done by anyone other than professionals, because failure correlation in the field is not as straightfoward as an ECT, and I also don’t think that PST-initiated failures correlate very well to real-world mechanical failures when weird crust/facet layers are involved. (I am not a professional, and I don’t do PSTs). Similar to you, I stick to my normal pit tests, a shovel sheer test, CT test, and ECT test. The reason is for familiarity. I dont know a PST, and I don’t know how to interpret it yet. I try to stick to what I know and go with that. I have given the most emphasis on the ECT for propagation characteristics, but a CT for snowpack reaction. I like to do the three and I feel that I get a good representation of the characteristics of the snowpack. The PST is relatively new and I have not seen it in person, so I keep off. It is something to get to know next year I think though. @schralphmacchio wrote: 4) How deep was the CT12 failure? Was this related in any way to the wet slide? It was about 2ft down and only went on the Compression test, not the ECT at all. I also think that a rock in the pit played a large part in this failure. But, our entrance was similar (lots of rocks), so it may have been good. I believe the wet slide reacted on this layer about 1/2 way through its slide, but it is tough to say without going and evaluating the slope. The 4ft layer certainly was not effected by the natural slide. @schralphmacchio wrote: 5) What did the surface snow feel like just walking around? Was it getting much heavier, wetter than it was earlier in the day? Was it supportable, unsupportable, feeling clumpy/sticky to your boots? Until things are in a true M/F, I do have a hard time figuring what that balance is of how much heat/water the snow can take before she starts letting go. True corn always feels way easier to gauge for wet slide/wet slab potential than still-transitioning winter snow. It didn’t seem completely affected by the sun. The walk up started to have facets present around the rocks. The snow wasn’t sticky or heated, but starting to get there at the top. It was not punchy, and still very much an in between time for heat and time to ride. @schralphmacchio wrote: 6) IMO, the snow failure had very little to do with your pit CT or ECT results – it was a warming instability that caused a failure in the surface. From my distant armchair, it looks like the wet slide verified your ECT results – that a 4.5′ deep ECT28q2 failure is really hard to trigger, even if thousands of pounds of wet snow is tumbling downslope. The wet slide clearly could not find a trigger point on that aspect/terrain features to step down to the deep layer of your concern (though I guess more complex areas with convexities and thin points would be a different story) – so some snowboarders wouldn’t have done it either. What I’m saying is, had it not been warm, and had you not had 5 people, you *maybe* (likely?) could have gotten it done and shared beers with everyone to talk about it … I think you are spot on here. I do think there is a chance we could of rode this fine with less people and different group dynamics. But I don’t think it is a chance we were ok with taking at the time with our group. But if we rode it with 3 people, chances are it was going to slide like it did, and it would have been risky. Just seeing the slide after was the biggest moment. I knew at the time with less people, I probably would have rode it. The question is, what would the consequence have been? Thanks for chatting about this. Its good to have this. April 6, 2012 at 5:00 am #654606 Powder_Rider 498 Posts For those wondering, what PST is: aka Propagation Saw Tests, from the Utah Avalanche Center see: http://vimeo.com/36119535 or see http://vimeo.com/38207836 AHH, I cannot get the Vimeo VIDS to load! or [youtube:1yhsebb0]9hZEWscONG4[/youtube:1yhsebb0] April 6, 2012 at 3:53 pm #654607 christoph benells 717 Posts you guys dont do rutschblock? thats my favorite. April 6, 2012 at 4:05 pm #654608 summersgone 820 Posts @christoph benells wrote: you guys dont do rutschblock? Thats how I fill pits. I do it pretty half assed, mostly for fun. Never really got much from them for actual results. But more tools the better. Viewing 12 posts - 1 through 12 (of 12 total) You must be logged in to reply to this topic.