Getting Antsy and little bored. Looking through the old pics and came across pics from a day where I got caught in a little slide, everything turned out alright but I thought I would post up a little story and hopefully there's something to learn from it. This is in part inspired by SanFran's write up of the avy incident up in Wyo. I was able to learn a lot from that, found it interesting and thought maybe we could start a little thread, hopefully others will chime in and share some experiences we can all learn from.
This happen this last 09/10 season, I kinda kept it to myself at the time as getting caught in a slide isn't much to brag about. Looking back I feel like I did a few things wrong but I'll let you guys pull what you will from it. I don't care if you rip me a new one, you post something you should be able to back it up so feel free to criticize.
The day started normal as ever, I like to get early starts, came across a moose first thing. A little unusual as they typically head elsewhere this time of year (2/27), I took it as a good oman.
Made my way into upper and had it all to myself. I can't remember what the avy danger was I think I was up too early to hear it, but pretty sure it was moderate. Spent my time having fun in upper putting a couple laps in on some of the more protected slopes it was pretty obvious the winds had been nuking the night before I wasn't going to hit any of the steeper stuff mainly because it looked like the winds had pounded them and they wouldn't ride well anyways. The good riding conditions were obviously going to be in the more protected areas, which it was, pow with a little windboard mixed in.
On the second lap I went to take a peek at a natural. I took note of this because signs of recent activity are one of the top 5 red flags. It looked like it happen overnight and was most likely due to the wind loading of a buried sun crust. It was on a steep east face which was the aspect I was going to exit on.
Had to take time to enjoy the beauty of some of the trees.
Anyways headed over to my exit. Hit a slope with a similar aspect to my exit, it was super punchy, obvious wind slab so I dug a quick hasty to see if or how reactive it was. Got a pretty clean shear when isolated the column so I headed a over to a bench with a steep little convex and jumped around. I didn't get anything.
Still had a little bit of skin/traverse to my exit line so I used every opportunity to get to know the snow and definitely approached every slope suspiciously. From my experience wind slabs are typically stubborn, isolated and easily avoidable.When I got my first look at the exit I was a little concerned by the obvious cross loading. I think I justified hitting it in part because turning back would have required a pretty long slog. From this spot I headed straight to the trees but at one point you have to start a traverse a bit riders left or you run out of fall line. The slide is triggered in the trees middle of of the picture.
The slab broke out on a convex feature that I came in blind too on the traverse.
I was able to ride it out down into the trees luckily.
Afterwards I changed my exit plans. The last 1k of the line exits through a steep gully decided not to role the dice and hiked back up to a safer ridge and exit. Anyways, humbled to say the least glad it was just a small one that I could walk away and learn from. Looking forward to hearing some others stories.
Joined: Fri Feb 05, 2010 11:33 am Posts: 185 Location: Auburn, CA
Thanks for sharing. The more people who can learn from an avy mistake the better. In that spirit, I'm curious. What mistakes you think you made?
I don't have pictures but I was in a party a member of which got caught in a scary wet slide in 2007 in Cristo Couloir off Quandary.
It was spring and there had been a 6" storm a few days ago. Temps were cold overnight but supposed to warm up considerably over the course of the day. No major wind activity. As it was a southern exposure we planned on hitting it early to avoid any wet slide activity.
The first mistake we made speeding on the highway. We got a ticket and this set us back 20 mins. Next we had invited along a new touring partner who was not as fit as the rest of us. Between these two mistakes we reached the summit at approx 12:00, 2 hours later than we had planned. It was clear and warm. Temps were rising fast.
Still wanting to hit the couloir, we dug a hasty pit approx. 100' from the summit on the the same aspect as the couloir and isolated a column. It seemed fine. We then dropped another few hundred feet to the entrance of the couloir proper and discussed how we were going to descend. The couloir has a higher wall on rider's right and we agreed that we would stay high so we could bail up for safety if we triggered anything. There was a choke with some rocks and cliffs towards the bottom. It was probably 1:00-1:30pm or later by now. This was another mistake as it was objectively just too late to be skiing this aspect with the temps we'd had. Also, the pit we'd dug several hundred feet higher was giving us info about that elevation, temp, and time. All those things had changed...
Anyway, the most experienced backcountry skier thought we should be ok and he went first. I was relatively inexperienced at this point (only out a few days) and didn't really know enough to have an opinion. Another member of the party had more experience than I did and had some misgivings but did not object forcefully. He should have.
He took three turns along the planned route, and then dropped fall line into the guts of the couloir. Little did he know that he had triggered a wet slide. It caught up to him took him off his feet and he rode it for a few hundred yards before he was (miraculously) able to ski out of it off to one side. If he hadn't gotten out when he did he would have been swept through the choke and it would have been a body recovery mission not a rescue.
There wasn't much hangfire so the rest of us were able to pick our way down carefully along the planned route. We triggered a few more wet slides along the way, but nothing major and we were able to stay above them all. Anyway, thought I'd share. Just another of the multitude of ways shit can happen in the backcountry. Stay safe.
Nice Silver lot's to be learned and reinforced from your story, appreciate it. I think the main thing I did wrong aside from the obvious is ignore my gut. I enjoy being solo and consider myself to be pretty conservative in my decision making but even a small mistake can be costly.
Joined: Thu Nov 20, 2008 9:10 pm Posts: 1436 Location: UT
Little did he know that he had triggered a wet slide.
May 2009 I had a similar experience. Fresh snow, clear skies and temperatures forecast to rise quickly, but avy conditions sans sluffs were low. I was solo. I started at Alta and went up an over into Day's Fork where there was already a party of four getting ready to drop in(NE aspect). I watched them get good pow shots and and regroup, then I dropped. Everything was fine, some of the best turns I had that year.
After shouting a greeting to the other group I transitioned and began breaking a new skin track rather than following the other group on the established/common route up the SE aspect. This was my first mistake. I had been on the selected route before, but overshot it by about 100 yards to the NW and ended up into some very steep, almost cliffed out terrain. Second mistake.
This caused me to loose a lot of time constantly altering my route. I was soon seeing small roller balls. Ironically I eventually had to traverse over to where the other party had gone. By that time roller balls were quite large and frequent, and to my surprise the other group had vanished (I realized later that they had likely dropped back into Days on another NE aspect exited in Big Cottonwood).
Once on the ridge, I had to make a pretty sketchy traverse to get back to the home run off Flagstaff Mountain and down to Alta. Again, never been there and lost a lot of time. Third mistake
Finally arriving at the home run I really had little choice but to ride it and stay high on the prominent ridge and out of the gully to the east, and cliff bands to the west. This was easy although the riding was manky and wet.
The scary thing was, as I exited on to the flats and looked back I realized I had pulled out a big section of Flagstaff with a considerable wet slide and only missed getting taking down because I so closely followed the ridge contour and the slide ran straight. I'm just glad there was no one skinning up when I did this, I felt horrible afterwards just thinking about it.