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Old 01-20-2014, 10:31 AM
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Trip Report MLK Weekend 2014

After what I witnessed this weekend I'm almost tempted to never post another TR again, then again people will likely do what they will do regardless of what they see on T4T.

I headed up to Pinkham Saturday AM and skinned up to Hermit Lake.






I dropped my camping gear off at the lean-to and debated my route. I don't normally find myself in the terrain solo very often, which presents an obvious number of safety issues. After mulling over some options and not wanting to gamble on the chance that someone might be heading up to the ravine, I opted to head up Lions Head and check stability in the Eastern Snowfields.

Getting there was spicy. If anyone has been on the winter route lately I'm sure they would agree with me. We need a lot more snow to cover up some of the interesting terrain features that currently exist.



As you can see there isn't much skinning to be done anywhere along the Alpine Garden. I carefully selected a route once I gained some elevation on the cone as to not impact any of the exposed Flora.

Snowpack on the Eastern Snowfields was certainly low tide and as I picked my way across I performed many spot checks for stability. Most of the snow was a consolidated windslab ranging from Fist to 4F on the surface 3" and 4F-1F on the underlying layer which ranged considerably in depth from 3" on top of bed surface to almost 24" in some deeper sections. After making my assessment I determined the slope was safe to ski and was LOW avalanche danger, but could creep into Moderate depending on the afternoon snow event. My plan was to bail off the summit cone before 1PM when the storm was supposed to roll in.



I didn't see another set of tracks anywhere up there. Perhaps the trek wasn't worth the reward for some. I can attest that it was certainly worth the extra effort and was suitable terrain given my party size. True to plan I bailed off the cone by 1PM. The weather didn't seem to be correlating with the forecast. Clouds were in and out, but there was quite a bit of blue. In hindsight I could have stayed up there all day. As you all know by now, the storm never really materialized in the Whites. On my way down Lion's Head I snapped this shot shortly after observing a solo skier ski left.



There was also a group of 3 snowboarders heading up. I will not use this as a platform to critique anyone here as I don't know these particular individuals experience levels, but I will say when travelling in avalanche terrain (and icy terrain) make sure you are prepared and following safe travel techniques. Crampons and a mountaineering axe essential for safe travel in the ravine right now...beacon, shovel, and probe should go without saying, however I saw other groups that carried none of these items and rode left under moderate conditions. In the words of Chris Joosen "Moderate is not the new Low".

Sunday I was meeting up with a friend to go skiing. After discussing plans for the day and not seeing my buddy, I ventured out with Beth. All the terrain was rated as CONSIDERABLE. A careful game plan to get out of the terrain by Noon was made, when the wind speeds were supposed to rise. The trail into the ravine is still only really passable with traction until Connection. From there on up its smooth skinning. Skinning on the way up to the throat we noticed several isolated pockets of snow they felt slightly hollow. This raised several red flags. Overnight we had only received 1.5cm of new snow at the summit and winds were low. Winds were still low with light snow. We found a sheltered aspect and tested stability. Results were CT14 Q2 shear and likely not very indicative of the snow conditions past the bottom of the throat. We decided to wait for Rich and then proceed with caution looking out for any deeper pockets of windslab. About at the top of the ice section we decided to not proceed any higher. After digging down deeper into one of the isolated pockets graupel was observed. 12+" of snow was resting on top of this. Good eyes Rich. Forrest caught up with us and we all made turns. Conditions were far better than I expected!

After a solo skier descended we opted to boot back up since the weather was still favorable. Winds were beginning to change and snow was getting slightly heavier, but was still very light. Once we got the the throat is when the danger scale meter started making pinging noises in my head. Spindrift was beginning to travel into LG, not steadily, but frequent enough that it was a concern. We traveled back to the same spot we geared up before and that's when things got interesting. Rich yelled "SLIDE" and sure enough on the steeper left flank of the throat in line with the top of the ice bulge a small 10ft section of the 1.5cm new snow sluffed off and gathered more along the way coming to rest where we were standing.



Time to GTFO. Had there been any sizable slabs further up (Beta from a Friday descent within the group), higher winds, or more new snow, we would not have been in the position we were in.
The turns the second time were the best yet and we left at just the right moment.

I hate to stand on the proverbial soapbox, but after what I witnessed this weekend I feel its necessary to share.

Travel in avalanche terrain requires at a minimum these 4 basic things:

1. Plan-Make one and constantly assess and change plans
2. Tools (Beacon, Shovel, Probe, Saw etc.)
3. Skills and knowledge of how to use these tools, interpret results, observe
4. Partners (Don't go solo and if you do travel in safe terrain.)
I am well aware LOW doesn't mean no danger, when I made the decision to ski the Eastern Snow fields Saturday I used steps 1-3 and what I considered to be my acceptable level of risk.

I don't want to sound condescending, but when I encounter one more person or group without any avalanche safety gear, or only 1 piece of gear per person, it will likely result in a lengthy and education discussion of backcountry etiquette, safety protocols, acceptable levels of risk, and the impact of any SAR that might have to be performed.

Last edited by powdergibbs; 01-21-2014 at 08:41 AM.
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Old 01-20-2014, 11:04 AM
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Am i reading this wrong?

The warning was "considerable", but you went up anyhow?
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Old 01-20-2014, 11:21 AM
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Not reading it wrong at all. Ratings were bumped to considerable because of what was coming after noon, not indicative of morning conditions. The 1.5cm new snow overnight without winds to transport is the only reason we ventured out. Conditions in the morning hours were moderate, creeping up gradually around/after the time we left.

Considerable is a nightmare statistically and I'm confident in the assessments that were made. Had we had more snow or higher winds you wouldn't have caught me in there.
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Old 01-20-2014, 11:52 AM
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great report, thanx for sharing! close call in lg, glad you had a good outcome. feb. needs to produce lots of snow, or an early march corn cycle will be insanely crowded on lg..
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Old 01-20-2014, 05:57 PM
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there is so much WRONG in this "report" that it leaves me speechless really.

not saying I don't/haven't made mistakes. just wow.

rog
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Old 01-20-2014, 06:04 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by powdergibbs View Post
I don't want to sound condescending, but when I encounter one more person or group without any avalanche safety gear, or only 1 piece of gear per person, it will likely result in a lengthy and education discussion of backcountry etiquette, safety protocols, acceptable levels of risk, and the impact of any SAR that might have to be performed.
It is not the safety gear it is the safety mind. In those gullys the proper gear is little consolation when the fall will likely kill you.
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Old 01-20-2014, 06:57 PM
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Do you mind elaborating Rog? I'm a firm believer in open discussion, a major reason I posted in the first place. Any time I post something I fully anticipate scrutiny and rightly so. I likely should have combed over my wording more carefully
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Old 01-20-2014, 07:15 PM
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Exclamation

Quote:
Originally Posted by powdergibbs View Post
As you can see there isn't much skinning to be done anywhere along the Alpine Garden. I carefully selected a route once I gained some elevation on the cone as to not impact any of the exposed Flora.
Nice TR. I like how you mention not stomping all over the vegetation. There's more snow up there then I would've thought. Little too spicy for me though, at least in the bowl. Way to get it.
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Old 01-20-2014, 07:22 PM
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lets see. well you got all the right gear, you know yer CT's and Q's, dig cute holes in the snow to share tale of yer alphabet friends results, yet you then head on up into a nowhere to escape avy terrain trap (from the bottom) on a day where the avy danger would be escalating to a higher level than the folks you wanna give a "lesson" to for not having gear or knowledge on a lower danger day.

the report for your left gully day said:

"The Considerable rated areas in Tuckerman are places to avoid traveling today."

all that proper gear and P's, Q's, and CT's don't mean $hit if you can't read or heed a report.

and even if the day started at moderate, you didn't pay much mind to all the red flags that were presented to you.

rog
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Old 01-20-2014, 07:37 PM
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Thanks powdergibbs for posting. Your post had a lot of information-both your own perspective and objective information. Even if I found myself thinking differently at points, I got a lot out of your report.

What communication did you have when the pings started to go off? If you could go back would you change any of it?

Cheers,
Lee
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Old 01-20-2014, 07:46 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by icelanticskier View Post
lets see. well you got all the right gear, you know yer CT's and Q's, dig cute holes in the snow to share tale of yer alphabet friends results, yet you then head on up into a nowhere to escape avy terrain trap (from the bottom) on a day where the avy danger would be escalating to a higher level than the folks you wanna give a "lesson" to for not having gear or knowledge on a lower danger day.

the report for your left gully day said:

"The Considerable rated areas in Tuckerman are places to avoid traveling today."

all that proper gear and P's, Q's, and CT's don't mean $hit if you can't read or heed a report.

and even if the day started at moderate, you didn't pay much mind to all the red flags that were presented to you.

rog
Truth be told more often than not I prefer to make more qualitative assessments along the way than put my head in the pit too much (east coast).

As for red flags.

The fact that there were slabs could very well be justification for avoiding avalanche terrain. These slabs had been in a stabilizing trend with 1.5 of new snow added (trending towards instability). Snowpack here was right side up. The obvious factor...the bed surface.

The slab we found with graupul was a small maybe 4'X4' slab and an isolated pool with little potential for propagation.

Should we have called it at 1? Probably. At the time we started back up little had changed. A lot changed in the 2-3 minutes between the throat and during gear switch.

Last edited by powdergibbs; 01-21-2014 at 07:16 AM.
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Old 01-20-2014, 07:55 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cat in January View Post
Thanks powdergibbs for posting. Your post had a lot of information-both your own perspective and objective information. Even if I found myself thinking differently at points, I got a lot out of your report.

What communication did you have when the pings started to go off? If you could go back would you change any of it?

Cheers,
Lee
We stopped and discussed. Proceeded to a more suitable equipment swap over location (20ft) and began swapping over. In my opinion this was a right call.

If I could do it again? Stopped after the first one. Weather changes fast up there and a greater window for error is always better.
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Old 01-20-2014, 09:53 PM
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Originally Posted by powdergibbs View Post
Should we have called it at 1? Probably. At the time we started back up little had changed. A lot changed in the 2-3 minutes between the throat and during gear switch.
Sunday started with a rating of considerable where "human-triggered avalanches likely". Tuckermans does not offer toe testing terrain, to even evaluate considerable you need to be at considerable risk.

With all the well publicized events the past few years where incidents happen in retro-spec just the report has a pile of red flags and there is a collective "what were they thinking"?

I have my personal analysis and level of acceptable risk, everyone does but when one of us gets caught up or bites it, everyone will know we made a mistake as there are no accidents they are mistakes in judgement.
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Old 01-20-2014, 10:56 PM
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I'm sure everyone has read the advisory from Sunday. If not I'd like to point out two things.

"AVALANCHE PROBLEM: Wind Slabs forming this afternoon and evening are the primary avalanche problem. Increasing, shifting winds and new snow will cause avalanche danger to increase through the day. "

http://http://w1.weather.gov/obhistory/KMWN.html

If you mull over the details from Saturday night you can see wind velocities remained low, and under 20 until roughly 10:55am Sunday , my memory isn't photographic but I want to say were out of any potential slide path by 11:55 (just for reference)
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Old 01-21-2014, 05:29 AM
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Thanks for the report and pics!

It seems many of the avalanche incidents are not due to of a lack of information, but rather the result of decisions made- so I really appreciate your willingness to put it all out there. I have probably been more lucky than good on several occasions, so I'll take any opportunity that I can get to hear how others reach their conclusions.
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