AIARE 2 Avalanche Course

Yesterday wrapped up the 2nd AIARE 2 Avalanche Course of the season. Six Eastern Mountain Sports Climbing Guides, 3 from North Conway, 2 from The Gunks, and 1 from our Lake Placid location spent the last four days furthering their understanding of the avalanche phenomenon by improving their weather and snow-pack observation skills along with their rescue skills.

After reviewing AIARE 1 information we spend the rest of our first day upgrading our rescue skills with focuses on deep burials, multiple burials, close proximity burials, and rescue leadership. The deep burial scenario required a full effort from everyone as our “debris” had set up like concrete and our target was a life size stuffed Gore-tex full suit!

Digging through 2 meters of concrete

Digging through 2 meters of concrete

It took another 20 minutes of hard work to excavate the victim after reaching the "airway".

It took another 20 minutes of hard work to excavate the victim after reaching the “airway”.

One of our multiple burial scenarios unfolding...

One of our multiple burial scenarios unfolding…

Searching in Parallel, Micro-strip Search, Pro’s and Con’s of Marking, and Triage were all topics of that afternoon.

The next day was a heavy classroom day with lots of discussion on Mountain Weather, Online Resources, Metamorphism, and recording observations at the national standard in accordance with the “SWAG”.

We spent the 3rd morning covering the “how’s and why’s” of doing a Full Profile.

Mike Lackman was shadowing the course and offers up some advice during grain identification

Mike Lackman was shadowing the course and offers up some advice during grain identification

Despite increasing Spring like weather the snow pack was not iso-thermal, and a very distinct layer of 3-4mm advanced facets about 50cm down made for some impressive CT & ECT scores. (CT12 & 18, Q2 and ECTP 14)

My Full Profile

My Full Profile

From there we went on a short tour up to just above tree-line via the Cog.

Stopping for Chicken Fingers and a quick Weather Observation at Waumbek Tank

Stopping for Chicken Fingers and a quick Weather Observation at Waumbek Tank

Mike searches for the deeper faceted layer in a small pocket just to the right of Jacob's Ladder

Mike searches for the deeper faceted layer in a small pocket just to the right of Jacob’s Ladder

Gaining our high point with the incoming warm front right on our heels

Gaining our high point with the incoming warm front right on our heels

After some poking around in the snow and previewing terrain in the Ammonoosuc Ravine we descending the Cog in fairly good conditions. Right before the base the snow that had started falling around noon turned to rain and we wrapped up our day back at the Highland Center.

For the last day of the course we met at Pinkham Notch and planned a tour into Tuckerman Ravine. We zipped up to Hermit lake in short order and had a quick birthday celebration for Ryan before updating our travel plans.

Good skiing that requires very heads up attention!

Good skiing that requires very heads up attention!

We skinned up a very stable Little Headwall and gathered at the floor of the ravine to make a plan. Our climbers headed up into Lobster Claw and our skiers moved across and up into Left Gully.

Dustin and crew crossing the run out and starting the boot pack up climbers right side of Left Gully.

Dustin and crew crossing the run out and starting the boot pack up climbers right side of Left Gully.

With lots of probing and hand-shears we worked our way up below the ice fall to the left of Left Gully and after a brief group discussion decided we could push higher up to the “choke” of the gully.

We could see our other group just to the right of the mouth of Lobster Claw making observations

We could see our other group just to the right of the mouth of Lobster Claw making observations

Looking down the run I use the "Theodolite" iPhone App to capture some slope info

Looking down the run I use the “Theodolite” iPhone App to capture some slope info (Location/Altitude not reported as phone was on Airplane mode to conserve battery; i.e. No GPS Data)

Looking up into the start zone I capture incline and aspect (180 math needed)

Looking up into the start zone I capture incline and aspect (180 math needed)

Just below the choke we get some fairly positive hand shear results but the slab that is failing is quite thin, only about 20-25 cms or so. Two of our group wish to push a bit higher, which seemed reasonable, so the rest of us de-skinned and spotted their last 100 foot climb to just above the choke. From here we all descended, one-at-a-time at first, then with good spacing down below. Turns were pretty soft in most spots with occasional sections of hard scoured surface. The flat light made it a bit tricky to really let it rip.

Pretty decent turns and quite a few groups were appreciated the boot pack we had put in. It was a bit disconcerting to see so many without backpacks on... Where is your shovel & probe?

Pretty decent turns and quite a few groups were appreciated the boot pack we had put in. It was a bit disconcerting to see so many without backpacks on… Where is your shovel & probe? It is still winter up there.

We gathered at the floor then descended Little Headwall to the Cutler River. The Upper Cutler was great. One of our group had skied the Lower Cutler (below the bridge) a week prior and the majority vote was to continue down it. It was the first I had skied below the bridge so with a smidgen of hesitation I followed the group down. I can’t say it was great skiing, a bit to heavy mashed potatoes made for a few of those “must turn now” moments. One actively collapsing snow bridge with quite a bit of water right at the end made me glad to be exiting out along the Huntington Ravine trail to cut back over to the John Sherburne Ski Trail. I would suggest bailing at the bridge for the rest of the season… unless you are into that type of stuff!

Our run out...

Our run out…

The rest of the Sherbi skied great though the warm snow was a bit slow as we got to the bottom. No complaints though, all it all a great run!

Back at the parking lot we spent almost an hour and a half debriefing the day and the course in general. Feedback on the course was solicited and shared, and an honest look at what’s next was provided by recent AIARE 3 Graduate Keith Moon. Many of our guides are on tracks for AMGA certifications that will require an AIARE 3 Certificate, so links & suggestions for future learning were provided.

This was a really fun course for me. Getting to work each day with many co-workers who I don’t often cross paths with was a great boon. I feel like I know each of them quite a bit better. Their feedback will definitely help the AIARE 2 courses I lead next year improve. And despite a bit of rain the weather through out the course was fantastic. While I have the rest of the weekend off I’ll be heading back up the hill on Monday, and again on Friday. Then a short vacation before our first ever Mount Washington Observatory AIARE 1 Course!

Then, and only then, will I let myself start focusing on the upcoming rock season. Winter ain’t over till it’s over!

Posted in Avalanche Courses, Backcountry Skiing, Professional Development | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Spring is here (Not Really)

The equinox has come and gone and other than a bit more daylight to play in I haven’t noticed much of a difference! Yesterday was one of the coldest days I’ve had this season as we concluded another AIARE 1 Avalanche Course but first lets talk about how awesome the ice climbing conditions are!

Last Thursday, March 19th, I took former AIARE 1 student Kurt out for a day of Private Ice Climbing instruction. Kurt had a couple seasons under his belt (or harness) but wanted to get a jump start on his skill set. We headed out to Frankenstein and covered quite a bit of ground and information in a very fun filled day!

We started with a very big & blue Standard Route (Grade 3, 350 feet).

Standard Route at Frankenstein Cliffs

Standard Route at Frankenstein Cliffs

Despite it being a little bit of a PITA stopping in the cave I choose to do so as I think every first timer should see this cool feature. Experienced climbers who have seen it can greatly increase communication by skipping this feature and combining pitch 1 & 2 in a long 190 foot pitch.

Being first on route we see other climbers queuing up for a busy day

Being first on route we see other climbers queuing up for a busy day

Wrapping up pitch 2 of Standard

Wrapping up pitch 2 of Standard

We topped out around 11:30 and made our way back down to the tracks for some lunch, then headed over to the Amphitheater. There Bob’s Delight, (Grade 3+ 100 feet) was still in great shape, though a little soft. After I led the route I lowered off and Kurt took a top-rope lap on it so we could focus on efficiency & technique.

Bob's Delight

Bob’s Delight

One more run up it to clean the anchor and I grabbed a shot of Kurt finishing the route.

Bluebird day!

Bluebird day!

We had just enough time to squeeze in one more route so we hopped over to Cave Route, and finished on that 75 foot Grade 3. Definitely a fun day out I look forward to climbing with Kurt again soon!

The next day began a full AIARE 1 Avalanche Course that ended yesterday. As is becoming custom this winter we had perfect conditions for the course, despite yesterday’s field day being quite arctic we still learned a lot and enjoyed some fresh powder in the Cutler River!

Making some snow pack observations below Hillmans Highway

Making some snow pack observations below Hillmans Highway

Debriefing our Tour Day

Debriefing our Tour Day

My field notes from the day

My field notes from the day

Despite air temps far below 0 and even colder wind chills we had a really good day up there. Today I’ve spent catching up on errands while preparing for an AIARE 2 Course that starts tomorrow.

While the calendar may say Spring I am certainly still in a winter mindset!

Posted in Avalanche Courses, Backcountry Skiing, Ice Climbing, Mountaineering | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Saint Patrick’s Day fun an Kinsman Notch, and Colonial Knife Ameba Review

I’m a big fan of holidays and wanted to do more than just cook up some corned beef and cabbage this year (though that is still happening thanks to my slow cooker). When I connected with long time local climber and recent friend Matty B our sights were set on an ambitious gully on Mt. Webster, The Green Chasm. A questionable higher summits forecast had me second guessing our ambition, and realizing there were some even more suitably named climbs in the protected Kinsman Notch area that I had yet to visit we adjusted our plans last minute and headed out to the west side of NH Route 112, 5 miles west of Woodstock, to see what Irish luck might bring us.

We started off with Pot O’ Gold, a short but steep Grade 4 right where the approach trail ends. This is a short 50ft route but quite fun. A solid fixed anchor on a tree at the top allowed a quick lower before Matty cleaned and lowered off.

Matty cleans Pot O' Gold

Matty cleans Pot O’ Gold

We moved left to Shamrock, listed in the guidebook at 3+/4- in the guidebook. Matty made short work of a nice plastic line up the left side.

Matty on Shamrock

Matty on Shamrock

We moved left again to what I believe was Leprechaun’s Lament, grade 2+/3 in the guidebook. I took a mellow line up the left side then traversed right to a fixed anchor on a tree an dropped a top-rope over an attractive piece of vertical ice on the far right of this flow.

Enjoying the great late season conditions

Enjoying the great late season conditions

Matty not lamenting on a steep variation of Leprechaun's Lament

Matty not lamenting on a steep variation of Leprechaun’s Lament

After these 3 warm ups we set our sights on The Beast, grade 4+, referred to in a previous guidebook as “Luck O’ The Irish“. The guidebooks said this route was about 400 yards left of Leprechaun’s Lament. After only 200 yards we passed a route we suspected might be The Beast, but given how close it was, and that it didn’t quite look like 2 pitches, we kept post-holing our way though actively sluffing slopes until we reached a bit of a knoll and realized we must have passed it. When we returned we confirmed The Beast was a bit sunbaked and much fatter than the guidebook photo. We opted for “The Ramp Route“, a very mellow Grade 3 up the left side that merges with the Beast.

Leading up Ramp Route

Leading up Ramp Route

Since we had a 60 meter rope I stopped just short of the top and belayed Matty up. The last 20 feet looked meh so we V-threaded off and called it a day.

Rapping off The Beast

Rapping off The Beast

A quick glissade down and short hike brought us to the cars where we enjoyed a quick “Green Head IPA” before hitting the road. I’d like to check out some of the stuff higher up the notch next time. I’ll also be posting a gear review shortly of a sweet new knife that has found a home on the back of my harness.

Colonial Knife Ameba in rescue orange.

Colonial Knife Ameba in rescue orange.

Stay tuned for a review of the Colonial Ameba Knife Review and Happy Saint Patricks Day!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

AIARE 1 Avalanche Course and Mount Washington Climb

While Spring is in the air today (48 degrees in North Conway) we have snow on the way this weekend and I’m not quite ready to hang up the skis or ice axes! Last weekend I was stoked to be back to work with a full 12 person AIARE 1 Avalanche Course, followed by a Mount Washington attempt yesterday. Conditions during the avalanche course were quite ideal both for the field sessions and hands-on learning.

Heading out through Crawford Notch for our Observational Outing on Day 2

Heading out through Crawford Notch for our Observational Outing on Day 2

Practicing the quick & easy  "Hand Shear" stability test

Practicing the quick & easy “Hand Shear” stability test

Looking at some route options from Hermit Lake

Looking at some route options from Hermit Lake

Another round of Hand Shear tests next to the Little Headwall

Another round of Hand Shear tests next to the Little Headwall

One of our groups spreads out while crossing the run out of The Sluice & Lip on their way to The Chute

One of our groups spreads out while crossing the run out of The Sluice & Lip on their way to The Chute

A nearby group practices self-arrest in Lobster Claw Gully

A nearby group practices self-arrest in Lobster Claw Gully

Climbing up to Left Gully

Climbing up to Left Gully

We poked around in the snow between Left and the Chute before heading half-way up Left for a nice run back to the floor of the ravine. The Little Headwall was enjoyable but the best turns were made in the Cutler River just below Hermit Lake. I had never skied in there before and there was some really nice un-tracked powder all the way down to the bridge. The rest of the Sherbi was a bit scraped and fast but pockets of powder could be ferreted out in the woods.

The next day I had the pleasure of taking the Brooks School faculty Tim & Leo, and Leo’s daughter Stacey, up on Mount Washington. Over the last couple years I’ve been able to work with Tim & Leo when they bring a group of their kids up to experience some ice climbing with EMS Schools. It is always a fun day at the cliff, and now Tim & Leo wanted to get an idea of a Mount Washington winter climb experience for a potential future student trip. Mount Washington definitely served us up some classic rock-pile conditions!

Ready to go!

Ready to go!

Tackling the steeps of the Winter Lion's Head Trail

Tackling the steeps of the Winter Lion’s Head Trail

Re-fueling at tree-line

Re-fueling at tree-line

Winds picking up, visibility dropping...

Winds picking up, visibility dropping…

It was quite clear with the weather that reaching Lion’s Head would be a challenge. Bouts of white-outs would reduce visibility down to a dozen feet at best, and winds gusting over 70mph would start to challenge our balance as we got closer to Lion’s Head. Our tracks were filled in with blowing snow within minutes of us passing through an area… it was… typical awesome Mount Washington weather!

We reached Lion's Head!

We reached Lion’s Head!

Group shot before descending

Group shot before descending

We made our way down in good spirits reflecting on what a unique place we have here to experience, and I’m much looking forward to seeing these three again, along with a dozen or so eager High School students ready to experience the same type of challenge!

Posted in Avalanche Courses, Mountaineering | 1 Comment

Fun day of Private Ice Climbing at Cathedral, and a quick set-back…

Saturday, February 21st, I was stoked to get out with a regular guest, Spencer, for some great climbing over at Cathedral. Spencer took a 3 Day Mountaineering Course with me two years ago, returned last winter for some fun at Frankenstein (Standard & Dracula), and was back this year to really start honing his steeper ice skills and anchor building as he has amassed the gear every hooked ice climber will start amassing!

We started off on Goofer’s Direct, 160 feet, Grade 3. This climb is one of the most aesthetic moderate pure ice climbs in New Hampshire!

The second in the party in front of us starts cleaning the pitch

The second in the party in front of us starts cleaning the pitch

I’ve climbed this route dozens of times and it has two distinctive “moods”. Early season it is often quite thin for the first 40-50 feet. Here’s a pic from an early season ascent in 2004 when I was still looking for ice thick enough for my 16cm screws…

Keep breathing...

Keep breathing…

But come mid/late season this climb becomes pure fun. Especially after Ice Fest when it has seen so much traffic it is quite hooked & pegged. There is a bit of a steeper bulge to surmount at the crux but it is easy to protect and really stepped out this time of year. Usually I would bring two 60m ropes to rap from the bolted anchor at the top of the climb. Today I opted to try something different with just one 60m. I decided to stop after the last steep bit, with only about 25 feet of mellow ice climbing above. From here a nice stance allows one to see their second for pretty much the entire climb. If you go to the bolts you really can’t watch your partner or get cool shots;

Spencer tearing it up...

Spencer tearing it up…

There really is only 25 feet of mellow climbing to the bolts from here and we wanted to get on to more climbing. I was able to quickly lower Spencer back to the deck and already had built a V-Thread to rap of myself. From here my 60m just touched down, and we were on our way to our next climb.

Note: If you have a 70m you can rap from the bolts and just barely make it without the need of a second rope or stopping short of the anchor, as I watched the party ahead of us discover.

We headed over to Thresher, Grade 3/3+. Up that in 2 quick pitches I left a top-rope in place so I could coach Spencer from below while he took some laps on the steeper left side. We finished up Thresher and made our way up to the top of The Unicorn, Grade 4+. This stout route would be a test of Spencer’s grasp of steep ice climbing, and he performed very well.

Alain was training a Special Forces team down below the North End

Alain was training a Special Forces team down below the North End

To wrap up our day we headed over to the North End Pillars for a quick lap on the furthest left pillar while a boisterous and motivated group of special needs & amputees got to climb ice organized by an out of state guide service. It was pretty awesome to see what these motivator’s could do!

A bit crowded, but awesome to see how much fun everyone was having!

A bit crowded, but awesome to see how much fun everyone was having!

And that concluded our very productive day!

Unfortunately after that I needed to take some time off. A growing pain in my back had finally reached a point where I wasn’t able to lie down at night, and my first trip to a doctor in over 2 years resulted in a herniated disk diagnosis. Good news, one week off and Prednisone and I’m pretty much 100% again. I was bummed to miss a few days of guiding work but very glad it wasn’t more serious! Tomorrow is looking pretty nice and I have a serious case of cabin fever so I may stretch the legs with a ski into Gulf of Slides with my buddy Steve, then an avalanche course is scheduled to start Friday.

Thanks for reading and see you in the mountains!

NEAlpineStart

Posted in Ice Climbing | Leave a comment

AIARE 2 Avalanche Course, Reaching Treeline, and Re-defining Success

As promised I want to briefly recap the American Institute of Avalanche Research and Education Level 2 Course that concluded this past Monday. I really don’t have a lot to say about the course, other than the 6 participants stayed fully engaged during 4 long days of mentally demanding classroom time and physically demanding field sessions. Mother Nature was in attendance as we saw some of the coldest temperatures of the season. During the 2nd day of the course Ryan Knapp, a meteorologist stationed at the top of Mount Washington, pointed out we were the 2nd coldest place on the Earth:

coldest

Factor in our windchill, and we smoked Antarctica in terms of COLD. While the statistic is cool, the next day’s harsh weather above tree-line poised issues for our avalanche class since we were seeking a field location above tree-line. After a morning trip planning session we played it conservative and headed out for a ski tour of 4,055 foot Mt. Hale.

Skinning in along Zealand Rd.

Skinning in along Zealand Rd.

Adjusting layers

Adjusting layers

Stopping for fuel with a snow covered Mt. Oscar in the background

Stopping for fuel with a snow covered Mt. Oscar in the background

Heading up Hale Brook Trail

Heading up Hale Brook Trail

Our entrance into the drainage, a nice tight 35 degree chute. Notice all the cool info embedded in the photo? Check out Theodolite in the iPhone App Store

Our entrance into the drainage, a nice tight 35 degree chute. Notice all the cool info embedded in the photo? Check out Theodolite in the iPhone App Store

Our ski descent was a mix of short fun runs with some deep wallowing in powder to the next drop. Once we cut back out to the trail the descent was quick.

ViewRanger App

ViewRanger App

But before we reached Zealand Rd I intersected a steeper open north aspect around 3000 feet that I had eyeballed from across the drainage on our ascent. It looked loaded and open enough to avalanche. I approached it while the class watched from the other side. A very positive hand-shear test on the edge indicated a very thin wind slab was ready to pop. A few cameras came out and I ski cut the slope initiating a very small D1 avalanche. It was about as small and inconsequential as a slab avalanche can be but was cool to see none-the-less.

Photo courtesy of D. Jepson

Photo courtesy of D. Jepson

The rest of the descent was uneventful and we made our way back to the trail-head and debriefed our day.

ViewRanger App

ViewRanger App

While driving back through Crawford Notch I received an automated call from Mountain Rescue Service. A missing hiker was being searched for on nearby Mt. Adams. After reading countless news stories and articles posted the following day I wrote this blog piece about the incident.

The reaction of the post was quite unexpected. It seemed the media was filled with negative reports and stone-casting (mostly from commentators rather than reporters) who seemed to know everything about how “crazy” and “ir-responsible” this victim might be. The truth is not one commentator was with this person to witness her decision making process or level of preparedness (or even lack there of). Monday morning quarterbacking was running rampant online.

“Coulda shoulda woulda” was something I remember a cousin saying to me during my childhood when I complained, in hindsight, about something I did, but shouldn’t have, or hadn’t done and wished I had.

Hindsight is always 20/20. We won’t know definitely what happened, but we should help future aspiring climbers find success.

I don’t wish to harp more on this incident, at least not directly, but instead share what a great day I had today in the mountains, and talk a bit about the definition of success when it comes to climbing.

Today I had two great guys from Rhode Island come up for an attempt on Mt. Washington. For one of them, it was their first time on the mountain. For the other it was his second attempt having been turned back due to weather last year as part of a guided trip. He was eager for a second shot.

Very early in the morning the ground work for a positive trip was laid.

How we talk about objectives like climbing mountains is crucial to our ability to make better decisions while enjoying them. I am going to sum up some ideas I think all climbers need to keep in the forefront of their brains when heading out for an awesome day in the mountains;

1) It really is about the journey. NOT the destination. How many summits you have made is not as important as the friends and places you have traveled because of your love of the mountains. Do not fall for “summit fever”.

2) “Summiting is optional, getting down is mandatory.” – Ed Viesturs- Ed is a high-altitude mountaineer and corporate speaker. He is the only American to have climbed all fourteen of the world’s eight-thousander mountain peaks, and the fifth person to do so without using supplemental oxygen.

3) Be careful how you speak to parties coming down the mountain. All to often I see this exchange, in which, for example, a party has made a judicious decision to descend due to weather, fitness, timing, or whatever seemed prudent at the time. They meet an ascending party;

“Did you make the summit?” asks the ascending party

“No.” is the only reasonable answer to the question.

“Oh.” is the most common retort, and the conversation is over. The descending party is a bit brought down by the exchange, and the ascending party now starts doubting their own abilities. While asking if a party summit’d seems innocent enough, I would suggest this interaction instead;

“How far did you make it?” asks the ascending party. (Not a loaded question!)

“A few hundred yards beyond Lion’s Head, it was brutal up there!”

“Good job! Enjoy the rest of your descent!”

A much more positive exchange for both parties.

The descending party was actually successful. They were having fun, and made a good decision.

Stepping down off my soap box I want to say that this type of personal opinion in an otherwise trip report focused blog is new for me. I typically post brief trip reports or gear reviews, but the overall reaction to my last post was so positive I thought I might, from time to time, mix in some more thoughts rather than just a “we did this” and “I like this jacket” type blog. If that is something readers continue to respond to I will try to keep it up. If not I will continue to maintain this for clients to come and get their photos from our adventures together.

I leave you with some photos of some happy guys from Rhode Island today who reached tree-line in some nasty weather and are now driving home and contemplating taking a day off tomorrow.

See you in the mountains,

NEAlpineStart

027 028 029 030 031 032 033 034

Posted in Guiding Blogs, Ice Climbing, Mountaineering | 2 Comments

A young climber perishes on Mt. Adams

Sunday night while I struggled with figuring out a productive field course location for the third day of an AIARE 2 Avalanche Course Kate Matrosova, a 32 year old climber from Russia who lived in New York City as an investment banker on Wall Street, was struggling to stay alive. Her husband had dropped her off at the Appalachia Trail-head at 5:30am for her solo-attempt at a Northern Presidential Traverse; Mount Adams, Madison, Jefferson, Washington. A seemingly fitting objective for the Presidents Day Weekend.

Kate was no neophyte to mountaineering. Her Facebook page showed someone who had passion, skill, and quality gear for recreating in the mountains:

katemastrova

Photo from Facebook; previous tripkatecamp

Photo from Facebook; previous expedition

She was also quite bright. A graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, and the Haas School of Business, she must have had a solid head on her shoulders. So why did she attempt this exposed alpine traverse with this weather forecast?

From Mount Washington Observatory:

In the clouds with snow and blowing snow. White out conditions. High temps dropping to -20F. Winds NE shifting NW 45-60mph rapidly increasing mid-morning to 80-100mph with gusts up to 125mph. Wind chills 65-75 below zero.

Wind speed is not as much of an issue as wind direction when attempting to go above treeline in harsh weather. I have summited Washington with clients in conditions similar to these. The difference here is careful use of terrain to “block” yourself from these debilitating winds. In this case she most likely ascended “Valley Way” and once she broke tree-line had a 80+ mph wind at her back.

map-madison-adams

The “yellow” in this simplified map represents above-treeline. Only a few hundred yards in that direction could be hard to reverse in those conditions. Star Lake, the vicinity of which she was located, is just on the lee, or sheltered side of this alpine ridge. An escape out of the Great Gulf Wilderness, even with snowshoes, could be impossible with our current deep snow-pack. Around 3:30pm she activated a Personal Locator Beacon indicating distress, and that would be the last communication she would have with anyone.

I received the automated Mountain Rescue Service call at 4:58pm while driving home from our Crawford Notch field location. While I could not respond due to the commitments of the current avalanche course I knew fellow Mountain Rescue Service members and friends would be heading up the mountain that night. While I know they are all tough as nails I wished who ever went up would stay below tree-line, as the Sunday night forecast above treeline was one of doom.

At some point that night the rescue efforts were suspended until 8am the following morning. Fellow rescue service members took some footage of conditions the following day:

At some point Kate was located, lifeless, having succumbed to exposure. With heavy hearts, and probably cold hands, rescuers began the long process of bringing her down the mountain.

I intended to mention this tragedy within a post about the AIARE 2 Avalanche Course but this has consumed my thoughts over the last two days so this tragedy will consume this post. I’ll post up about the AIARE 2 Avalanche Course in a few days. In the mean time we need to reflect on how we live our lives. Balance of risk vrs. reward is subjective. I must tell myself Kate did not know what the weather forecast was for the day of her ambitious traverse attempt. With her experience and knowledge she should have known gaining this ridge in these conditions would be horrific.

Or maybe not. Our “little” mountain range has a long history of claiming both the seemingly ill-prepared as well as those who were quite prepared.

Did she overlook the forecast? It’s quite likely she didn’t see that day’s forecast given her departure time. Of particular note is the low Nor’ Easter that was the major weather maker during this period travelled 100 miles further southeast than anticipated.

This caused a shift in the predicted wind direction for Sunday from South shifting East on Saturday Night to East shifting North Sunday morning. If Kate was aware of the forecast from Saturday it may have been reasonable to move forward based on the expected winds coming from the East, as most of her route would have been more sheltered, but more importantly retreat back down the north side of the range would have been manageable. It is quite likely she did not have access to the updated forecast Sunday morning.

But why did she push on past the point of no return with the winds at her back? Making observations in real time should take precedence over predictions. Having a conservative plan to fall back on can help stem human factor issues that can cause us to push on when Mother Nature is doing her best to turn us around. Did summit fever play a role? Commitment? Did the Personal Locator Beacon provide a false sense of security? None of these questions are likely to be answered. But they are worth asking.

kate-matrosovalinkedinMy heart & thoughts are with Kate’s husband and family this week. While you can’t really get to know someone through Facebook & LinkedIn I feel this person was full of life, and made an untimely mistake that took all. I pray we all move forward in life pursuing our passions with a reasonable degree of zest, inhibition, and due-caution, as hard as balancing all those things can be…

Posted in Mountaineering | Tagged , | 84 Comments