Ice Climbing with Dominic 2/2/16

Second post today as I catch up on a busy week. Following last weekend’s avalanche course I had the pleasure of taking Dominic out for his first day of ice climbing. A recent Geology graduate who hails from Lebanon, NH, Dominic has caught the climbing bug. His analytical mind was very quick at grasping all aspects of ice climbing as they were introduced and we found ourselves covering more and more vertical ground and knowledge throughout our 1 on 1 day.

After some basic crampon & ice axe skills, a quick top-rope climb on The North End Slab, we broke it into two pitches and scurried to the top.

Ice Climbing New Hampshire

Dominic hangs out on The North End Slab

From there we made our way over to The North End Pillars and Dominic learned how to rappel.

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Going over the edge

We took a quick lap on the left hand side of The Pillars.

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Starting up something a bit steeper

Ice Climbing New Hampshire

Trying to save energy

After a quick bite to eat we headed over to Thresher. Two pitches up that had us grinning at the top.

Ice Climbing New Hampshire

That is the face of someone hooked on ice climbing

With time & energy to spare we rappelled back to the ground and returned to The North End Pillars for another lap. As we started to wind down our day we spent a bit of time looking at ice anchors, screw placement, V-threads, natural anchors, etc… Despite the long day Dominic’s desire to learn as much as he could in one day was still apparent.

I’m really looking forward to my next day in the mountains with Dominic. His enthusiasm and motivation is contagious, and what ever we climb together next I know we’ll be having a good time from trail-head to trail-head!

See you in the mountains,

NEAlpineStart

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AIARE 1 Avalanche Course 1/30/16-2/1/16

Last weekend we conducted our 3rd AIARE 1 Avalanche Course of the season. While it wasn’t as intense as our course two weeks ago it was a very productive 3 days. We were lucky to have high altitude climber and expedition organizer Phil Crampton, of Altitude Junkies, participating in our course.

What is someone who has led 40+ expeditions to 8000m peaks doing in an entry level avalanche course? Phil wants to work on designing an avalanche awareness program focused specifically on Sherpas, of which he admits there are multiple cultural challenges to hurdle. Gaining some exposure to AIARE’s approach to avalanche education in the US will hopefully give him some ideas of how to best move forward in his endeavor.

Having someone of Phil’s experience in the course certainly made it a rich course. His stories of surviving multiple massive avalanches, participating in some dismal recoveries, and over-all demeanor were appreciated by all.

Conditions for the course were less than optimal. This El Nino is becoming a curse word within my circles but we were able to sniff out some decent conditions to meet our objectives. A 48 hour thaw led to Considerable avalanche danger on our 3rd day.

AIARE Avalanche Course

Avalanche Information board at Pinkham Notch Visitor Center

Our class had decided on either Left Gully or Right Gully as potential field locations. Both were rated “Moderate” but avoiding the run outs of “The Chute” and “Sluice”, both rated Considerable, was definitely part of our travel plan.

AIARE Avalanche Course

Looks more like December than February to me but I’ll take it

We decided to head up towards Right Gully following a skin track from another avalanche course.

AIARE Avalanche Course

The other course investigates The Sluice

We held up to the Right of Right Gully and set up shop to make some snow-pack observations in over 3 meters of snow.

AIARE Avalanche Course

Digging in

The snow-pack on this 38 degree slope was quite bomber now that the temperatures had fallen below freezing. Some interesting “veins” of melt water could be found in spots along with some centimeter thick melt-freeze ice crusts. We practiced Compression Tests with unsurprising results.

Only two of us were on skis for this course given the challenging snow conditions and horrible shape of the Sherburne Ski Trail. A few turns were made descending the lower half of The Sluice before walking back to Hermit Lake and taking the very beat up Sherburne back to Pinkham. Without a doubt the trail was in rough shape and I was ready to by a ticket to Durango when I reached the lot. Type 2 fun would be a stretch…

We reviewed our day before debriefing the course and went our separate ways.

AIARE Avalanche Course

My tour plan and field notes from the day

The next day I had a Private Ice Climbing day at Cathedral Ledge I’ll share in a new post.

As I finish this I must say I’m really glad to be looking out the window at some consistent snowfall. NWS is calling for 2-4 inches and I’d say I’ve hit the low end of that already in Conway. If you haven’t heard, the MWV Ice Fest is happening now. I might make it to some of the festivities tonight at Theatre in The Woods in Intervale, NH. Starts at 7pm. Maybe see you there.

See you in the mountains,

NEAlpineStart

Posted in Avalanche Courses, Backcountry Skiing, Ice Climbing, Mountaineering, Trip Reports | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Ice Pack Review

I’ve been looking forward to getting this review published since November when a Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Pack arrived at my door. Seeing HMG’s new re-brand and website launch today was the kick in the pants I needed to finish this review. So here it is!

Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Ice Pack Review

Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Ice Pack

As soon as I took it out of the plastic I knew I was holding a well designed pack. A 55 liter technical backpack that felt indestructible in hand but only weighed 34 ounces, made out of waterproof highly durable fabric. At the risk of sounding cliche… it felt like the future of high end backpacks had arrived. A month later it waited patiently by the door for its first trip up Mount Washington:

Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Ice Pack Review

Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Ice Pack

I’ve since enjoyed a dozen days of ice climbing and a couple back-country ski tours with this pack and have formed more than just a first impression. I want to share with my readers what makes this pack… and HMG in general… one of the coolest outdoor gear companies I’ve come across.

The Company:

Only 6 years old, Hyperlite Mountain Gear has quickly risen to compete with the best of the best in the outdoor gear industry. Their philosophy boils down to making bombproof technical gear that will perform in the worse possible conditions outdoor recreationalists throw themselves at. Design feedback from a diverse team of ambassadors goes right to head of the company. From bombproof HMG shelters to technical basic essentials like stuff sacks this company doesn’t take outdoor function for granted. To top it off, their products are all made in good ole’ USA, only a few hours away in the great state of Maine!

So what really sets this company apart from most competitors? It’s obvious it’s their choice of fabric for their products. While most companies use various “deniers” of affordable rip-stop nylon and Cordura, Hyperlite Mountain Gear uses Dyneema® + Dyneema® Composite Fabrics (Formerly Cuben Fiber) Technology to provide incredibly lightweight, long lasting, water & abrasion resistant products. Read more on these materials here.

The pack:

Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Ice Pack Review

Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Ice Pack- Frankenstein Cliffs

I went with this model as I wanted a pack I could guide both ice climbing and back-county skiing with. For those end uses there are some differences in how the pack performs that I will dive into, but first the manufacturer supplied description and specs:

“We designed the 3400/55L series of Ice Packs to function perfectly for passionate adventurers trudging through snow, climbing big ice or alpine lines and spending multiple days in wintry landscapes. Streamlined and minimalist, this ultralight backpack becomes a seamless extension of the athlete wearing it, enabling light and fast alpine ascents. Achieve your optimal self on your one- or two-day FA in the Ruth, Alaska or while attempting a Teton’s Grand Traverse-style link up. Given a four-star review in Rock & Ice magazine’s 2013 Photo Annual issue, this pack offers exactly what you need and nothing more (i.e. no frills, gizmos or the latest trending colors). Made from 100% waterproof Dyneema® Composite Fabrics (formerly Cuben Fiber), the 3400 Ice Pack is highly durable and weatherproof. Use it with our Stuff Sacks for a nearly perfect waterproof kit.

We can custom fit this pack for skiers by adding reinforced Dyneema® side panels, bottom and ski holsters.

FEATURES

  • Made in Maine – External crampon and ice axe attachment system
  • Four external daisy chains
  • Removable, contoured aluminum stays
  • Dyneema® Hardline shoulder straps with 3/8” closed cell foam and spacer mesh
  • 1/4” foam back panel pad
  • Compression System
    • Roll-Top closure system with side compression straps for vertical compression
    • Four side compression straps for horizontal compression
    • Top Y-strap compression — Designed to secure gear
  • Internal zippered pocket
  • Dyneema® Hardline hip belt with 1/8” closed cell rigid foam, 3/8” closed cell foam and spacer mesh
  • Hip belt option with gear loops or zippered pockets with #5 YKK zipper
  • Adjustable sternum strap with self-tensioning elastic
  • Proprietary seam sealing on all side seams and behind all sewn-on pack features”

SPECS

Weight: 2.16 lbs | 34.6 oz | 981g

Load capacity: 25 – 40 lbs

Materials:

  • Body: 50D Dyneema®/Poly hybrid
  • Bottom: Double reinforced 150D Dyneema®/Poly hybrid
  • Crampon Patch: Dyneema® Hardline

Volume:

  • Interior: 3400 cu. in. (55L)

Dimensions:

  • Top Circumference: 40” (95.3cm)
  • Bottom Circumference: 33.5” (85.1cm)
  • Height (fully unrolled): 34” (72.6cm)
  • Back Width: 10.5” (26.7cm)

PERFORMANCE:

So how does it perform? Well the closest pack I have extensive experience with that I could compare it to is my long loved Wild Things Guide Pack. Rugged? Check. Streamlined? Check. Lightweight? Check. Where this pack strides forward is in volume. Weighing only 6 ounces more than my 1600cu. in. Wild Things pack this pack more than doubles capacity. I find this extra room, even for a day of accessible cragging, to be a boon for two reasons;

1. It swallows all my gear without me getting OCD about my packing. While I start off a trip super well organized at the end of the day when you’re ready to beat feet to the car I just want to dump my gear in without trying to “put the puzzle back together”. This pack opens up wide so I can dump my harness, helmet, and rack in and start making tracks to the trail-head!

Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Ice Pack Review

I can hold all of your gear!

2. Unplanned bivy. While I carry an AMK SOL Emergency Bivy Sack on every trip the 34 inches of unrolled length, half of which have has 1/4″ foam, would help insulate someone spending an extra night out.

I put together a quick video the other day showing what I typically pack for a day of ice climbing, so if you want a closer idea of what I shove in this pack check out this clip:

But how does it climb?

Performance:

I’ve lead over 4000 feet of technical ice climbing up to Grade 4 wearing this pack so far this season. That’s enough to know it climbs well.

Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Ice Pack Review

East Face Slabs of Mount Willard, photo by Tom Carlson

The real beauty of this pack is it can haul 40 pounds of climbing gear to the route comfortably, then cinch down into a little streamlined assault pack that you can forget you are wearing. While the waist belt is remove-able I just opt for reverse clipping it when it’s time to harness up.

If I were to give this pack a grade based on end use it would look something like this:

Ice Climbing/Mountaineering A+++

Back-country Skiing B-

Ski Mountaineering A+

So why the lower grade for BC skiing? Well, because you can’t have one backpack that is awesome at everything. You just can’t. In the case of back-country skiing I want those convenient features like fleece lined goggle pockets and zippered compartmental access. A dedicated snow safety tool pocket is a must for those who ski in avalanche terrain a lot.

But you know what? Most great BC ski packs suffer in volume when it comes to Ski Mountaineering. Need to toss in some crampons and a bit of rope for when the terrain you’re accessing is getting a little gnarly? This pack has you covered. Heading into Baxter State Park for a few days of long alpine routes & maybe a ski descent off Hamlin Peak?

This is the pack I would bring.

Basically, if the route is demanding and technical in nature this is the pack to arm yourself with. If you’re sticking to wearing your skis in terrain under 40 degrees you might be better off with a dedicated touring pack like the Patagonia SnowDrifter.

But if you’re swinging the tools and getting into steep technical terrain this pack is an excellent choice.

Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Ice Pack Review

Summit of Mt. Willard- photo by Tom Carlson

I’m excited to get some ski mountaineering trips in with this pack over the next few years. While this winter has really lagged in the Northeast I’m content knowing this pack will long outlive this El Nino by a decade or two. I’m also keen to test out more of HMG’s product line. If you are in the market for a top of the line ice climbing/mountaineering pack, this is definitely  a company you should be looking at.

See you in the mountains,

NEAlpineStart

DISCLAIMER: While HMG supplied me with this pack for the review my opinions stated above are 100% mine, derived from 2 decades of wearing out packs ice climbing and skiing in the North East. 

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Winter Climbing 101- Cathedral Ledge 1/29/16

Today Jacob & Dominic joined us for a 101 Winter Climbing Course. Jacob is working on his NH 48 4000 footers and hopes to head out west for larger goals in the future. Dominic has a mountaineering girlfriend who has multiple trips to Rainier and is taking him to the Andes soon, so he was here to get some instruction and start building those skills!

ice climbing new hampshire

Jacob practices Self Arrest on the Cathedral Auto Road

ice climbing new hampshire

Jacob learns the difference between “French” technique and “International” technique

ice climbing new hampshire

Dominic starts climbing Grade 2 ice using a combination of techniques we have covered

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Jacob provides a solid belay

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Dominic goes over the edge on his first ever rappel

Both Jacob & Dominic were enthusiastic students and I can tell they’ll be continuing their mountain education with passion.

Tomorrow starts the 3rd AIARE Avalanche Course of the season so stand by for updates on that program and see you in the mountains!

-NEAlpineStart

 

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Winter Climbing 101, 1-24-16

This past Sunday I had the pleasure of taking David, Charlene, and Sam out to Cathedral Ledge for a Winter Climbing 101 Course. David had attempted Mount Rainier last year and was returning for another attempt this August, so this course was intended to help hone the skills needed for such an objective.

We started the day with some self-arrest practice on the auto-road. An icy sled path that came down through the woods provided a great little spot to gain some momentum. We then worked on our crampon technique employing different styles to different grades and difficulties, all with an emphasis on conserving energy. As the day progressed we got a bit more technical with our ice axes as we took a climb up the North End Slab. After some lunch we rappelled the North End Pillars, learned and practiced a hand-rap rappel, then looked at some basic glacier roping up options, with a look at short-roping & short pitching to finish out the day.

ice climbing cathedral ledge new hampshire

David goes over the edge

ice climbing cathedral ledge new hampshire

Then Charlene…

ice climbing cathedral ledge new hampshire

Sam leaning back on the rope with no fear… well, maybe a little

I wish David the best on his next Rainier climb, it’s obvious to see he has the climbing bug, and hope to see Sam back her for some focused waterfall ice climbing, as she showed a keen interest in doing more of that by the end of the day!

See you in the mountains,

NEAlpineStart

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Winter Climbing 101 Course, Frankenstein Cliffs

This summer I got to meet 16 year old Harry for a very rainy day of rock climbing. Most of the day was spent indoors covering rope skills, which he was keen to acquire. He would later climb with EMS Guide Ryan and was following 5.9 routes his second day out. Soon after he started leading traditional climbs. This kid is getting good fast! He returned today and was joined by Wildcat Ski Instructor Marissa for an introduction to winter climbing.

We pulled into Frankenstein around 9:30am. The upper parking lot was full and cars on the side of the road almost reached the lower lot. I wondered if Lost In The Forest would be swarmed.

Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Ice Pack

Crossing the trestle at Frankenstein Cliff- sweet pack review coming soon! #hyperlitemountaingear

We saw one party on Chia and later heard parties climbed Smear, Hobbit, Pegasus Rock Finish, The Blobs, and Bob’s Delight… all looking quite good. There was no one in the Trestle Cut or at the Trestle Slab. When we arrived below Lost In The Forest we could easily see a large group, probably 10+, around Walk in The Woods/Lost In The Forest. On we walked…

My back-up plan was the slab to the right of The Hanging Gardens… we got there after passing a very busy Standard Route.

Standard Route, Frankenstein Cliff

Standard Route, Frankenstein Cliff

We had the slab to ourselves and had lessons in crampon technique, ice axe use, and belaying.

Ice Climbing Frankenstein Cliffs

Marissa prepared for her very first ever climbing experience while Harry provides a solid belay

Ice Climbing Frankenstein Cliffs

Marissa crushing our first route of the day

Ice Climbing Frankenstein Cliffs

Harry getting after it

After a couple of laps here we ate some lunch and moved down and over to Standard Route right as a few parties were finishing. We opted for a quick climb up the center to the cave and rappelled.

Ice Climbing Frankenstein Cliffs

Harry reaches the cave at the top of the first pitch of Standard Route

On our way out we had a quick lesson in ice screw placement and building V-thread anchors. Marissa seemed to enjoy her first experience in the vertical world of ice climbing and Harry is chomping at the bit to learn more. He’s heading out tomorrow with another EMS guide for some longer multi-pitch type climbing and I’m sure he’ll do well. At this rate I expect to see him climbing up a storm in the next few years. Get after it Harry!

I’m heading out again tomorrow with another group, so stay tuned and see you in the mountains!

-NEAlpineStart

 

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Avalanche in The Chute, 1/17/2016

Our last day of our American Institute of Avalanche Research & Education Course ended with one of the most powerful experiences one can experience in avalanche education.

A climber triggered an avalanche that caught and carried 4 climbers and 1 skier 800 feet down a 45 degree slope only a few feet a way from our class. I’m sure I’m still processing the day and while some might suggest I decompress a day or two before digging into the events leading up to the incident I feel the sooner I sit down and write about the incident from my perspective the more accurate that assessment will be. So here we go.

On Friday 1/15/16 we started our second AIARE course of the season. Ironically before our students arrived my co-instructor Mike & I debated the fact that the Mount Washington Avalanche Center had not yet started using the 5-scale Danger Rating system, and on a holiday weekend with a Nor’Easter bearing down I was concerned about mountain travelers without any formal avalanche education assuming “General Advisory = No problem”.

To the MWAC defense, the bold “Please remember that avalanche activity may occur before the issuance of a 5-scale danger rating forecast. As always, make your own snow stability assessments when traveling in avalanche terrain.” disclaimer should be sufficient, but my opinion was that a formal rating for specific terrain features and colored slat boards “might” help those with limited knowledge and mountain sense make better choices. I’ll expand on that at the end of this post…

Our first day was a bit heavy in the classroom with some companion rescue practice outside in the afternoon. While we covered some of the basics of the avalanche phenomenon our first real Nor’Easter of the season was getting ready to help our winter snow pack materialize on our 2nd day:

EMS Schools Avalanche Course

Pretty much missed us

We spent some time on the 2nd day (yesterday) up in Crawford Notch previewing avalanche terrain and learning about making quality weather, snow pack, and avalanche observations:

EMS Schools Avalanche Course

Mike talks with the group about measuring slope angles and the differences between defined and un-defined avalanche paths.

EMS Schools Avalanche Course

Mike demonstrates a Compression Test

On our 3rd day we met at Pinkham Notch Visitor Center. Storm totals didn’t quite reach the 6-14 inches forecasted, and we only received 5.2″ at the summit from this system. Regardless of the less than expected snow totals we observed active wind loading on our drive to the trail-head:

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White smoke above the north rim of Huntington Ravine visible from the parking lot

During our trip planning session we identified The Chute & Left Gully as potential field locations, and areas that might also offer a few good turns.

EMS Schools Avalanche Course

AM Trip Planning Session

The USFS Snow Rangers had posted a General Bulletin. Two snippets I’ll highlight here for some foreshadowing:

“Many of you may be searching for these handful of locations to pursue your sport rather than the brush and rock that dominate the Ravines.  If this is you, expect instability until proven otherwise by your stability assessments… recognize this holiday weekend will have many others out and about that could be potential triggers above you.”

We split into two tour groups of 7 each and made our way up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail. My group arrived at Hermit Lake at 1050, a bit before our 2nd group. We made a quick weather observation then continued up to the floor of the ravine arriving below Lunch rocks at 1150.

Before our arrival USFS Snow Rangers had made some observations in the ravine and posted an update in “The Pit” that I wouldn’t see until later. A pic from their blog post:

EMS Schools Avalanche Course

Early morning wind loading in the ravine- pic from USFS

In their update they reported a small skier triggered avalanche to the right of our intended destination:

“a report of another small avalanche triggered by a skier. This was in the area we call “Chicken Rock Gully,”…The party triggered the slide near the rocks at the top of this slope. They reported that it was about 4-6″ deep, 40′ wide x 50′ long, and ran down to the bottom of Lunch Rocks.”

This was prior to our arrival at 1150 and we were not aware of it until much later in the day. We observed a few snowboarders ascending and descending the snowfield in The Sluice in the vicinity of the Summer Hiking Trail. Seeing debris below The Chute (and no one in the area) we decided to set a skin track up towards that area.

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Spread out as we work out way up to The Chute

Our climbers traveled on consolidated surfaces and got to see some of the intact blocks of wind slab from yesterdays natural avalanche cycle:

EMS Schools Avalanche Course

Large intact blocks of wind slab

Our estimated skin track:

IMG_6134

Photo from earlier in the AM during active loading- by MWAC

Right before we took our skis off to kick steps up the final stretch to our destination a student asked if it was ok we had 3 of our group in the direct line of the obvious avalanche path with a pilllow of wind slab just above us. We discussed how the lack of a natural or human trigger made our position a reasonable choice. No one was above us and we could see all active loading had ceased.

After a hand shear at the yellow dot I committed us to the small 43 degree slope to climbers left of the choke on The Chute (pink line below small crown line). A 2 person Canadian party (represented in orange) punched through. A party of 3, represented in green, held back a minute before two started climbing up through the choke point.

EMS Schools Avalanche Course

An estimation of position. Pink was our class. Green was the party of 3 (one, Ben, was a former student), Orange was the 2 person Canadian team.

The two Canadians pushed through the choke. Two of the three party team fell in behind them. I had just finished measuring the slope angle at our intended pit location:

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A climber from the 3 person team is almost out of sight heading into “the choke”- photo by D. Tower

A minute or two later I heard a rumble and glanced up to the choke to see a size-able amount of snow come flying by. I yelled “Avalanche” multiple times as I tried to keep a visual on the 2 climbers I was able to make out in the fast moving slide. I had two students to my right, who were still 10-15 feet from the mass of snow that had just came blasting down the gully. As much as I’ve practiced this over the last 14 years I can say there is a lot of truth in the statement “practice never ends”.

My class was safe, positioned outside the fall line of this avalanche, but having just noted a solo skier approaching from below, I was sure at least 4 people had taken a ride, and as the powder cloud settled my biggest fear was someone had been buried with no beacon on (not wearing beacons in avalanche terrain on Mount Washington is an issue I won’t get into here, but needs addressing).

I radioed Mike who had just passed Connection Cache. After conveying some of my first impressions he continued up with his portion of the class to provide assistance. Ben, a former student and the only person not caught from the party of 3, indicated he would respond with us, and we all switched to “search mode” on our beacons. A visual search quickly located 4 people on the surface, and a 5th moments later as we made our descent. Uncertain if only 5 were caught we carried out a quick signal search on the debris field, which I estimated was 40 meters wide by 100 meters long.

As we reached the toe of the debris it was only slightly comforting that we hadn’t picked up any signals. None of the 5 people carried by the avalanche had beacons on. The two climbers from the party of 3 had ended up high in the debris and not taken the full ride. While they reported fruitless attempts at self-arrest and escape they were lucky to be pushed off to the skier’s right of the main slide. The other three ended up very low in the debris, carried pretty far down into the bushes that hadn’t been reached yet by the avalanche cycle yesterday.

The first two we reached was one of the French Canadians and Androscroggin Search and Rescue Member Corey Swartz (who was caught & carried but uninjured). Corey was providing first aid and my student Joe contributed some first aid supplies.

EMS Schools Avalanche Course

Joe provides one of the victims with some gauze while ASVAR member Corey, who was one of the climbers caught in the avalanche, provides first aid.

I made contact with the far left victim, the solo skier who was hit far down in the run out by the avalanche, who was being assisted by the other Canadian. He had an obvious leg injury but with the help of a partner was trying to exit the debris field. We advised that stabilization would be best as USFS Rangers were in route, and they elected to crawl/drag down to flatter terrain.

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The injured skier being attended to by the other Canadian climber.

I sent Joe to the floor of the ravine to communicate with the rest of our class and assist with the initial packaging of the injured climber then returned back to my group who had been standing by with shovels & probes in case an extrication was required.

EMS Schools Avalanche Course

Looking back up the debris where my students were waiting

We returned to our high point to collect our skis and I grabbed a shot of the crown from the right side of “the choke”.

EMS Schools Avalanche Course

The crown was about 3 feet deep on the left and tapered quite far to looker’s right. The climber who triggered it thought it broke just above him but later analysis makes it seem much higher, perhaps 50-100 feet above.

The Canadians had climbed through the fresh crown line from yesterday’s cycle and had climbed about 15 feet higher on the “hang fire” from the wind slab before the remaining slab released and dragged them down, catching the 2 climbers from the 3 person team that had just entered the choke point.

We descended to the floor just as the more seriously injured patient was littered down the Tuck’s trail with two of my students and my co-instructor Mike, eventually to be evacuated by USFS Snow Ranger Jeff Lane by snowmobile.

After a bit of discussion at the floor of the ravine we descended to Hermit Lake to regroup with the two who assisted with the patient transfer to Hermit Lake and we descend the Sherburne ski trail together.

We then debriefed the course and incident before parting ways. And then I got to spend some solo time thinking about our day.

So what happened? Well, the first thing is recognizing we have the advantage of hind-sight. We could Monday morning quarter-back the Patriots close win last night as well as this incident. Knowing almost nothing about football, and a bit about snow, I’ll take a stab at what happened here based on everything I heard, saw, and assumed, today (corrections from witnesses welcome).

Ben reported talking to the Canadians earlier in the day and that they said their intention was to summit Mount Washington via the Tuckerman Ravine Trail. This is disturbing, as this was clear in the bulletin that had been posted yesterday:

“There may also be a small number of you that plan on trying to follow the Tuckerman and Huntington summer trails through each Ravine.  This is not a good idea as they both run through some snowfields that harbor potential hazards.  Save the summer trails for summer.” -MWAC

I would like to say that everyone knows that the Summer/Winter Lionshead Trail is the preferred method of ascending Mount Washington from the east in the Winter.

I would like to say that.

Human Factors…

“Blue Sky Syndrome”

It was absolutely bluebird up there today. While temps in the ravine were around -9c (16F) there was almost no wind, so it was a really enjoyable place to be…

“Herd-Mentality”

At this point I am convinced the two who triggered the avalanche, who had stated they had planned to climb up the ravine via the “trail” decided to follow my group, and the group of three, because;

A) It looked like we knew what we were doing

B) It looked like a fun ascent line

I can’t think of any other reason why they would have deviated from their previously stated intention.

“Familiarity” and “Experienced”

Ben’s group, having talked with USFS Snow Rangers, had decided they would investigate the crown from yesterdays natural avalanche but not travel above it. They recognized the risk, to an extent. Members of that party had stated earlier in the AM that avalanche gear would not be needed as it was “early season/general bulletin”.

This did not sit well, rightfully so, with Ben, who was the only member wearing a beacon and carrying rescue gear when his two partners were swept past him in a size-able avalanche.

I estimated the avalanche to be R3 (40-60% of path) and D2.5 (easily bury or kill a person). It’s remarkable to me that out of 5 people carried only 1 was partially buried and only two received notable injuries. Had anyone been buried under the snow without a beacon on it would have been likely for this to have been an avalanche fatality, and not an “incident”.

This incident, as most “first of the season” incidents usually are, should serve as a wake up call to both those with considerable snow sense, and those who know they need to gain some. Winter came a bit late, but avalanche season has arrived.

Some recent media coverage:

http://www.necn.com/news/new-england/Surviving-an-Avalanche-365828621.html

http://www.conwaydailysun.com/newsx/local-news/124195-avalanche-injures-2-at-tuckerman-ravine

http://www.wmur.com/news/avalanche-survivor-describes-being-swept-down-tuckerman-ravine/37499750

http://backcountrymagazine.com/stories/eastern-avalanve-in-the-east/

-NEAlpineStart

 

 

 

Posted in Avalanche Courses, Backcountry Skiing, Ice Climbing, Mountaineering, Musings, Trip Reports | Tagged , , , , , , | 15 Comments