Who the Hell is maadjurguer?

My photo
I like to ski, mountain bike, drink beer, cook and listen to any jam band I can get my hands on; all while making a complete ass of myself. Hopefully this catharsis is as interesting to others as it is to me.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

It's all steeze and stoke until someone shits their pants

It's all fun and games until someone pokes their eye out....but after that....it's still kinda funny...but not really.  tRoy and I set out for the San Juan's for our AIARE Level II Avy course this weekend. Leaving Flagstaff was a bit sketchy, with white out conditions on I-40 between Winslow and Gallup rendering me flush with spatial disorientation and nausea from the constant stream of illuminated snowflakes and a lack of movement indicators other than my speedometer. Despite this, we forged along and made Durango at 1230 and crashed hard for the next mornings start. After a day of classroom lessons and transceiver practice, we headed out the next day for the La Plata's for some pit observation under crazy blue skies and warm temps.










After some schooling by the instructors, I was left humbled by how much I thought I knew about pit observations and how little I really knew about pit observations.  Tearing into my SWAG book later that evening, I resolved to study up before the third day which would see us taking a full day tour at Molas Pass.




Naked Lady Couloir as seen from the Million Dollar Highway......looking saucy....




Heading SE into the trees along contour, we break out into a clearing and spy our objective and plan a route into the alpine....




Upon cresting the treeline, we get a much clearer view of the shots we were planning on skiing and plotted our test pit sites.




On the way up, it occurred to me that red beards are in fashion these days with the backcountry set from Aspen.....




......and the guides.....




......and yours truly.




Our plan to ski the obvious shot to the left and the shorter but steeper shot just to the right with test pits at bottom left below the cliff band....




After digging my pit with a guy named Justin, who was planning on his 4th trip to Everest two weeks from now, we traversed above the cliffband in the above shot to the left out of view.  Topping out, we spied Engineer Mountain to our south, the Million Dollar Highway below and the entrance to our couloir....just below that roll-over shown below.....




Traversing across the top of the shot to skiers left, roughly 20 feet from us, Justin yelled back that he felt a "wumph" at which point the instructor yelled to come back.  Justin performed a kick turn when a 2nd "wumph" was felt and heard by all......and then the slope ripped out, sending Justin out of sight.  We quickly strained to put eyes on Justin and saw him riding the avalanche down the slope, accelerating down the gut to the runout zone.  Cresting another convexity, he disappeared with the snow flowing down behind him.....I feared that the snow was going to bury him at this point and focused on tracking the last spot I saw him relative to the motion of the slide...but he reappeared below a few seconds later, still riding the white dragon until the avalanche slowed down and threw him up into an upright position where he skied out of the lobe of debris below.  Cheers erupted from all above as I took this pick when Justin begun picking his way out of the path......the pants were officially soiled at this point....




Flying down the bed surface of the avalanche, which had ripped to the ground; one of the instructors hooked up with Justin and after determining he was ok, advised us over radio to ski down the bed surface.  The second instructor traversed left and down to grab a quick crown profile of the slide.  As the class followed the track down and onto the bed surface one by one, I found myself also following the track down....only to realize I failed to turn onto the right track and quickly found myself still on top of the slab and above the 2nd instructor who was performing the crown profile.  It was at this moment that I had an intense sick feeling that my oversight had just put the 2nd instructor in a very dangerous position with the strong possibility of sending the remaining slab down on top of him....I got a few choice words from him and quickly dropped off the slab onto the bed surface to descend down to safety.  I'm glad nothing more came of it and we all made it down safe, to view the slide from below...which now looked bigger than from above.  




I owed that instructor a beer....big time.  I spent the rest of the day stewing on my stupid mistake as we made our way back to our vehicles.  I picked up two Chimay's for the instructors for their professionalism and a lottery ticket for the white dragon rider.  We all ruminated over the day's events and were now even more keenly aware of the subtle nature and critical importance of micro-terrain management....the best lesson yet learned at the hands of a R2, D2 category avalanche.  I'll link to the CAIC report as soon as it becomes available here.




The 4th and final day of the class dawned with new snow in Durango and white out conditions on Coal Bank and Molas Passes.  We had decided the previous night that despite the day's adventure, we still wanted to head north past Silverton and ski south of Red Mountain in an area called Sams Run which is moderately treed and heavily skied.  The plan for the day was to climb into the alpine and do some crystal identification within the pits since most felt this was an area we need to do a bit more work on.  To make a long story short....the more we climbed...the sketchier the conditions got.  As we approached the alpine, what had been a suspect melt-freeze crust with faceting about 20cm down at lower elevations turned to a double melt-freeze crust which was sounding hollower and hollower as we skinned up.  Isolated collapsing and cracking was observed....so we stopped ascending and dug pits which only confirmed the sketchy nature of our slope.  Several folks observed Q1 failures on their compression tests while isolating the columns.....wake up time.  Everyone agreed that this was not a slope we wanted to ski....regardless of the foot of fresh on top, it was the dual melt-freeze crust sandwiched in very weak faceted layers that sent the hackles up.  I observed a CTH2 Q2 at 15cm down and was able to replicate it with a second test which exposed the facets just below the melt-freeze crust.  I also observed an ECTN22 Q1 at 100cm down on some 2mm facets just below another melt-freeze crust....so the probability certainly existed for a slide to break out at 15 cm down....accelerate and load the pack below, and then step down further to that layer 100cm down.  Given this and the moderately spaced trees which we could potentially get strained through in a slide, similar to this; we spent the rest of the day conservatively backing out, descending from safe zone to safe zone and avoiding every micro-terrain feature which looked suspect.




Upon reaching our cars....I certainly had a sober and fine appreciation for the subtleties in reading micro-terrain features.  I saw first hand the consequence of missing a micro-terrain feature....and I also saw the expert use of avoiding micro-terrain features to limit exposure on a suspect snowpack.  After declaring the class over and all of us as Level II certified....we all hoisted our beers.  How I felt at this point can only be expressed by this picture.....







2 comments:

troy said...

Good Trip!
I may be able to get out to pracice our new pit skills on Sunday... Things are melting fast - creeks and Arizona rivers everywhere...
FYI: We were in the La Platas, Not the La Sals.

maadJurguer said...

Nice catch.....must have been drinking that extra 6-pack of Euphoria I brought back...

Post a Comment