Friday, April 20, 2012

Avy Conclusions to Remember

The SLC rando racing and speed ski tour record-setting trio of Jared, Andy, and Jason have reported some spicy moments in the past.  But the avalanche of Thursday last week (April 12) was on another order altogether.
Fortunately, a full and speed recovery is anticipated for Jared.  Plus both Jared and his partner Jason have blogged many valuable lessons for all of us to learn.

First, from Jason's account, some harrowing moments in the following excerpts:

"I skied first, pulled into a safe zone and watched Jared ski by in deep new snow until he yelled "Avalanche!" I watched for a second until he skied out of it.  Looking at the crown it was only 3-5 inches deep.  We laughed."
"After this little run in, we figured N faces weren't the safest option we figured we better take S Superior out and be done for the day.  Everything we had seen move was on the northern aspects, the new snow had bonded fairly well on S faces, and once again, we figured if anything moved it would be manageable."
"I skied first, cut the slope, was happy with the results and went a few hundred feet pulling off in the left side of the far left chute high on Superior.  It's looked like the snowpack got a little boney towards the end of the chute so as Jared skied by I yelled to be little cautious.  Next thing I know he's going cartwheeling over the exposed rock at the end of the chute.  I quickly turned my beacon on and asked myself if it was safe follow.  It was so off I went.  I remember looking at the crown (don't remember how deep) as I skied by, noting that I was skiing on the bed surface and then coming to the rollover where the snow ran out and I was left staring at exposed rocks.  I remember them being big, sharp and all pointing up.  I looked at my beacon and it wasn't picking anything up, for a second I thought Jared's beacon wasn't working.  That's when I started yelling, luckily I heard a response.  I saw Jared down another 100 feet and a little off to the right.  After side stepping through the steep rocks I stepped onto snow again.  Immediately another slab broke loose.  I yelled franticly for Jared to get out of the way until it was clear the slab got funneled away from him.  Jared told me after the fact that he saw the 2nd slide coming but couldn't do a thing about it."
"When I first got to him, I gave him a quick once over.  He could talk, he was breathing although it was a little fast, he had a good pulse.  He told me he thought he broke some ribs and maybe his right femur.  I looked at his leg and saw blood dripping from the seat of his pants.  Having just got done working with the trauma team at the hospital for the past month I couldn't help but think the worst."
"After getting to the hospital he was rushed in, stripped naked and found to a have a few lacerations (head, leg, butt) one needing stitches, a muscle that avulsed from his femur, cracked ribs, and a partially torn hamstring.  Nothing that won't fix itself.  It might take a month or three but he should be good as new in a bit."
"Reviewing his gear showed a hole in his helmet and a cracked beacon.  Things could have been worse..."
Second, thoughts from Jason:
  1. "We're lucky."
  2. "It's easy to talk yourself (at least me) into thinking that nothing bad will happen.  We've skied all sorts of stuff (maybe we shouldn't have) in moderate danger thinking ski cuts, cornice drops and what not will keep us safe.  Maybe a little more respect is needed."
  3. "Transporting an injured partner is not easy.  Luckily Jared was able to get himself out almost completely on his own.  It still took a while but if he were unconscious it would have taken forever."
  4. "'Manageable' sluff or slides are manageable in some situations, not all."
  5. "No body wants to die skiing, not worth it."
  6. "Although we were scared to ski for a few days, I can feel myself wanting to get back out and start pushing it again.  It's going to take a little effort to remember the lessons from that day."
  7. "Wear a helmet!"
  8. "Be careful!"
Third, an abbreviated (just to make it more universal) list of Jared's conclusions to remember:
  1. "I love the mountains; but the mountains don't love me.  Why is a rock deserving of any love?  How can a white-capped mound of dirt and debris be the sole object of my desire?  The mountains are my sanctuary. But they don't know I'm there.  Nor do they care."
  2. "The pull of gravity is welcoming when your feet are on the ground; but in free fall, not so much.  As I skied by Jason and into the chute, I heard him warn of the rocks below.  And then I felt a collapse, looked around me, and saw the snow around me begin to liquify.  I checked my speed, or attempted to at least, in an effort to resist getting swept into the funnel.  And then my sluff combined with the soft slab from above hit me.  The impact was unexpected.  How can a wave of snow pack so much energy?  It lifted me off my feet, and then I was airborne.  The immediate acceleration was horrifying--I had no control and all things must come down.  My instinct was to try and gain control and arrest my fall.  The first time I smashed into the broken, pointed, black rocks, I caught a glimpse of them.  My mass and my acceleration smashing into those rocks produced an immense force on my chest.  My hope of gaining control was extinguished, and I was overcome with fear.  And then it was a confusing, discombobulated cycle of churn, fall, impact . . . scream.  I waited for the lights to go out."
  3. "Once April comes around, not everything is always a "go."  I consider April a golden month for skiing.  Usually, the snowpack is stable.  The coverage is good.  Travel conditions are fast.  Racing is over.  Given the rough winter we've had in the Wasatch, I looked forward to April.  When it came, and the snowpack began to stabilize, a green light went on in my head.  I had big plans.  On April 12, 2012, it was snowing in the mountains.  Even so, I drove towards the Lone Peak trailhead, intending to work on a project on and around Lone Peak.  But after talking with Jason on the phone, and worried about the bad weather, I flipped my car around and headed up Little Cottonwood.  As we climbed Superior, both of us expressed regrets about not being on Lone.  Jason suggested that we ski out and head to Lone.  Soon were skiing Superior's north face.  There, I triggered and skied out of an avalanche.  As Jason says, we laughed at it.  The avalanche on North Superior didn't stop us from climbing Superior again and skiing the south face.  We had just looked the Dragon in the eyes and felt its fire, and then we kicked him in the crotch and laughed.  Why?  Because it was April."
  4. "Listen to the mountain, not your ego; ski to ski.  Skiing does not need to be a competition.  Skiing does not need to be about getting that trophy photo.  Skiing does not need to be about being better or going higher or shredding faster than others.  Skiing does not need to be about being the first to ski this or that slope or mountain on this day or in the history of the world.  Skiing does not need to be about impressing sponsors or distinguishing yourself so that you can get sponsors.  Skiing does not need to be about that next blog post.  Is there such a thing as pure skiing?  I should listen to the mountain, not my ego.  I should ski to ski."
  5. "Wear a helmet (and a breast plate).  In some instances, playing the "what if" game can be productive.  I'll play it here.  What if I had not, as an afterthought, thrown my helmet in my pack?  What if I had not been wearing a helmet as I starfished down Superior's face?  What if I had stuffed my beacon into my pack or pocket and not strapped it securely onto my chest?  What if my bindings had not released?  Answer:  I would be hurt worse.  I would have a hole in my head.  I would have broken ribs and collapsed a lung (there is a hole and cracks in my beacon instead).  I would likely be dead."
  6. "I should be a better partner.  Sometimes I skimp on the rescue gear I carry.  Often, I carry a small shovel and a carbon probe.  Sometimes I don't carry anything.  I don't carry much in the way of a first aid kit, if anything.  I rarely carry matches or a knife.  On April 12th, I was carrying a plastic rando race shovel. Sorry Jason.  I gave Jason my aluminum rando race shovel because he couldn't find his." 
  7. "I need to try harder to not let my loved ones down.  Just because I won the lottery once, does not mean that I'll win again.  Statistically, I think my odds just drastically decreased.  If the price of admission is your life, the game probably is not worth playing.  If that means not playing this game anymore or playing it less or playing a lower stakes game, so be it."

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