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Topic "Tent Ridge Accident and Learning from it (1 of 29)" started by Jason Wilcox on Dec-17-2007

Topic: Tent Ridge Accident and Learning from it (1 of 29)
Author: Jason Wilcox
Date: Monday, December 17, 2007 04:25 PM

As we all know the accident on Dec 8 on Tent Ridge was very tragic but could have probably been avoided if avalanche conditions and warnings were heeded. Like everyone else on this board I hate to be held back by avalanche conditions and I also hate turning around because I'm worried about them once I get half-way up a route. I have turned around on big (like Mt Columbia) and small objectives (like Mt Rae), but I've also been very close to being in an avalanche before I've made the call to turn around. I'd like to take this opportunity to remind everyone of the dangers involved and to choose your objectives accordingly.

One of the reasons I decided to post this reminder was due to a recent trip report that I came across at lunch from a very experienced guy who we all know, respect and rely on for much information. If he can get himself into what looks (to me anyway) like a dangerous predicament, then I think it's pertinent to remind everyone that even though you've taken an avalanche course and know how to use your beacon, it's best to buy the best beacon on the market and NEVER have to use it. I hope that the conditions were analyzed in a prudent manner before venturing up the slope shown in the report, and given the amount of experience Andrew has, I�m sure he felt confident in the conditions. However, the accident on Tent Ridge happened DURING the analysis stages� so even when you�re doing the right thing and testing conditions make sure you�re not in harms way� Makes it really difficult though, because in order to know what kind of shape the slope is in, you kind of HAVE TO test the slope itself� The best alternative is still to stay out of all avalanche gullies and traverse steep snow slopes (if you must) one at a time. What's even more ironic is that this trip was the same day and same area and pretty close to the same aspect as Tent Ridge. It could have been this slope that went that day, not Tent Ridge. This is the trip report I'm talking about:


Learn the mistakes made. I know Andrew realizes the risk, as he states that they turned around due to avalanche potential. I applaud him for that, but I also want to point out the fact that they were very much in harms way for a long time. My main intention here is to have people being more critical and thinking for themselves. When they see a report like this, think "Wow, glad I know enough to stay out of terrain like that"... not "Wow - what a great choice of line - up a firmly packed avalanche slope with no trees! Why didn�t I think of that?!?!".
None of us want to read about more avalanche accidents. None of us want to live our lives without being exposed to risks, but we also want to be around long enough to expose ourselves to lots of those risks.

In closing, I'm not trying to take a stab at Andrew here, just trying to get everyone on here thinking more critically about avi safety. The last thing I want is to turn this forum into a bunch of crap where everyone ridicules each other like on LTV. I'm sure I put myself in just as much danger every time I hold my set of ice tools, but like I said, none of us want to live our lives without exposing ourselves to risks. I just want to manage them as well as possible, and try and help others do the same.

Let's all make a conscious effort to avoid avalanche terrain when there are alternatives.

Jason Wilcox

Topic: Tent Ridge Accident and Learning from it (2 of 29)
Author: Sandra Mcguinness
Date: Monday, December 17, 2007 05:03 PM

Jason, that's a great post. And, I applaud you for bringing up a difficult topic. No one wants to bad mouth anyone else but I also saw Drew and Mark's trip report (probably a week ago), and I honestly thought that they were very, very lucky to not be in the same predicament as the guys on Tent Ridge. Judging by the photos on the trip report, they were exposed to a high level of danger for a long time before they turned around. People on foot put more shear stress on snow packs than people on skis - there is less bridging. And, while the guys in the Tent Ridge accident had a safe route to ascend (up the ridgeline) Drew and Mark had no safe route.

You gotta remember that persistent weak layers release less and less over time, but when they do release they release bigger and bigger. Considerable avalanche hazard is the most frequent time for recreationalists to get nailed. Natural activity has subsided and people feel more confident in the snowpack, when in reality, the snowpack has not strengthened. When the hazard is considerable, by definition, you have a good chance of triggering an avalanche if you get out onto the right terrain. Terrain choices become the most important variable.

I agree that the accident on Tent Ridge is very tragic, more so in my mind because the avalanche report for the day specifically warned about the shallow snowpack with a layer of basal (at the base of the pack) facets (sugar snow) that were reacting to triggers. The report also said to stay off north and east facing slopes at treeline and above, and to avoid wind loaded slopes, particularly the thin areas beside wind pillows. The photo of the slope that slid shows that there is NO safe location on that slope to dig a pit to evaluate stability - not that you should rely on one pit anyway - and with a continuous layer like basal facetting you know that if it goes, it will go big and any one in the way will get raked through the trees (terrain trap).

Topic: Tent Ridge Accident and Learning from it (3 of 29)
Author: Dave Stephens
Date: Monday, December 17, 2007 06:01 PM

This certainly isn't the first time this board has brought this up about him.

Andrew - you can bark at me all you want, but you have GOT TO BE MORE CAREFUL. I've lost friends in the mountains because they wanted to push the limits and challenge themselves, but you can't push limits if you're too busy pushing daisys.

This board cares about it's members, and nobody wants to be one of us in a serious accident. Please don't take this as an "Andrew bashing" thread. Take this as a "we care about Andrew" thread.

Dave Stephens

Topic: Tent Ridge Accident and Learning from it (4 of 29)
Author: Vern Dewit
Date: Monday, December 17, 2007 06:13 PM

Hey JW,

I agree with everything you wrote - even though I have to admit that part of me cringes a little at the public nature of such a posting.

As someone who recently got myself into such a predicament on Tiara Peak I know how easy it is to be 'lured' into a deadly terrain trap without even realizing it. Because I knew that others may read my trip report and follow in my footsteps I publicly confessed my stupidity to try to impress on readers that the danger of avalanches is very real and can be very innocent looking (the avi danger was green, or the best it could be when our gully slid).

Unfortunately, the internet and typed words can be a crappy way to communicate concern about an individuals habits but in fairness to everyone involved, when you make your trip reports public I guess you open yourself to public criticism too. I guess I like 'warm fuzzy feelings' so I hope the spirit of this board is kept alive - honesty and safety trumps political correctness every single time! Hey, we're Albertans right?! :-)

I also want to write publicly that I respect Mark and Drew as great scramblers, climbers and mountain adventurers. I love reading their weekly escapades and admire their perseverance and tenacity. They motivate me to get out FAR more often than I otherwise would and I'm proud to call them friends.

Vern Dewit

Topic: Tent Ridge Accident and Learning from it (5 of 29)
Author: Kevin Barton
Date: Monday, December 17, 2007 07:22 PM

JW, you did a great in your note about avi awareness and
risk taking. You hit the nail on the head; we all want to be
around a long time to take risks and enjoy the mountains
we all love.

And even Dave made a good point?! ;-) "Take this as a
"we care about Andrew" thread."

Andrew has many strong mountain skills and has an
extensive knowledge of the history and geography of the
Canadian Rockies. I have see Andrew skillfully climb very
difficult terrain, and back off when quality or conditions
required. I know Andrew understands and evaluates risks,
and I hope he continues to do so that we can be climbing
together well into our retirement.

There are personal levels of accepting or taking risks,
IMHO avi evaluation is one of the more difficult calls to
make, but when certain conditions prevail, the safe choice
is always the better choice.

The Big White Wave has killed many world renown
climbers; Andrew heads up, we all want you alive.

Y'all play safe.

Kevin Barton

Topic: Tent Ridge Accident and Learning from it (6 of 29)
Author: Dave Stephens
Date: Monday, December 17, 2007 07:49 PM

Kevin - Don't I always make a good point? :-)

Dave Stephens

Topic: Tent Ridge Accident and Learning from it (7 of 29)
Author: Jason Wilcox
Date: Tuesday, December 18, 2007 07:23 AM

I didn't mean for this to become specifically a "we care about Andrew" thread, though I do care about him and must admit that I hoped this might serve as a bit of a wake-up call to him and everyone else. Dave mentioned that there has been talk similar to this before, which I was aware of, but I was not in that discussion - it was before I became a member of this board.

Take what you want from the discussion. I'm just trying to show that if experienced guys like Andrew can get themselves into hazardous terrain, so can everybody else. I could have picked Vern and Weitse to pick on, but we already had a discussion about that. I could have also picked Raff - I guess there was a sketchy slope on Mt Sparrowhawk last year that TJ refused to go up while Raff continued on. Andrew's TR was new-ish and kind of under-the-radar, and just happened to be the same day and same aspect as Tent Ridge and so I just thought that maybe if I get people talking about it, everyone will be more apt to make better decisions in avi terrain. We've all made poor decisions. Me, Raff, Andrew, Vern, Weitse, Everybody. The shocking thing is that we seem to learn from it, but then we make another stupid mistake a year later. Why? We have to all make a conscious effort to break the trend.

Jason Wilcox

Topic: Tent Ridge Accident and Learning from it (8 of 29)
Author: Sandra Mcguinness
Date: Tuesday, December 18, 2007 09:59 AM

George Field (safety guy for K Country) was quoted after the Tent Ridge accident as saying something like "when we put text in bold we want you to read it and pay attention." Learning could be just as simple as that - read, really read the bulletin - print it out and take it with you. If they tell you to stay off north and east slopes in certain elevation bands stay off them. Learn to recognize terrain traps - not just gullies and cliffs, but avalanche slopes that run out into trees, flat areas on otherwise planar slopes where the debris will pile up.

The Avaluator has a great set of questions to ask yourself about slopes - you can look it up on the CAA page or buy an avaluator for $10 from MEC. Ask yourself the ALPTRUTH questions constantly as you travel during the day.

Topic: Tent Ridge Accident and Learning from it (9 of 29)
Author: Vern Dewit
Date: Tuesday, December 18, 2007 10:01 AM

Good thing you didn't pick on me or I'd have to challenge you to a 'peak off' or something! :-)

I think it's inevitable for most people reading this board that we end up on terrain and in situations that we are totally uncomfortable with. The reason is that we do the things we do (whether its difficult scrambling, mountaineering, ice climbs or whatever) because in walking that line between life and death we truly experience LIFE in all its color and vibrancy.

It's a narrow line and the reality is that we are taking risks that normal people consider over-the-top. (My family thinks people like us have a death wish!) We all have to deal with this risk at one point or another and although we can mitigate danger through good choices, sometimes our margin for error is so narrow that the simple act of a loose rock in the wrong place, or choosing one gully over another means 'game over'.

People die doing what we do every weekend, and to think ourselves immune is naive at best. The best way to be safe is to let others examine our actions and comment on them - sometimes it's hard to see how risky your actions are when you're the one doing them.

That's the whole point of this thread. Let's keep each other safe!

(Seriously though, if anyone mentions BB and Tiara again I'll start developing a complex of some type... :-))

Vern Dewit

Topic: Tent Ridge Accident and Learning from it (10 of 29)
Author: Scott Berry
Date: Wednesday, December 19, 2007 01:19 AM

Thought I would weigh in on this one. I typically visit this site and contribute infrequently, but this hits close to home.

I have been in a party that was fully buried in an avalanche back in '89. I was fortunate to get an arm free and subsequently dug out the other party members. One needed to be revived, but everybody survived. This story was ultimately published and even made in to a "made-for-tv" re-creation by National Geographic.

So where did this happen? The approach to Bow Hut in early January, under similar conditions to what exist right now. (Just a heads up Kevin). Myself and my party were all experienced ski patrollers and we all had avi training and about 5 years of ski touring experience at the time. We saw and recognized danger signs on the way in, but chose to ignore them. Exiting out of the Canyon, we were blind sided by a large class two. The rest of the story is equally dramatic and can be read in Bruce Jamiesons "Avalanche Accidents in Canada". The point is, our intuition told us to turn around, our ego's did not. We also were heading in to the Wapta for a multi day trip. Turning around did not seem like an option.

I remember climbing up gulleys in late December on Lougheeds South Face. I cringe when I think back to those climbs and many others "in the early days". I just got lucky. So did I learn? Sure, I even ended up lecturing on avalanche safety to Junior High and High School kids a few years back (we talked to 30,000 of them). A group of us (Wardens, rangers, guides, patrollers and enthusiasts) got together after the Western Canada High School tragedy and tried to build awareness. So does that mean I will not got caught again? No.

Just this last April, I was in a party that started a wet snow avalanche on the West face of Edith North and one guy got carried about 20 feet. Granted. it wasn't big, but we should have not been there (too late in the day to be descending, and probably could have picked a better route).

I applaud the climbers who chose to turn around when they recognized they were in harms way and conditions were not favorable. I would have probably climbed the same gully back in '89. I definitely wouldn't be in that gully now, however. Still, the choice to turn around shows wisdom and knowledge.

This winter is looking a little dicey and I am concerned about how things are setting up for the rest of the season. We need a lengthy period of bonding time to build stability. I personally dig a pit almost every time, but as we can see, pit location is critical.

I encourage these discussions and believe that the more we share experiences and opinions, the better we all we be for it.

Scott Berry

Topic: Tent Ridge Accident and Learning from it (11 of 29)
Author: Dave MacDonald
Date: Wednesday, December 19, 2007 10:09 PM

JW> That link doesn't work any more...I couldn't find it on Andrew's log either.

It's good to raise awareness of things, but I'd have to agree with Vern -- a personal email would have probably done well instead. Generalized talk seems to be much better...especially when every one of us has done something they probably shouldn't have in the wilderness at some point in their past. I know I have. I must admit, in my limited experience, I've learned quite a bit from other's posts, when they acknowledged what happened, what they could have improved upon -- and often, what was dangerous. Regular trip reporting is great.

As I always see while I'm at work, people make their own choices, despite what others try to change or advise to them what to do or not to do. Trust that people make the right decisions, hope for the best. It's all we can do.

Dave MacDonald

Topic: Tent Ridge Accident and Learning from it (12 of 29)
Author: Jason Wilcox
Date: Thursday, December 20, 2007 08:08 AM

I seriously didn't want this thread to become focused directly on Andrew but since it has, I might as well go all in.

Andrew has obviously taken the TR down. And IMHO, he should have never posted it to his website in the first place. I'd be embarrassed to admit that I had the stupidity/nerve to be up there when 2 people died around the corner in similar terrain.

Not everyone on here knows this but there are a number of people who have tried the personal email/lunch/beer and he still goes out and takes risks that many of us would not. And you know what? I don't care - that's up to him. I take risks that he would not - I don't expect him or anybody else to tell me that. I have not tried the personal approach - I do not know Andrew well enough to feel that that would be appropriate or effective. Him taking these risks would not be a big deal at all except he wrote the new scrambles book and (IMHO) he has a responsibility to act in a reasonably safe manner so that those people who are new to the scrambling/mountain activities don't develop bad habits when they are too green to know better.

I for one (as much as it pains me to say it) pretty much idolized Dave Stephens when I started this whole thing because I found his website and was amazed at all the things he had accomplished in the mountains. I dreamed of following in his every footstep.... Felt similar about Alan Kane and Bill Corbett. Those guys wrote the frikin' BOOK... man, they must be true immortals... now I know better - that every one of us has the potential to do whatever we want in the hills. But in the early days, I wanted nothing more than to follow in the footsteps of these men who I had idolized.

I have a friend who moved here from Ontario last winter. He has done a few scrambles and has asked me about Vern, Dave and Andrew. He's found their websites and is mesmerized by how much they have done. He's my friend and it's people like HIM that I'm worried about. I'm lucky to be a close enough friend to him to help sway him into taking a few courses and reading a few books about mountain safety etc before going out and risking his ass following directions posted on websites. But I know there are others out there who don't know people that they can just ask questions, and don't have $500 to put into a few courses.

So, I fear that there are people out there who look up to Andrew and will follow in his footsteps. I'm not worried about Andrew - he's got enough experience to evaluate conditions and make up his own mind. Will that make it any less tragic if something does happen to him and/or Mark? Of course not!... I also think that whatever we say about him will probably annoy the hell out of him but I really don't care about that either. I'm concerned about the people out there who don't know how to evaluate conditions and will be more apt to get themselves in over their head following in his footsteps. Think back to when you first started... weren't there guys who you looked up to and you dreamed to do the things that they did?? Andrew is one of those people that the newbies (and many of us even) look up to because he wrote the book and has a spectacular website with hundreds of trips. What people who are new to the sport don't realize is that you should never rope up if you don't have protection to keep you on the mountain should your partner slip (unless you're on a glacier of course)... and you should never tramp up an avalanche slope... something else these guys do frequently.

Anyway, this all goes back to the discussion we had on here about accountibility and putting disclaimers on websites and all that crap. I realize that everyone is ultimately responsible for their own actions. But, if someone is going to write a guidebook, im my opinion, they damn well better be doing things in a proper, reasonably safe manner. They shouldn't be doing things that have their peers worried about them getting killed and wondering if it's them when there's an accident report. And they should have the general safety and well-being of the public as one of their top priorities, both in their guidebook and in anything else they publicize.

Jason Wilcox

Topic: Tent Ridge Accident and Learning from it (13 of 29)
Author: Rod Mcalister
Date: Thursday, December 20, 2007 09:19 AM

Many things could be said in contribution to this thread, but as a proud sociopath I will limit my comments to this.
People who go to the mountains are responsible for themselves, period. End of discussion. To perpetuate the illusion that second hand internet Beta is or could be clothed in social responsibility is dangerous. The mountains don't love, hate, discuss, or hold hands,they just are. Published guides books are a different kettle of fish and Andrew has gone over-board to try to keep people from killing themselves if they use his book.

Topic: Tent Ridge Accident and Learning from it (14 of 29)
Author: Jason Wilcox
Date: Thursday, December 20, 2007 11:15 AM

"People who go to the mountains are responsible for themselves, period. End of discussion. "

I agree... Nobody can argue with that... one person with loads of experience certainly cannot influence other people's decision making processes... LMAO. What a load of crap Rod. People with status/experience/whatever you want to call it influence those with less status/experience every day. It's why people ask others for their opinion. But what do I know? I'm certainly not a proud sociopath.

I guess it was wrong for me to bother starting this thread. I only did it because I was concerned about the safety of ALL of us. But I guess it's the wrong place and falling on deaf ears. Sorry for all the shit I've just caused you Andrew.

I'm pretty sure I'm done posting to this board. I obviously don't have the same mindset as most people on here and you'll all certainly be better off without some stupid young hotshot like me giving you anything but warm fuzzy feelings... Oh well.

Happy Trails everyone.

Jason Wilcox

Topic: Tent Ridge Accident and Learning from it (15 of 29)
Author: Vern Dewit
Date: Thursday, December 20, 2007 12:27 PM

I think most people here support your initial thread JW, I just think most people don't want to publicly put themselves 'out there' in a forum like this.

It's much too easy to misinterpret things that are typed and not spoken face-to-face and I think we all did that to a certain extent in this thread so nobody is really innocent on that count! The only people that are going to post on a topic like this are people who maybe have a bit of a different take on the subject or maybe have something to add or a personal experience and who know you a bit.

I know that your intentions were pure, so I don't have a problem with posting back to you and I know you won't take what I'm saying the wrong way, but others don't know that, so they choose to be silent participants. They will benefit a lot from this discussion though!

I hope you don't stay away from the board too long because you're quickly becoming one of the legends here with your meteoric rise up some seriously difficult routes. Honestly though, don't let some internet comments get under your skin, life's too short and there's too many darn mountains to climb!

Vern Dewit

Topic: Can't we all just get along? :-) (16 of 29)
Author: Sonny Bou
Date: Thursday, December 20, 2007 01:56 PM

Great words of wisdom, Vern. I think this is a great thread (thanks for starting it Jason)--more interesting than anything else posted here recently. Despite the redundancy, this discussion is well worth repeating every year.

BTW, I'm gonna go out on a limb and just say that I agree with everything Rod wrote. People have to take responsibility for their own actions. Sure it's cliche, but it's so true.

Regardless of everyone's differing opinions though, I think it's a shame that Andrew has taken his trip report off his website (Andrew, if you read this, please put it back on). For better or worse, I think it's better to leave such a trip report available to the public. As Rod alluded to, we're getting on a slippery slope if we start censoring people's web content. Otherwise, we should deep-six Mr. D's Belmore Browne/Tiara trip report as well. BTW, if you take your TR off your website, does that mean it doesn't count as a tick?? :-)

Peace out.


Topic: Tent Ridge Accident and Learning from it (17 of 29)
Author: Kelly Smith
Date: Thursday, December 20, 2007 11:32 AM

This thread has been weighing heavy on my mind as of late mainly for two reasons: the first is I feel for Andrew and the second is I have been reflecting on some of my own 'bads'.

Jason is right about idolizing, I was obsessed with Dave's website and Kane's scramble book. It was almost a sickness that took over every thought and drove my wife crazy. All I wanted to do was scramble and everything else was secondary.

Since that time (Aug 05) I have successfully made 29 Kane summits and have only just learned how to keep my obsession in check and not cloud my good judgement. When I first got started I had some idea of the risks but did not fully understand the necessary respect one must give to the back country and their conditions.

Although I rely heavily on information from other scramblers on this board, it is still my choice to venture forward knowing or not knowing the risks.

My friends outside this board think I am irresponsible for taking such risks. However what they don't understand is that it is the management of those risks and overcoming them is what it's all about. The classic conflict of man versus environment.

I never read Andrew's TR so I cannot comment on it's content however I can say that I hold Andrew in high regard and consider him to be a leader in this sport and would be influenced by his postings and his trip reports.

In the end it's important that we all look out for each other and this thread has had an impact on my future decision making. Thus out of a bad comes a good.


Topic: Tent Ridge Accident and Learning from it (18 of 29)
Author: Rod Mcalister
Date: Thursday, December 20, 2007 01:39 PM

Obviously it's not the end of the discussion. The discussion could go on until you are a neuronless 90 year old man (if you dont die before in a mountain accident). But when I'm telling one of girls how to behave in a cross walk, the end of the discussion is that despite the rule of law,they are responsible for making sure there are no cars coming. There are many reasons for you not to quit posting on the board,not the least of them being it would make you a "proud sociopath" in training.

Topic: Tent Ridge Accident and Learning from it (19 of 29)
Author: Tom Waddell
Date: Thursday, December 20, 2007 03:46 PM

Geetings from one of the voyeurs on this forum. I have been reading the posts here with great interest for several months now, since learning about it from a couple guys I met on the summit of Grizzly Peak earlier this year.

I have found the information, banter and discussion to be very informative and helpful and this latest thread in particular. Largely because it is timely for me. I decided earlier this year to get serious about being out year round (read during the winter) and continue bagging peaks as long as I can. Although I am a newbie regarding winter backcountry activities I have been hiking, backpacking, scrambling for the better part of 30 years and have had my share of "interesting" experiences. (Read, scared my myself sh***tless)

I want to say that I agree with most of what has been said so far and based on both the number of responses and the number of "silent" readers, I would say it is a topic of interest to many. So Jason, thank you for this. I, for one, hope you don't leave the forum. I have enjoyed your comments and look forward to more from you.

As for Andrew's TR. I don't know if he pulled it or not. I actually tried accessing his website and other websites at freewebtown and didn't get anything.

So let me ask the question. Andrew. Did you pull the TR in question? It's unfortunate if you did and I echo other comments in hoping you put it back. It is my belief that we need those reports as much or perhaps more than the TR's of the trips that went well. In fact even a quick scan of mountaineering history will show several examples of trips gone wrong. And there is no doubt that much good has come about as a result.

I have never met Andrew or most of the others that use this forum but would enjoy the opportunity to do so. Having said that I feel confidant in making the following statement.

I have read Andrew's book, his website and his posts here. In all these venues he has taken much time to emphasize the dangers involved in the mountains, and the necessity to be well prepared and take nothing for granted. He doesn't sound like the kind of guy who would take unnecessary risks with his life or anyone else's. Especially his brothers.

I could go on at length about risk, influence , etc.. but I won't. I will, however, finish with a couple of comments and then fade back into the shadows.

First, I do not know what happened on that mountain that day. Or what conversations transpired between Andrew and Mark. What is apparent, is that at some point they decided that the level of risk THEY were comfortable with was too great and turned around. In my view, that was a wise decision.

Second, my guess is that had there been no accident or fatality's on Tent Ridge that day, we would not be engaged in this discussion.

So for my part. This weekend on my Avi course at Bow Summit, I am going to take a moment to think about those two guys and their families and thank them for the contribution they have made to my learning and enjoyment of the mountains we all love.


Topic: Tent Ridge Accident and Learning from it (20 of 29)
Author: Bill Kerr
Date: Thursday, December 20, 2007 03:58 PM

Avalanche danger adds a huge extra risk level to winter backcountry activities and requires different training and experience. Please read and analyze the avi bulletins carefully. As Sandra notes if it is bold text - take it seriously. Be prepared and pay attention because it can happen to you.(see Scott's post)

Just like car accidents, a lot of backcountry accidents are preventable. Don't rely on others be it leaders or role models or buddies. Think for yourself because we are all responsible for ourselves. Do not be afraid to disagree with others, or the group and turn around if you are uncomfortable.

We all have had "Holy crap - this was a dumb thing to do" moments. We all make mistakes(hopefully not fatal) which is part of the human experience - growing and being outside of the comfort zone.

Learn to be honest and confront yourself so that you can learn from those mistakes. If you post info in public space then be prepared for friendly discussion and even unfriendly criticism. Last spring we had a friendly discussion about Jason's route selection and un-roped glacier skiing on Hector. Very low avi danger and well bridged coverage on the glacier meant it was not recommended but ok. He added some comments to his pictures so that others would understand and not blindly do the same thing.

We are a small community of caring individuals with a common interest in the backcountry and we should be able to get along and continue to learn from each other.


Topic: Tent Ridge Accident and Learning from it (21 of 29)
Author: Sandra Mcguinness
Date: Thursday, December 20, 2007 04:19 PM


I'm going to join with everyone else and say good for you for posting on a difficult subject, and I hope you will continue to visit the board and post. I've enjoyed your posts, and find your honesty and ability to question both your own and others decisions highly valuable. Not many people can do that - it's a gift, so keep it coming.

It would be great if either Andrew or Mark would pipe up and share their own observations on the day - perhaps they dug 3 or 4 hasty pits in representative sites and found no evidence of basal facetting, just a nice well sintered snowpack, perhaps they had evidence that the slopes above them were not windloaded or reloaded. Or maybe, they realized, like many of us have, that they got into a bad situation and hastened to get out.

Personally, and this might not make me very popular, but I'm not convinced they really understood the risk - we understand risk in the context of our own experience, and, as much scrambling about as Mark and Drew have done, I'm not sure they are really all that familiar with assessing snow stability. That requires many years of effort, many years of digging snowholes, doing hand shears, cutting test slopes, and following around more experienced people who will give you feedback on your assessment of stability and route choice.

Our knowledge of how avalanche accidents happen is evolving all the time, and much of the new research points towards people making decisions on the basis of heuristics (rules of thumb) that might work in everyday life, but don't work in the mountains. That's the whole point of the new Avaluator and the ALPTRUTH questions - the questions are meant to help people make decisions using appropriate heuristic clues.

I'm always surprised by the weekend warriors who somehow think they have more knowledge of snowpack stability than guys like George Field and Burke Duncan who produce the K. Country forecasts. These guys really did write the book, they've been around and seen it all.

Unlike Jason, I'm not actually concerned about something appearing on a webpage and some one else going out and doing it because it seems like a good idea - it really is up to each individual to plan and execute their own mountain adventures. I'm actually concerned that if Drew and Mark continue slogging up windloaded gullies where the snowpack is shallow and facetted, that an avalanche accident isn't a possibility it's a certainty - a matter of when, not if.

Topic: Tent Ridge Accident and Learning from it (22 of 29)
Author: Andrew Nugara
Date: Thursday, December 20, 2007 06:17 PM

I pulled the trip report yesterday to re-evaluate it and its implications. I just added a warning to the report and have re-posted it, as well as the past weekend's trip. Aside from the warning, the trip report is exactly as it initially appeared.



Topic: Tent Ridge Accident and Learning from it (23 of 29)
Author: Mountain Ninja
Date: Thursday, December 20, 2007 09:46 PM

Good topic, Jason! It`s important for everyone to play safe out there and minimize the risk as much as possible. Avalanches can strike when you least expect it, and even experienced people get caught in them.

I don`t want to see anyone leaving this board. We`ve lost so many great people already (you know who you are). Linda is one of them and I hope she`ll be back!

Regarding the Sparrowhawk incident, I want to clarify something. Before we ventured onto the avi slope, TJ and I both agreed that we are going to dig a pit, if any of us have any doubts about the snow stability. As I approached the broad gully (I was breaking the trail), TJ didn`t say anything, so I assumed he was okey with ascending the slope. Based on the conditions that day, I felt the snow stability was good. I was already more than halfway up the avi slope, when I realized that TJ is still at the bottom of the slope. At first I thought he`s either having problems with his equipment or he wants me to get to the top of the hill first, before he starts to go up. Since I was almost at the top of the avi slope anyway and there was a group of snow shoers going up the slope as well, I decided to continue. The slopes above the gully were quite gentle. It didn`t take me long to get to the summit and back. I skied down the avalanche gully, being under watchful eye of the snowshoers and TJ the whole time. TJ and his girlfriend waited for me in a comfortable spot, not too far from the avi slope. There was a break down in communications on this trip, other than that all of us had an awesome time.

Topic: Tent Ridge Accident and Learning from it (24 of 29)
Author: Jp S
Date: Tuesday, February 19, 2008 06:18 PM

Scott - what was the exact location of your avalanche accident on the approach to Bow Hut? It does not seem to be on the ACC's accident website and I was going to send out an email to the person in charge to have it added on (since that is a very popular route).

Based on the report is sounded like it was on the exit from the narrow gully section (at about the midpoint of the route).

There are two other clear avalanche areas on this route - the section after you initially leave the creek and the final headwall. I also saw a report on MCR of avalanche debris covering the standard ski track leading to the headwall ascent area (which I assume must have been associated with a pretty big serac collapse since I have not seen debris in that area before). Anyway, it did not sound like your accident was in these other areas.


Topic: Tent Ridge Accident and Learning from it (25 of 29)
Author: Jp S
Date: Tuesday, February 19, 2008 06:26 PM

I don't want to reopen this can of worms today but I thought I would add a late comment. I have a few ideas which people probably disagree with so I'm going to keep most of them to myself.

I particularly like and agree with Bill's view that there is caring mountain community. That being said - everyone, especially new people to the sport, need to be cautious about what they use for beta. This is particularly true when it is someone's website 1) who they do not know, 2) who may have completely different risk tolerances and skills and 3)the website may have been put up as a trip report and not really intended as beta at all. I'm not talking about any website in particular here.

However, please distinguish that if I specifically ask for beta as opposed to looking at someone's website - I am looking for good safe beta not crappy sandbagged unsafe beta.

Anyway, climb safe, have fun, keep posting your trip reports and anyone with supernatural powers - please fix the snowpack.


Topic: Tent Ridge Accident and Learning from it (26 of 29)
Author: Jonathan C
Date: Monday, February 25, 2008 02:07 PM

Scott... Your post hit close to home as well.
Last spring (march 25th-27th) I did the Bow hut approach with a very experienced group. I personally have a great deal of 'book' knowledge and a fair amount of real-world backcountry experience myself with regards to avalanche hazards and what conditions are likely to produce both natural and human-triggered avalanches.

It was after that trip that I decided not to travel with said 'well experienced' group anymore. A few of the members had done the bow hut approach, among other larger trips, many times before. But that being said, conditions where not good to be where we were when we were there. The whole weekend, posted conditions were 'high' or 'extreme' for the field to bow summit region. On the approach itself, we heard quite a few whumps and small slides around us (althoug we were almost completely socked in after the mouse trap and couldn't see anything until the headwall).

While on the headwall, a very large icefall came down from the vulture glacier and ran a good portion of the way out the valley from the base of the cliffs. We were probably no more than 200ft away from it when it came down. We all made it ok, but it certainly shook some of us up (the bigger portion of the group was back about two kilometers down the valley and heard it come down)

Further to that, on the way down, the other 'experienced' members in the group insisted on sticking around the hut past lunch into afternoon as the sun came out and temperatures warmed up considerably (this is after 2 days of extreme winds and plenty of snowfall).

Even though nothing happened to us in the end, I realized that I really didn't make the right 'personal' decision to go ahead with the trip, knowing the conditions. Some other more experienced chose to make the call to go for it, but how much risk is too much risk? I realized from this trip that we all have our own level of acceptance for risk, and it can be just as dangerous to allow others to make the decision for you as it is to make it yourself.

It concerns me that some have the 'it's never happened to me' mentality. In other words, the more bullets we dodge out there, the more willing we are to jump into the line of fire.

There is no amount of experience or magical number of 'close calls' that make it any safer to be in high risk terrain during high-risk times. Further, (statistically speaking) the more close calls you have had, the more likely you are going to having a real accident.

I guess to me it's not enough to just evaluate situations or conditions based on previous experiences or trip reports, or what joe-other guy says, everyone has to take a step back and objectively decide for themselves if it's really worth it?

The mountains will always be there, lets try to make decisions that allow us to come back and visit them.

Topic: Tent Ridge Accident and Learning from it (27 of 29)
Author: Scott Berry
Date: Tuesday, February 26, 2008 02:24 PM

Sorry for the delay in getting back to you JP, I only visit the board a few times a month. To answer your question, the accident our group had on the Bow Hut approach was just before we exited the canyon. As you may recall, there is a large slope on your skiers left as you near the end of the canyon. We had made the choice to exit the canyon a little early and climbed skiers left onto the slope and then crossed the slope in a rising traverse to the South. Although spaced at 100 feet between each skier, the avi was large enough to bury us all. The entire report was written up in a short story that was published in a few locations, but was most read in Bruce Jamiesons book "Avalanche Accidents in Canada", Chapter 3 "A first person account of an avalanche accident and self rescue". As mentioned, it was also made into a short documentary by Great North Productions for National Geographics series called "Shiver". Not sure where you could get this now, but I have a copy of it on VHS. If I figure out how to upload this to Utube, I will do it (barring and copyright issues).

Also, thank you for your thoughts and comments and thank you to Jonathan C for the same and sharing.

As you both eloquently said, treat each and every trip as an exploration. An explorer (in the traditional sense of the word) has little information on what lies ahead. He/she must constantly be assessing, and making appropriate decisions in order to preserve life and limb. Sometimes the explorer has to wait for conditions to improve before continuing on. Today's guide books are essentially a compiled list of suggested routes. It cannot predict conditions of the environment or group. These books and other suggestions and even tracks do not and will not support the future safety of the group or individual.

I have since been up to the Wapta countless times since the accident, and each time is a new experience. I am part of a group of 10 heading back up there again in early April. We have booked all of our huts and will plan to exit Sherbrooke on the 4th day. Despite this, we WILL turn around at any time should conditions not support a safe and fun trip. And if we do this, we will use our time up by going somewhere else.

People will constantly get in to trouble, because they choose to follow the directions or examples of others without much thought about whether making the choice to follow these directions or choices is a fit or even a smart choice for that individual. For example, many people head out of bounds at ski areas to ski adjacent, uncontrolled slopes. It appears that most will not venture over the boundary line unless they see some other track. This becomes the main decision making criteria and off they go. What they may not be considering is, do I have the proper training, skills, equipment to weather the worst case scenario, should it occur? for some, crossing the boundary is perfectly acceptable, for others, crossing it means they are making a poor choice.

The biggest battle in the mountains is not necessarily with the mountain or the environment, but with the ego. The more we can tune in to intuition and ask "what is is it that I am pretending not to know?" then the more we will be prepared to turn around and come back another day.


Topic: Tent Ridge Accident and Learning from it (28 of 29)
Author: Jp S
Date: Wednesday, February 27, 2008 12:52 PM

Thanks Scott - I was having a bit of brain freeze about the location.

Jonathan - thanks for the informative report.

I saw an interesting stat recently - I think on the MEC website (they have some good avi info). Anyway, it indicated that the majority of avi accidents happen with large quite experienced groups and that accidents increase if there is more than one experienced group in the area. This surprised me a bit (especially the first part). There are probably quite a few explanations.

One I can think of is - say you are a group of 5 experienced skiers and everyone wants the summit. If skier A says its safe, you might rationalize - "skier A" knows his stuff, my analysis must be overly conservative, I'm not going to be the only chump who doesn't get the summit.

I can really see this working when two experienced groups converge. If group A decides it is safe THEN group B thinks - Group A knows their stuff, our analysis must be overly conservative, we're not going to be the only chumps who don't get the summit.

Anyway, very interesting stuff. I know I'm a summit/goal oriented person in the mountains so I really need to ensure that my desire to get to the goal does not override my analysis of the safety.


Topic: Tent Ridge Accident and Learning from it (29 of 29)
Author: Sandra Mcguinness
Date: Wednesday, February 27, 2008 08:07 PM

There are a couple of good papers out on just such topics which might be an interesting read if you haven't seen them before:

A bit heavy on the stats but worth plowing through

An easy read and well worth it