AIARE 1 Avalanche Course 3/1/13 – 3/3/13

Last Friday, March 1st, we started another 3-Day AIARE 1 course. March 1st seems to be a dangerous day, as just 2 years ago a very experienced skiier took a huge ride in Gulf of Slides. This year a very experienced local climbing guides party triggered an avalanche while he was ski guiding in Tuckerman Ravine and a solo ice climber triggered an avalanche in Huntington Ravine that was fatal. Until I see official reports from the USFS I am with-holding talking more about these incidents but I will update links here as more info becomes available. In the meantime let’s reflect on the tragedy that has occurred; a 24 year old climber has lost his life pursuing his passion. Without a doubt lessons will be learned for this, but let none of us think we couldn’t have made the same mistakes of either party.

As usual we met at the AMC Highland Center in Crawford Notch. After introductions we took a look at the Gulf of Slides case study before breaking into small groups to learn what we could from the incident and consider a structured decision making process like AIARE’s “DMF”.

Deep in thought

Deep in thought

That afternoon we spent a few hours outside practicing Companion Rescue, i.e. how to efficiently rescue your partner if they are buried in an avalanche.  After some classroom the morning of Day 2 we drove over to Marshfield Station at the base of the Cog Railway to begin our Observation Outing. After a weather observation and beacon function check at the trail-head we started our ascent.

EMS Guide Keith Moon and the AMC's Jerome lead the pack...

EMS Guide Keith Moon and the AMC’s Jerome lead the pack…

We soon noticed some interesting Surface Hoar growing on some twigs, and along the rails of the Cog and to a small extent the closest snow surfaces to the railway.

014While I tried to wrap my head around why this was so prolific during considerably overcast conditions we climbed up to 3,800 feet and took another weather observation at Waumbek Tank. About 45 minutes later we arrived at our high point objective, Jacob’s Ladder, and poked around in the snow a bit looking at the layering and learning about Hand Hardness scales and Compression Tests.

285cms of snow just left of Jacob's Ladder

285cms of snow just left of Jacob’s Ladder

Getting ready to descend

Getting ready to descend

It was a pretty sweet ski back down to the trail-head where we reviewed our choices and expectations and made plans for the following day on the other side of Mount Washington.

The next day we met at Pinkham Notch Visitor Center and broke into small groups again to work on a trip plan for the day. The avalanche bulletin for the day was complex, and even included the line “The avalanche conditions are paydirt for avalanche practitioners, guides, and educators.” Perfect for our goals of moving through complex avalanche terrain, making observations about snowpack, weather, and avalanches!

Heading up the Tuckerman Ravine trail

Heading up the Tuckerman Ravine trail

Checking out the snow study plot below Hermit Lake

Checking out the snow study plot below Hermit Lake

Chatting with USFS Snow Ranger Frank Carus

Chatting with USFS Snow Ranger Frank Carus

After reviewing our trip options created that morning and updating our weather expectations we decided we could stick to Plan “A” and set a skin track up the Little Headwall to get into the ravine.

Keith sets a track up the Little Headwall

Keith sets a track up the Little Headwall

Bill Jr. realizes kick-turns take more than just great fitness

Bill Jr. realizes kick-turns take more than just great fitness

Alex takes a breather

Alex takes a breather

Bill Jr. with the 2008 Hillman's Highway D4 destruction and the Hurricane Irene landslide path behind him...

Bill Jr. with the 2008 Hillman’s Highway D4 destruction and the Hurricane Irene landslide path behind him…

With the majority of the ravine rated “Considerable” we stayed low and traversed the main run-out by spreading out with eyes on the start zones of anything that looked sketchy…

Seems my water-proof iPhone case had some moisture in it as this came out quite blurry...

Seems my water-proof iPhone case had some moisture in it as this came out quite blurry…

We dug into a small north east slope below and to the left of Left Gully

We dug into a small north east slope below and to the left of Left Gully

Bill Jr. decides between 4F or 1F

Bill Jr. decides between 4F or 1F

EMS Guide Keith Moon coaches snowpack observations while a large group enters the ravine below

EMS Guide Keith Moon coaches snowpack observations while a large group enters the ravine below

We got some interesting Compression Test results and a eye-opening Rutshblock (RB3 MB 18cm down followed by RB4 MB 38cm down). Unfortunately we didn’t film it. After wrapping up our observations we dropped the Little Headwall and enjoyed the packed powder run down the Sherbie… back at PNVC we debriefed the day and the course in general. My esoteric field notes from the day;

030Well, only 4 weekends left to the avalanche course season, two are sold out. Winter is not leaving as fast as it did last year. Safe “Spring Skiing” conditions were already here this time last year, but are weeks away looking at the long range forecast. Read the bulletin. If you are unsure, scale back your ambition, and come back when conditions match your confidence and understanding!

See you on the mountain!

About David Lottmann

David grew up skiing in the Whites and started climbing at a summer camp just north of Mt. Washington when he was 16. Those first couple of years solidified climbing as a lifetime passion. From 1996-2000 he served in the USMC, and spent the better part of those years traveling the globe (18 countries). After returning to civilian life he moved to North Conway to focus on climbing and was hired in 2004 as a Rock and Ice Instructor. Since then Dave has taken numerous AMGA courses, most recently attaining a Single Pitch Instructor. He has completed a Level 3 AIARE avalanche course, is a Level 2 Course Leader, holds a valid Wilderness First Responder and is a member of Mountain Rescue Service. When David isn't out guiding he enjoys mountain biking, kayaking, hiking, backcountry skiing, trying to cook something new once a week and sampling new micro-brews. He lives in Conway, NH with his wife Michelle and son Alex.
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One Response to AIARE 1 Avalanche Course 3/1/13 – 3/3/13

  1. Garth says:

    Nice write up. Tragic events in Huntington. Thanks for posting. Must have been a sobering experience for those in the class this weekend.

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