Finally the snow is starting to fall outside my place in Kimberley B.C.! Plans for my spring traverse are taking shape and it’s been exciting to get out skiing a few times up high in the alpine. Having said that, early season conditions still persist at most elevations and it is important to remember just that, it’s early season! Rough non planar terrain with early season hazards like rocks, logs and alder are just under the surface and if you are low enough you are walking in your ski boots in the dirt to get to the snow. Take it easy out there because going hard early season (especially when your body is getting used to skiing again) can end up with a season ending injury.
I just wanted to follow up with the remaining Traverse Tips that we came up with on our Bugaboos to Rogers traverse last spring. Ejoy!
- Brodie Smith, ACMG
EP. 4 ROPE UP ON GLACIERS
I am going to connect this paragraph to early season conditions. There may be more than normal snow depths in some alpine regions, which is great, but crevasses may still be thinly bridged. Consider the difference between two meters of early season snowpack vs. two meters of dense spring snow on a glacier. The bridging capability of the new snow isn’t as great as the denser more compact spring snowpack. Taking the proper precautionary techniques is important. Get out your probe, put that rope on and gather some baseline information. How deep is that snow? How hard is it to probe into? Can you visibly see open holes? Obtaining this information is the first step in deciding weather or not you should have the rope on or off. If you aren’t versed in the art of crevasse rescue you had better learn from someone who knows. Pre and early season are the times to practice crevasse rescue in a controlled environment. Many guides and guiding companies offer rope rescue courses. Check out fellow Guide Ross Berg’s ski mountaineering video series.
EP. 5 SKI CRAMPONS
Some times it is possible for conditions that call for ski crampons to occur early or mid winter. Being conscious of previous and future weather and looking for current conditions reports will allow you to determine if bringing ski crampons is necessary. When you are dealing with bulletproof snow surfaces you should also consider bringing some other tools with you. Lightweight boot crampons and an ice axe will most likely come in handy as well depending on your objective. What happens if someone in your group doesn’t have ski crampons but conditions require them? I will get creative and start building a track. Taking off my uphill ski I can stomp in a track for them to follow or I’ll use my shovel in front of me breaking up a sidewalk to follow. Both of these techniques are short term solutions and cannot be used all day. Boot packing can work too but it is slow and tiresome. Turning around may have to be the ultimate decision your group has to make.
EP. 6 COMMUNICATION DEVICES
Being as safe as possible comes with a price, but that price has become affordable. Technology advancements in the last decade have allowed backcountry users the luxury to contact the outside world. Previously expensive to purchase and use SAT phones were the only option. There are two main companies that provide communication devices: Spot and inReach. Each does offer a similar text / email device and one company now offers cheaper than before pay and talk SAT phones. Both companies give you access to rescue insurance that can save you thousands of dollars in rescue costs depending on where you are. I would recommend buying the insurance. Basically for the same cost as a night in a nice hotel room, you get the device, subscription and insurance you need to get you out of a tight spot when the $%!t hits the fan.
Whichever you choose to use, make sure you are proficient with it and understand its limitations. A couple of general rules can be applied: 1. Being under the canopy of the forest will reduce or eliminate any satellite signal. Get out in the open. 2. The majority of Satellites in the northern hemisphere are over the United States. A clear view of the southern sky will produce the strongest signal. VHF radios have been used for years in the mountains. However they are regulated and require permission to use frequencies. Knowledge of locations of radio repeaters relative to your location is also essential if you are going to be able to get a hold of anyone. If you aren’t trained, have permission and know where repeaters are, you will have lower success rate of contact with a radio than with a Spot or InReach.
EP. 7 DON’T BE AFRAID TO PULL THE PIN
All too often when I read about an accident in the mountains I see the classic signs and symptoms that lead to the end result. Bad timing happens all too often. Being in complex terrain with poor weather multiplies risk, especially in winter snow conditions. Taking a course on weather can help you understand complex weather products and allow you to dissect what is occurring and what will occur in a given region or snowpack. Making sense of a real weather forecast should be a necessity rather than glancing at the basic online forecast with it’s simple picture riddles.
Weekend warrior syndrome is another problem that is common. Only having two days on the weekend or maybe that one weekend in the month to break free from the concrete jungle to achieve your mountain goals. This can lead to the mindset of “This is my only chance to get this done so I have to do it now”. The mountains don’t care if it’s a holiday long weekend. If all the red flags are popping up then you need to have to maturity and patience to turn around. I’d rather go back to town and drink a beer with you than call your loved ones and tell them you aren’t coming home after the weekend.
Well that’s it for me for now on the #G3U. Enjoy the snow and play it safe when you #StepOutside.