Monday 30 January 2012

Look well to each step...

Said Whymper. It was good advice as I almost found out today.
It's a busy week at Glenmore Lodge with Winter MLs, Intro. and Intermediate Ski Mountaineering, Winter Skills, Intro. Winter Climbing and Lead Climbing Courses all on the go. I'm working on an MIC Training course and the first day was spent refreshing and improving how we coach core winter skills and then moving on to how we introduce snow belays. I haven't cut many steps this year and its a skill I still find useful and important (people drop/break/forget crampons and even with them on a good step can give a great deal of confidence to someone who is tired, nervous or has a slight injury) so I was taking advantage of the practise time with those on the course on a steep slope. And then I looked up at the wrong moment.... and I was off. A poor step and not getting my foot quite right in it and I'm slipping and already thinking "self belay!!" And its not working... too hard... and I'm now starting to slide and i'm trying to go on autopilot: feet up, knees wide, bum up, shoulders rolled forwards, weight over the axe, elbows... look away from the adze.... don't apply too much pressure too soon and... it works.
I spend a lot of time talking about how much or how little time I spend teaching self arrest. If I have x hours to teach people to avoid becoming a casualty by falling whilst walking in winter I spend the vast bulk of that time focussing on the skill they should be able to use most effectively and practise lots.... walking. I'll spend some of the remaining time looking at preventing that initial slip becoming a slide.... a realistic self belay. I'll spend the least amount of time looking at the most complex skill that also takes the most time to practise and is therefore practised the least and is least (IMHO) likely to be effectively replicated in an emergency... self arrest. However I never ignore it. It looks like years of teaching it and therefore getting regular practise each winter season paid off today.

But I'd still rather i'd looked well to the step....

Quite apart from my incompetence there were some interesting things going on in the snow pack today (see the SAIS site and take a look at the temperature gradient in the snow profile). I heard 2 stories of people getting hit by debris from avalanches released most likely by others above them. You can see from the profile that there is some hard firm snow out there so being hit by that might not be as trivial as you might think. Stay aware and make good decisions....


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