Saturday 4 February 2012

...and by contrast...

Don't go ice!
Walking in
Digging in
Ok...its was vile today. Wind, rain, sleet and classic west coast ming.
Today I was working with Heather and Di on a Mountaineering Council of Scotland Avalanche Awareness Day.
Based at Glencoe Mountain (thanks to the extremely helpful staff there for making us feel so welcome) we began with a presentation to set the scene. Our students ranged from occasional hillwalkers to a climber avalanched last season as he approached Stirling Bomber in Coire an t Sneachda and all wanted a framework to approach keeping themselves safe from this hazard in winter.
We stressed the importance of gathering information on: weather, the snowpack and the terrain expected. A process begun well before the day. Then observing the weather forecast and the SAIS Forecast before deciding on the proposed route for the expected conditions. Next, on the hill, they would be constantly looking for clues that would confirm that forecast or make them reassess conditions- all still based on these same 3 areas; weather, snowpack and terrain. This is backed up with an awareness of common pitfalls; heueristic traps such as assuming that because its normally ok here that it always will be, assuming that because someone else got away with it you will, or unwillingness to adopt a flexible approach and diverge from the original plan.
Unfortunately the chairlift was out of action owing to the high winds so it was a walk up the path for us into the ski area- past some rapidly thawing frozen waterfalls. Here our 3 teams all did some practical work.
On the walk in we discussed observations we could make and how they fitted in with our expectations. Then we looked at a snow profile to understand a little bit more about the structure of the snowpack. We compared the utility and information given to us by a walking rutshblock, a quick pit with a hand shear test and simple trenching. I was keen to stress that such tests are limited to providing us with (often subjective) information at the immediate location where they are carried out and are only a small part of a larger dynamic process of information gathering.
Rather wet by now we moved to join the other teams, observing some possible safe or not so safe routes on the mountain given the conditions. The others were at the Transceiver park sponsored by BCA using the transceivers, probes and shovels kindly provided by them for the course. Then it was a wet walk down avoiding slipping on the ice hidden in the grass and heather.
Well done the team for staying focussed throughout a pretty vile day. The importance of this training was stressed to us today as we learnt of an injury to someone avalanched out of Boomerang Gully today- best wishes to them for a speedy recovery.

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