East of Mt. Olsen
Wednesday, February 15, 2017 - 2:30pm
MY WAKE UP CALL:
Today I travelled up the low angle, eastern most, north facing flank of the Mt. Olsen Ridge. I noticed recent wind loading and cornices on the steeper East bowl to my left. The snow was good the whole way up on north facing and I told myself to stay away from the East bowl because the snow looked funky. After gaining the ridge, despite my own warning, I still chose to ski the steeper, East slope! It just looked so much cooler!! I had been skiing in the area for the previouse 3 days and reports from others all pointed to safe conditions, so I wasn't even really thinking about avalanche, I was just looking for the best snow! I realized quickly that the snow on the Eastern aspect was not as good, a melt freeze crust had formed in the overcast afternoon on top of 8-10 inches of wind loaded snow. Remembering the wind buffed, textured, butter pow on the more Northern slope I started traversing back to my uptrack. As a crossed a convex area, I thougt I should just go fast, and thought maybe it would break below me and be just a managable slough. That is when I got the weird feeling that I was moving, even though when I looked at my feet I was standing still! I looked up the hill and it finally registered that I was sliding down the hill on a huge slab that had silently broken above me!! So I quickly chose to point my skis left to try to escape as the slab started breaking apart around my feet. But, I was in the middle of the rapidly accelerating debris and my skis were swep out from under me. I knew I couldn't recover before I was swept in to the larger trees below, so I pointed my body towards a small tree thinking I could grab on. I took the tree somewhere near my knee and shin, beacause that's what hurts, and then held on till the snow stopped moving around me. I watched my poor dog get swept another 40 ft. downhill, amazingly missing any large obstacles. I did not stick around to study the slope, but the crown was only about 8-10 Inches on rain crust, from last week's high elevation rain. I was amazed at how quickly the small slab gained momentum and material, and how helpless I felt sliding toward the stand of trees, the terrain trap.
That should not have happened. I am emabarrassed about my level of complacancy. I didn't even see it coming! I was skiing alone, I should respected the avalanche terrain, I should have heeded the red flags, recognized that what might have been safe yesterday might not be safe today. I also have a new appreciation for even the smallest slides. The Sierra is a labyrinth of small avalanche zones surrounded by terrain traps. I and my dog are fortunate to be only tired and bruised.
Thanks for reading. Be safe out there!!
Warm days, snow becoming heavy and wet on sunny slopes, creating crust in the afternoon and cold nights. moderate winds yesterday