apasquel wrote:I have very limited experience on slopes...but what I see on TRs and what I have learned seem to contradict. Everything I "know" says that while traveling on slopes with potential avy danger, you want to travel one person at at a time until reach safety zone...however, every mt. Shasta report I see climbers climbing side by side or on this site you the same thing on different 14ers...which got me thinking, many of the reports I've read in the last few years have many experienced, very competent backcountry travelers on this site traveling next to a partner in their TR. my assumption is...there are times when you can travel slopes together? I don't know...but I do know this, I am climbing sneffels next week and I would love your input on how to approach the lower slop and lav col with a partner. Can anyone give me a number on how steep the slopes are? With the next week weather forecast (really nice but warm trend), what should I be most concern with? I would imagine time and getting off the slopes before it gets too warm...
Yeah, all that is a bit contradictory huh? A couple thoughts here. ANYTIME it is remotely possible to travel on avalanche terrain one at a time I do. Even in a strong spring melt freeze cycle (which we are not in yet, atleast not in the northern/central Colorado mountains).
That is standard avalanche protocol, taught in any avalanche class on the planet. However, it is not generally reasonable to travel one at a time up a 3000 foot long snow couloir either. Standard backcountry practices of exposing one person at a time to avalanche hazard simply do not work in this type of situation. So yeah, pretty much anytime I am climbing up a snow couloir, unless I am by myself, I am generally climbing right next to several friends, and we are all exposed to the same avalanche hazard. In a very real sense, we take on a greater risk in this situation. This increased risk can be tempered by only doing this when the snow pack on the route has seen a strong consolidation cycle driven by daily melt freeze cycles for an extended period. We monitor the snow the whole way up and turn around if it starts to get water saturated. To the experienced eye, typical spring snow conditions (not this year!) are much more predictable and a lot can be told just by climbing on the surface of the snow(which is not true in a winter type snow pack, you have to dig).
I personally am comfortable with climbing straight up a snow couloir with friends next to me, under very specific, certain condtions. I feel that I have the skills, experience, and knowledge to evaluate the snow and take responsibility for my decision to go up a couloir with friends or not. In light of recent accidents, many of the deceased had similar experience levels and competancies to my own and probably felt the same way. You have to learn a lot about snow and recognize that a bad judgement call can mean your life, and your friends. This is a very serious responsibility to take on.
On the plus side with experience, avalanche classes, and mentorship under more experienced avalanche travelors, it is my opinion that these types of travel practices CAN be done safely, as safe as driving your car down the interstate anyway. Accidents happen though! If you chose to travel on avalanche terrain, avalanches can happen, no matter how careful you are, but if you are well trained, experienced, and cautious, you can bring that hazard down to what I would consider an acceptable level, for myself anyway.
I do not know your skill level and am not competanet at evaluating your own abilities and knowledge. These are just my thoughts about my travel experiences/decision making practices in avalanche terrain, coming from a dude on an internet forum so take them with a grain of salt.
I have climbed and snowboarded the Lavender Col. It is an avalanche path that is plenty steep to slide (probably 35-42 degrees). Getting off the snow early before it gets soft will be important. The couloir is south facing is I remember correctly so it gets early sunhit too. There are a lot of factors that go into understanding whether that slope is safe or not and I cannot tell you all about that on an internet forum. It is too complex and something learned over years of travel. A little advice though, if you do go; I would absolutely want to be back down at the base of the couloir, done with the climb, by 10am at the latest. I would not go if overnight lows are close to freezing or warmer. You need a solid overnight freeze. I believe the San Juans are a bit more stable over all (relatively speaking) to the rest of the state right now but there could still be lurking deep slab instablities too that could go at any time too. This is common in the northern/ central mountains right now. If you hear whumping or see cracking or recent avalanche actrivity in the area turn around.
Those maps that show pitch angle are good for initial planning but they are no substitute for evaluating terrain when you are actually there. They give you a very broad, macro view of terrain pitches. Small slopes that slide (and are plenty big to kill you) do not always show up on a map like that. It is a tool, but only one of many to be used in combination to travel safely in the mountains on snow.
Good luck if you do go and be safe! Zach