Glissading Accident Horn's Peak (Sangres)

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Monster5
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Re: Glissading Accident Horn's Peak (Sangres)

Post by Monster5 » Tue May 05, 2020 6:20 pm

Pat -

I realize this is a sensitive subject and the victim was a friend, but the CAIC report summarizes to the following:

The victim was descending spring-time snow in avalanche terrain on a southern aspect around or after noon.

It's no secret that I have little tolerance for uninformed speculation after an accident. But the summary above does not seem in question nor uninformed, more so the decisions leading to that situation. Sometimes, "s**t happens" or a decision is forced upon us as the best available option, but this incident is difficult to throw into those categories unless the CAIC report is substantively incorrect. Browbeating a forum not to provide opinions in light of that report and without additional details is a difficult order. However, providing additional insight into the decisions which created that situation is beneficial for calibrating our own decision making.

Some of the justifications I've seen thus far are quite fallible, though each of us use them. Presenting them as anything but fallible will only dilute the message and do little to prevent other accidents:

1. The victim was experienced. First, experience is both subjective and specific. Second, experienced people make mistakes too. Sometimes less frequent and of different magnitudes, but nonetheless. Thing is, we make decisions based on the information presented to us and we rarely have all of the information. Experienced people simply take logical shortcuts to fill in the missing information, and one grows by analyzing which logical shortcuts led to a poor outcome.

2. I/you/others would've made that decision too. I'm a little disappointed in how many forum users consider this a valid justification. It isn't. This kind of thinking leads to a good number of accidents and is often emphasized as a heuristic trap in many mountaineering schools. Would I have descended that gully? Maybe. Does that make it a safe or correct decision? Not at all.

3. It looked benign from above. We have a plethora of examples, from TalusMonkey to your pick of CAIC reports, to show how entering benign-looking terrain contributed to snow accidents or avalanches. This is compounded by a lack of proper education (and realization of one's lack of education) on what is benign.

4. The snowpack was difficult to analyze and/or unpredictable. This also can be attributed to a lack of proper education. In absence, the safe decision is avoidance of the hazard altogether.
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Re: Glissading Accident Horn's Peak (Sangres)

Post by pvnisher » Tue May 05, 2020 6:27 pm

quaternion wrote:
Tue May 05, 2020 8:32 am

For this particular case, I would have *wanted* at least 30 rescuers in the field. .. Carrying even a light adult, that is an immense amount of work (think about rotating out a crew of 6 litter bearers every hundred yards). Rescues are very labor intensive...and it would be irresponsible to send a helicopter (ATV, snowmobile) without a backup plan for mechanical failure. And on top of that, right now there are plenty of volunteer rescuers who are personally high risk for Covid or have a high risk family member, so teams may find themselves short handed compared to normal times... You could do the rescue with fewer people, but it would be slower, and would put the rescuers at greater risk.

PS: as to the question of whether 2-3 people in a helicopter could handle this situation...possibly, but highly unlikely. The helicopter almost certainly cannot land at the patient, so you still need 8-10 rescuers to safely move a badly injured patient even a few hundred feet. And (maybe not totally relevant to this call) digging someone out of avalanche debris is exhausting, and time critical; for a full burial, just that step should have 4 or more people assigned.
Can we highlight this post, or pin it to the top of the threads as a "Read Before Posting"? Maybe it'd help alleviate some of those "I'm going hiking and I don't put anyone at risk by doing so" comments.

Also, if you've ever been a part of an auto accident, you know how many people get involved.
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Re: Glissading Accident Horn's Peak (Sangres)

Post by painless4u2 » Tue May 05, 2020 7:25 pm

My very first glissade was down Snowmass during the early summer. Wet, sloppy snow, starting out pretty steep, and went most of the entire slope. I don't know if that slope ever slides, but we never considered it. Probably naive and dumb, but it went OK. I'd have probably done this one too. Best wishes to the injured person.
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Re: Glissading Accident Horn's Peak (Sangres)

Post by Tornadoman » Tue May 05, 2020 8:06 pm

I don't have a lot of comments on the accident, will look forward to reviewing the complete accident summary on CAIC's website when it becomes available. Glad that SAR was able to perform the rescue, and hopefully the victim will recover quickly and completely!
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Re: Glissading Accident Horn's Peak (Sangres)

Post by Conor » Tue May 05, 2020 8:24 pm

Chicago Transplant wrote:
Tue May 05, 2020 5:52 pm
I genuinely wish for a speedy recovery for the injured person. Please don't take what I am saying as an attempt to Monday morning QB their decision, or judge them or judge anyone else for that matter.

I just see from people's responses that many are looking at this slope and just not considering it steep enough to slide. I think in general, people are very bad a judging slope angle. I am too, and sometimes things end up being steeper than I thought, so I just want to give you all a relatively simple metric to start to think about slope angle relative to risk.

Most stairs are a maximum of 32 degrees (based on code - 7" riser, 11" tread), so that doesn't feel steep to people. We walk up and down slopes like that all the time, many in our own homes. It's easy to see that type of angle as normal, and not think of it as being avalanche prone.

Most avalanches occur between about 30 and 45 degrees. So if you are out and wondering if a slope is steep enough to slide, ask yourself: "Is the slope about as steep or steeper than a normal staircase?" If yes, then consider it steep enough to slide and evaluate accordingly. Stairs don't really look that steep, but when trying to judge how steep a slope is, I use them as a rudimentary baseline, because I know they are steep enough to slide. Hope that tip helps.

Again, my best to the injured party - I wish you a speedy recovery.
The best tool for analyzing terrain (besides one's brain) to carry in avy terrain is some sort of slope indicator. In today's world I can't think of an excuse to not carry one since one can download an app. It can take some practice since true and apparent inclinations can come into play. Even then, humans are truly awful at trying to eyeball slope angles. As Tremper says, carry a quantitative measuring tool and leave the rules of thumb behind. I was taught a blue ski run is about the line which i think is horrible advice. Especially in colorado since you'll be avoiding just every slope if you're calibrating to colorado blues.
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Re: Glissading Accident Horn's Peak (Sangres)

Post by Chicago Transplant » Tue May 05, 2020 8:46 pm

I carry an inclinometer, they do take getting used to because wind, sun cupping, buried rocks and numerous other micro changes in slope are hard to read. I usually take multiple readings across an area with a ski pole to try and create an average from the micro dips and rolls. You also don't necessarily want to be on the slope in question, making it harder to measure.

My "stair gauge" is mainly a broad example of a slope in the low end of the prime avalanche terrain spectrum. It's my hope that next time people look down a 36 degree slope and think that won't slide, or they should glissade that, maybe they will think twice and compare to a familiar slope that is in a know avalanche range, like a staircase.

By the way I measured the railing outside my apartment when I got home, it's 31 degrees. So is the windshield of my outback near the middle.
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Re: Glissading Accident Horn's Peak (Sangres)

Post by AndrewLyonsGeibel » Tue May 05, 2020 10:31 pm

Gosh that doesn’t look like it would slide. Although a picture doesn’t really give an indication of slope and snow structure. I probably would have crossed that too.
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Re: Glissading Accident Horn's Peak (Sangres)

Post by DArcyS » Wed May 06, 2020 12:28 am

Monster5 wrote:
Tue May 05, 2020 6:20 pm
2. I/you/others would've made that decision too. I'm a little disappointed in how many forum users consider this a valid justification. It isn't. This kind of thinking leads to a good number of accidents and is often emphasized as a heuristic trap in many mountaineering schools. Would I have descended that gully? Maybe. Does that make it a safe or correct decision? Not at all.
I remember (and just looked at) your Peru TR. I'm willing to bet you still have a pretty healthy respect for what the sun can do to the snow. You're a bright guy, I bet you would've turned away. But who's to say for sure?

An interesting feature of Caltopo is that it gives the ratio of snow depth to snow water equivalent of the snow pack. Right now at the South Colony site it's 2:1, suggesting the snow is quite saturated. (I "think" it tends to be around 5:1 or 4:1 in the winter, but don't quote me on that.) Obviously assessing the snow pack on the mountain is best, but Caltopo can give you a hint at the conditions. Those overnight temps at 10,800' give another piece of information (the horizontal red line is 32 degrees). And so I surmise -- I wouldn't bet my life on what I see on Caltopo.

When I think about shoveling snow after a spring storm, I have no problem concluding that being caught in a spring slide would be horrible. Water is heavy stuff. Shoot, half a shovel of April snow has kicked my butt.
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Re: Glissading Accident Horn's Peak (Sangres)

Post by Squirrellysquirrel » Wed May 06, 2020 8:01 am

No judgements on actions taken, simply would like for others to exercise caution and to have access to and use resources accordingly before heading into the backcountry. A discussion here affords more individuals to practice higher levels of caution and to understand potential, unfortunate consequences when assessing snow, etc.

I wish a speedy recovery for the individual and appreciate those involved with her rescue.
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Re: Glissading Accident Horn's Peak (Sangres)

Post by SurfNTurf » Wed May 06, 2020 8:45 am

Monster5 wrote:
Tue May 05, 2020 6:20 pm
2. I/you/others would've made that decision too. I'm a little disappointed in how many forum users consider this a valid justification. It isn't. This kind of thinking leads to a good number of accidents and is often emphasized as a heuristic trap in many mountaineering schools. Would I have descended that gully? Maybe. Does that make it a safe or correct decision? Not at all.
That's one way of looking at it, for sure. I viewed my comment (and others) as a counter to the far more widespread and pernicious trap of, "Well, I would have done X, Y, and Z differently, so there's no way that accident could have happened to me." With the benefit of hindsight and the CAIC's report, I'd like to believe I would have made different decisions. It's easy for anyone who understands the red flags to armor themselves with the false confidence that they'd have done everything right and thus remained safe. But that line of thinking is equally dangerous, if not moreso. It marginalizes critical thinking and self-inspection.

What would the decision-making process really look like, in the field and not on an internet message board with the post-accident report at our fingertips? By all accounts, both the injured woman and her party were experienced and equipped with at least as much knowledge as I have. I'd prefer to have a little nagging voice in the back of my head reminding me to always look twice, think deeper and evaluate critically, rather than an iron self-assuredness that because I can recite a textbook passage from Freedom of the Hills that I would always make the "correct" call under live-fire conditions. It's a reminder to ask questions, always, even when you feel safe and within your capabilities. The Ed Whymper quote has lived in my signature for almost a decade now for a reason.

Obviously none of that is aimed at you, Ryan -- when I think of people who make good decisions in the mountains, you're one of the first names that pops into my head. Just a response to your argument.
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Re: Glissading Accident Horn's Peak (Sangres)

Post by FireOnTheMountain » Wed May 06, 2020 9:45 am

Monster5 wrote:
Tue May 05, 2020 6:20 pm
2. I/you/others would've made that decision too. I'm a little disappointed in how many forum users consider this a valid justification. It isn't.
This is where I jumped in with my comment semi-berating CaptCo about observing more and talking less. The fact is, as some have pointed out, the gully did look tame but given the right mixture of sun exposure and time of day, it went. Thats what snow does, it slides. We should all learn from this poor lady's mishap and I hope she recovers well and quickly.
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Re: Glissading Accident Horn's Peak (Sangres)

Post by CaptCO » Wed May 06, 2020 10:07 am

Not that it matters but I made the mistake of assuming before reading the entire article. I did not know the injury was severe, and regret my snide comment. My best wishes for a full recovery, will continue to observe more and embarrass myself less.
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