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Thread: Climb it first or
04-28-2004, 11:09 AM #1
Climb it first or
Discussion for you spring couloir climber/skier types.
I have always been taught that if you want to ski it, you should climb it first. This will give you a chance to test the snow as you go and assess the conditions of the couloir as you ascend. Ski Mountaineering is full of tales of people dropping into couloirs only to get half way down and find that the slope slid half way down the day before. However, I have also been taught that you never want to expose more than one person to slide danger at a time, this is simply impossible if you are climbing a narrow chute. From a time point of view if you climb around and drop in you are reducing the amount of time that you are exposed, a plus for that plan of attack.
So what gives, what trumps what for you when you are out planning your route of attack. Personally I prefer to climb the couloir while it's still frozen early in the morning, I always feel safe climbing frozen snow with crampons and ice axe and I also really enjoy the snow climbing. I have however done routes where I went around and dropped in; however, I've only done this when I could visually inspect the couloir before hand. What about you?
04-28-2004, 11:13 AM #2
Great topic, IRLTS. I'm curious to see what Stoy and the Tahoe Chute Junkies have to say.
Personally, I'm of the opinion that if you're truly in the midst of a healthy spring cycle and the chute is frozen well in the morning, then it is safer to hike up it in a pair or group (following protocol, sticking to sides, etc.) then it is to ski down something that you haven't even seen. This is particularly true to me because often times these chutes and coulairs are very unforgiving if you were to bail or loose a ski. On the other hand, if the hiking starts to get sketchy (soft, wet, slabby, etc.), you can turn around immediately. Also, assuming there's no inversion and the aspect is uniform, you should be staying cold as you climb higher. Just my $.02 ."All God does is watch us and kill us when we get boring. We must never, ever be boring."
04-28-2004, 11:17 AM #3
I always wondered the same thing... especially with the added variables of being able to visually inspect the whole chute with binoculars the morning of and when there is an alternate ascent route that doesn't pass through any (or not nearly as many) danger zones).Originally Posted by blurred
04-28-2004, 11:20 AM #4
i agree with the Rev. there's been a couple instances this year where we encountered unseasonable snow on the climb up the couloir which affected our decision to continue further. About a week ago we ran into a windslab resting on top of facets on the top 80m of a rather exposed couloir. had we dropped in from the top this snow would have likely slid with pretty big consequences. instead we chose to begin from lower down where the snow had been part of the melt-freeze cycle.
04-28-2004, 11:23 AM #5
Personally I would much prefer to hike it and ski then drop in, there's too many variables in Spring skiing to take for granted. I'm mostly thinking of drainages or ares agaignst the rock that may have rotted out, lots of times invisible to the eye from above, but can cave in or give away if not avoided.
Guess I'm thinking mainly of local stuff like La Plata Canyon or Red Mountain. Lots of stuff that can sneak up on you if you drop in from above, and might not have anticipated.
Definitely, a bit wary of spring conditions, but as Rev mentioned, going early and knowing the terrain can cut a lot of factors out.
It also gives you a chance to really evaluate the snow as it warms up.
Droppping in may be more immediate fun, but hiking up is more rewarding.Skiing, where my mind is even if my body isn't.
04-28-2004, 11:26 AM #6
A hard question to answer completely. It depends.
My preference is to climb the chute because then I know what to expect on the way down (case in point the poor guy who dropped into the Crescent couloir last spring to find large patches of 40+ degree blue ice).
Generally when you're climbing chutes in the spring around here, the danger of the chute sliding is minimal. I'm frequently more concerned about rockfall than the slope pulling.
But sometimes, it's just so much easier to climb by some other route that the risk of the unknown is reasonable."if the city is visibly one of humankind's greatest achievements, its uncontrolled evolution also can lead to desecration of both nature and the human spirit."
-- Melvin G. Marcus 1979
04-28-2004, 11:33 AM #7
I'm glad someone asked this question, I took an avy course a month ago so climbing up a natural slide path seems a little sketchy.
But I'm in agreement that an early start on the firm snow is probably the best way to actually see what you'll be riding down, especially if it's something fairly hairball. Otherwise the 100% guarantee is hike around on the dirt and rocks....risk management.
04-28-2004, 11:38 AM #8
It goes both ways depending on the approach, the angle of repose, the exposure, my mood, my partners etc.
Also, since my binoculars broke, I can't run snowpack analysis from the highway. But I did read a killer book on avalanches one time so I'm pretty sure I know what I'm talking about.
04-28-2004, 12:12 PM #9
It depends. I prefer up the gut to scope out conditions. Assuming ideal spring conditions (freeze-thaw cycle, cold night, early start) the chances of a couloir sliding are virtually nil. However if there are still winter like snow conditions in the couloir...hell, I'm from CO, I won't ski it. Even with binoculars it's unlikely you'd be able to pick out any objective hazards you might encounter.
I'm much more concerned about rock fall, which there isn't much you can do to avoid, besides hauling ass.
edit: In other words, what Telenater said.A lot of people earn their turns. Some just get bigger checks.
04-28-2004, 12:20 PM #10
All good replys but I would expect nothing less, seems like the general consensus for the spring time ski is to climb it first if that is reasonable; else, look at alternate routes of ascent. I have to concur, I just love climbing good snow!!
Pinner you should get the new Black Diamond X-Ray Snow Safety Binoculars, they can see through the snowpack to indentify weak layers!!
04-28-2004, 12:23 PM #11
I think that the question must also be asked if you choose to drop in, do you drop in parallel?
04-28-2004, 12:41 PM #12
It is always more comfortable to climb the route you plan on skiing. That way you can build kickers on the way up.
04-28-2004, 01:30 PM #13Registered User
- Join Date
- Dec 2003
- Party City
This is a good topic. There are many factors that I look at before heading out, not in any specific order:
Weather...for that day, the night before, and the previous days.
Aspects...which way does your ski descent face? South or east...get out a bit earlier.
Group...what is the experience of the group
Descent or ascent...how steep is it, whats the exposure, is there a cornice or overhang or any other signifcant obstacles
Do you know if other people (groups) are going to be above you...or below you? This is a hard one to know but worth trying to find out, ie...other cars, spoke to other people heading that way, etc.
ASk around...has anyone else climbed up the descent or just dropped in?
Scope...can you get a good visual? if there are any questions, get a closer look. Again, ask around if anyone else has info.
Your mood. I try and always ask or say before going out..."if for any reason that anybody feels uncomfortable with the situation, feels tired, etc...speak up. It's ok if we turn back." I usually only ask this once of every person and then after that, they are on their own. I'd rather turn back than get someone into an uncomfortable position which in turn, can get the group into an uncomfortable position that could turn out scary.
Keep an eye out....for falling rocks. If you are climbing a steep narrow chute, wear a helmet, both up and down.
Listen. do you hear cracking? Is that rock, snow, your buddy falling? Or is it the peace of mother nature, your heart pounding?
Stay focused and committed. Once you are in, you're in.
One of my favortire quotes, i forget by whom is "Fear causes hesitation. And hesitation makes your worst nightmares come true."
DON'T BE AFRAID TO BACK DOWN FROM THE CHALLENGE!!!!
I guess to answer the question is, whats the difference in distance and how early do I feel like getting up? I like to see what I am skiing and know the snow. In winter, i like to put a track up as close to what I am skiing as possible so I can dig a pit, look for av history, etc. If i can't get close, i go up something similar in aspect, cruise over to something in similar steepness, dig a pit, and move on. Upon getting to the slope I am skiing, ski cut, dig pits, what ever it takes to keep my ass out of trouble.
04-29-2004, 12:00 PM #14sucks on the internet
- Join Date
- Feb 2004
I always climbed up before descent so far except once - and exactly that one went wrong. I was hammered down and ended up in the crevasse below.
Moreover, I like to adjust to the steepness up front besides all the other good points mentioned earlier. For me there is no question, though.
Last edited by Hicks; 04-29-2004 at 12:04 PM.
04-29-2004, 03:05 PM #15
I guess it depends. Climbing up before it starts melting is an option i would prefer most of the time.(given it is a stable weather stiuation with nice freeze thaw cycles...)
But assuming you have dropped something in a similar exposition, elevation etc. not too far away, the day before and you hit it the same time considering weather and wind have been stable, knowing that you will get out again because you have good visual or communicated beta. id say you can drop in sometimes without climbing up.
timing is essential in spring skiing so your climb up should be well planned.
Id always take some abseiling(haha i love to say it the english way.. glockenspiel, kindergarten, bergschrund... ) gear with me if i should encounter unexpected conditions on my way down i would rather lose an ice screw or something than being screwed myself.It's a war of the mind and we're armed to the teeth.