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Thread: Quandary Avalanche
12-02-2004, 07:13 AM #1
From the Summit Daily News:
“Mike Schmitt, spokesman for Summit Rescue Group, said a backcountry skier was on Quandary Peak south of Breckenridge at about 1 p.m. Monday afternoon when he caused a 300 foot wide avalanche.
The skier made it out safely, but his dog was buried in about three feet of snow, said Schmitt.”
I screwed up really bad. Tear me to shreds right now, because I deserve it. I feel sick. Go ahead, kick me, maybe it’ll make me feel better.
It started out innocently enough. I look at this through my window every day:
I won’t ever look at it the same way again.
It was one of those calm, sunny, yet frigidly beautiful winter days. The temperature was somewhere around zero when we were getting close to the goal.
That view makes it look steeper than it really is, and I very ignorantly thought that it simply was not steep enough to tear loose. That was my critical error. It caused other mistakes, but they all fall under the umbrella of slope-angle underestimation. This is what caused me to ignore the danger rose. It’s also why I didn’t dig a pit; and it’s why I was up there with a dog as my only partner. Bad, bad, bad.
The following are not rationalizations, nor excuses. Just some details that led to the poor judgment. I’ve looked at that bowl on a daily basis for well over a year now and I had never seen a slide on it. I’ve seen plenty of ski tracks though. And I made some of my own in that exact spot last May. After that, I just thought it was too tame of a place to be worried about. Kick me, now.
After a good long conversation with the head of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, I am now aware of more things about that bowl. The average pitch is 28 degrees, with very brief max of 34 at exactly the spot that it released. There are few, if any sizeable rocks in it. It’s pretty much all a smooth, grassy meadow. In other words: There are no anchors to hold the snow in place.
This is a picture I took about five minutes before descending into it:
That’s Winter, aka “Black Dog”, staring down into the place where her fate would soon be decided.
At the start, the snow was thin, yet smooth and creamy. It soon became blower and powder was whisking up my thighs. It was building toward euphoria when something alarming appeared about 50 feet ahead of me. I saw snow curling up in the air and it registered. I was skiing on a moving slope. Without a thought, I stopped turning and tucked in a straight line to gain speed. I shot through the billowing cloud rather quickly, angled to the side and took a look over my shoulder.
I caught a glimpse of Winter swimming down a river of moving snow before losing sight of her when I had to pay attention to my own route. I remember thinking that she was going to make it. When I looked up again, the avalanche was slowing, but my little girl was gone.
Oh my god, what have I done?
I stopped instantly, and I don’t really remember clicking out of my skis, but I did. I probably called out her name, but I’m not sure. All I remember is running back to the slide, even as it was still running toward me. It had pretty much stopped when I was getting near and throwing off my gloves. I began fumbling for my beacon on a dead, post-holing sprint to the area I last saw her. That orange thing duct-taped to her harness in the above picture is a transmitter, and it became her only hope.
My hands were shaking, but even so, my thumb depressed the red button long enough to switch my Tracker to search mode. I remember for sure at this time that I gave out a desperate shriek of “Winter!”
Oh my god, what have I done.
I was about to become frantic beyond logic when my beacon started beeping at a slow pace. I looked at it and a flashing “32” appeared. The lights on it flickered under arrows and I wasn’t even looking at where I was going anymore. I was fixated on the arrows. Running blindly, taking my eyes off the horrid mess of debris, and being guided by instrumentation kept my panic level from rising any further. I was right on top of her in a matter of seconds. After tightly circling her twice, the closest I could get that beautiful BCA Tracker to register was “3.1” “3.1” “3.1” “3.1”.
I threw my pack off, unzipped it and flung its contents everywhere. I picked my avi-probe out of the strewn mess of gear and assembled it; my hands still shaking. “Beep-beep-beep” “Beep-beep-beep” “Beep-beep-beep” went my dangling beacon. Then there was another sound. I heard a desperate howl, through three feet of snow. It was muffled and barely audible. It was the sound of a dying dog, right next to me. A swan song, of a sort.
The probe fell to the snow unused. The handle clicked into my shovel and went to work. More crying. Both me and her. Everybody hurts, sometimes. Sometimes everything is wrong. But when you feel like letting go, when you feel you’ve had too much, hang on. Sometimes everybody cries.
The blade of my shovel found her nose first and it was pointed straight up toward the sky. I used my bare hands to uncover her face. Snow was caked into her eyes. I removed it and wept “daddy’s here, daddy’s here, daddy’s here!”
She opened her mouth, which was full of snow, and began gagging. It was a miracle.
“Daddy’s here, daddy’s here, daddy’s here!” Her mouth opened and closed, spat out some snow, and she was coughing and wheezing, but alive. There was a tiny pause before I continued working.
My hands were still shaking.
Only her head was sticking out of a wall of snow now, but at least she could breathe. I tried to minimize snow falling on her face as I dug around her, with only moderate success. Her body was twisted awkwardly and I remember shuddering – thinking her back was probably broken.
Oh my god, what have I done?
When I had her mostly uncovered though, there was another miracle.
She squirmed the rest of the way out on her own. She jumped up, shook herself off and then started licking my face. I’ll stop the world and melt with you.
I put my arms around her, held her tight and gasped. I started hyperventilating. There was immense relief in there, but even more self-loathing. “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry.”
I think back on how terrified I was, then I realize how much more fear she must have felt. She made a mess while she was buried. I won’t show you that, but still, it was all my fault.
Minutes of reuniting had passed when I snapped this one off:
We took a slow pace away from the slide, looked back often, and I couldn’t help but say aloud, “oh my god.” About 45 minutes after it all happened, this thing started hovering and circling directly above us:
I gave a thumbs up sign, wrote the letters OK in the snow, and eventually it flew away.
We headed back into the trees and followed our ascent route all the way down to the unplowed road on the way to an entourage of SAR and police folks. Here she is, back in action after all that trauma:
It’s a miracle.
But inside, I feel ugly. I keep flashing back to her wheezing and gagging with her head sticking out of the snow. You can say we were lucky, but I don’t think she felt too lucky at that point in time. I know that we were, or more accurately, that I was. It could’ve easily turned out much worse, yet I still feel sick about it. It was all my fault. I’m so sorry, girl. Will you ever trust me again? Will I trust myself?
Kick me, now. String me up and beat me like a pińata. I deserve it.
Last edited by duph; 12-03-2004 at 11:47 AM.
12-02-2004, 07:22 AM #2
Way to not die, dude. Best TR ever!
12-02-2004, 07:30 AM #3
Complacency nails us when we least expect it.
As long as you both got out unscathed and carried away a valuable lesson, that's all there really is to it. Nobody need flame on you.
You'd be welcome to ski with me anytime.
12-02-2004, 07:33 AM #4Originally Posted by Pinnerwhat's so funny about peace, love, and understanding?
12-02-2004, 07:35 AM #5
great tr, and im not being sarcastic. really glad you and winter are both ok!
Thats your free one. maybe nearly losing something you probably value damn near as much as your own life will be a wakeup call.
while im not completely opposed to skiing bc alone, you need to be even more careful doing it. stakes are raised dramatically and a smal mistake can easily become fatal. just imagine if things were reversed and winter was running around on the snow while you were buried.
If you have never done so, take an avalanche class. That is a classic release zone and you really should learn to recognize things like that."They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."
12-02-2004, 07:37 AM #6
Damn. And people asked whether it was smart to have your dog wear a beacon.
Seriously, man, be careful out there.
12-02-2004, 07:40 AM #7
Thanks for the great TR and the pics. We all need to be reminded that no matter how much we think we are badasses on skis, a bitch slap from mother nature can hit us anytime.
12-02-2004, 07:40 AM #8Donkey Puncher
- Join Date
- Apr 2003
- Nowhere near Boner City
Too early in the am, but that woke my ass right up. Glad your dog's ok. At first, I didn't think this TR was going to have a happy ending. Guess we know your stance on the dogs/beacons issue.
12-02-2004, 07:45 AM #9
Why should I beat on you? Sounds like you're doing a fine job on yourself already.
Way to go w/the tracker on the dog. You were stupid this time, but accidents do happen as well.
Although we've never met, I'm glad you're BOTH OK.
12-02-2004, 07:50 AM #10
Wow, glad you and the dog made it.
Originally Posted by duph
12-02-2004, 08:05 AM #11
More than happy that both you and your dog is ok.
It is sad that considering the number of outings/skidays in the BC we have on this board, yet we have so little posts/discussion of this topic.
I think most of us have had their close calls,many have been in one and somebody have even had sorrow to loose someone in a avy, and yet the whole topic is like a hot potatoe.
Im glad that you "came out of the closet" on this subject and hopefully this
is a beginning for more open post on this avy topic.
It´s good to have post stoke, but even better to post some info that actually can save somebodys life in the longer run.
Ps. Was that a "normal" 457mhz transciever or the "dog-only" versions?
God subject to talk about too...If it was a regular one, perhaps not
the wisest (well,in this case it was!) thing to do, considering you
both would have been buried, and you would have gotten the SAR
team to dig you up..
The floggings will continue until morale improves.
12-02-2004, 08:11 AM #12
12-02-2004, 08:12 AM #13
Glad to see you and your dog are okay.
I've never seen such a large slide in that bowl before either. I've seen smaller slides, but that one is LARGE! For six years I lived in the house next to the Quandary trailhead. I've prolly skied that bowl about 8 times, but never after a substantial dumping, never after substantial wind-loading, and never without a two-legged partner. With this sketchy CO snowpack I try to ski most of my high-angle bc in the spring when our snowpack mimics more of a maritime snowpack rather than a continental snowpack. Those concave bowls that gradually roll over into a slope of ~35deg. are dangerous. Pretty similar to the skier left side of Horseshoe bowl at Breck except that Horseshoe does have better anchors. Dig a pit!
Have fun and keep it safe!!'09/'10: 69
12-02-2004, 08:22 AM #14
holy shit. wow. i'm shaken and i'm reading this from a desk hundreds of miles away.
very glad you're o.k.
same goes for your baby.
thank you for taking the time to so vividly share your experience.
it's a lesson for us all.
"Hello Backcountry Access, I'd like to order one digital Tracker please..."Let me lock in the system at Warp 2
Push it on into systematic overdrive
You know what to do
12-02-2004, 08:25 AM #15
we're all very glad you're ok, duph.
12-02-2004, 08:27 AM #16
HOLY CRAP MAN. Super glad to hear you and Winter made it out in one piece, with lessons learned. Must have been a tough one to tell, but glad you did, kicks us all down a notch.More fucked up than a cricket in a hubcap
12-02-2004, 08:30 AM #17
I supppose in hindsight, you can think of dozens of reasons why you should have been more careful. It looks tame, and you've been on it before without incident. Hindsight's always 20//20.
Glad you & your pup are ok, Duph.
You take her to a Vet just to make sure she doesn't have any internal injuries?We've got to pause and ask ourselves: How much clean air do we need? ~ Lee Iacocca
12-02-2004, 08:30 AM #18
Good for you for posting about it, Duph. Seriously...a great, very informative TR that everyone should read. I am surprised that you didn't know the slope angles given your experience, but I guess you do now! GLAD YOU ARE OKAY!"All God does is watch us and kill us when we get boring. We must never, ever be boring."
12-02-2004, 08:31 AM #19
Nice recount, glad you are okay.
12-02-2004, 08:37 AM #20
So glad you and the dog are ok. I'm having to wipe some tears away reading that. I can only imagine what it would be like to have to dig your baby out of a slide. Good god, that would be awful. Good for you for having a beacon on her, despite all the other decisions that led you to be out there alone. Things are not black and white - good or bad. You know you could have done things differently, but you did several things right that saved her life.
So sorry you had to go through it. That's a mistake you won't make twice.
Give Winter a hug for me.“Within this furnace of fear, my passion for life burns fiercely. I have consumed all evil. I have overcome my doubt. I am the fire.”
12-02-2004, 08:39 AM #21
thanks for sharing. it's refreshing to see a thread where the skier is critiqueing thier own judgement. so glad every being came out of it ok.
12-02-2004, 08:40 AM #22
That's a great and scary read. I'm sure at this point you're thinking the money you spent on the beacon for Winter is the best money you ever spent. So glad everything turned out o.k.
But I thought the rule here was everyone overestimates the pitch of a slope, not underestimates it!
12-02-2004, 08:43 AM #23Originally Posted by The AD
12-02-2004, 08:49 AM #24
Duph - not to kick the provebial palomino, but glad you are okay.
A question - what would have alerted SARS and the police to the slide? You and your dog got out fairly quickly and you were there by yourself. Does the beacon alert the authorities in search mode? BC jong question.Charlie, here comes the deuce. And when you speak of me, speak well.
12-02-2004, 08:53 AM #25Originally Posted by bad_roo