Today I Got Caught In An Avalanche
the boyz were headed to ski mount rainier – an offer i couldn’t refuse. so even though i got home from slc past midnight the night before, i headed to rainier on friday. everyone has avalanche experience; among us there is one ski patrol, two avy II certs, two avy I certs, and we’re all first aid certified.
we stayed at lou whittaker’s lodge, drove in for the 7am gate opening and were skinning shortly thereafter. the weather said sunny and warm, so the south slopes of rainier were no longer an option with all the sun they would be treacherous.. plus copson’s legs “weren’t up for 5,000ft of skinning” it takes to get to muir or the nisqually chutes. so we hit the tatoosh mountains right at the foot of rainier.
in two hours we skinned the 2,000 feet up to the saddle near pinnacle peak. great beautiful terrain.. and it was sunny and warm. perfect right? well with the gates being closed until 7am we were pushing the limits a bit. if you ski too late in the day the sun has a chance to warm the slopes. hence our fear of south facing. so we focused on north facing slopes and thought we had a plan. we even laughed at the mountaineers group who were being led straight up a 50 degree south facing bootpack. putting us at danger below them we scoffed and quickly got out of the potential avy path.
once we gained the ridge we scoped some lines… the ridge we were looking at was northwest and we all figured it would be pretty safe. looking at the section we had to ski to drop in however i commented to copson that “this is the same aspect we were just giving them shit for climbing”. i could tell he was thinking of a response or a rebuttle, but never made one. the snow was getting heavy and we felt the pressure to start skiing. i skied down first around the chute clint would ski. i was immediately concerned for some reason, spidey sense (then no sense). i stopped and kicked off a cornice to mimic a skiers load on the slope… nothing went. so i dripped in and skied down around the rock band to get a video of clint. “i like to feel like a rocket for 10 seconds at a time” is the quote after the shot of him skiing ths chute (he’s the first downhill snowboarder in the video). anyway, we all skied down ~ and the turns were buttery. clint led out the second pitch to some relatively safe trees and yelled back for me to keep skiing past him.
i skied past him (above photo) and the slope i ended up on was slightly more south facing than we planned on skiing. i was 10 feet from the trees (avy anchors) when it let go. 80 feet wide consolidated slab with a 2 foot crown. i have been hit by sluff slides before but i saw the crown break right next to me. oh boy! before i knew it the concrete snow was crotch deep and we were pickup up speed towards some trees and a roll over. at first i thought i’ll try to out run this thing but it engulfed me like a shallow wave with heavy churning snow. my next instinct was to ski out the skiers right of it, but as it started to swallow me i had less and less control of my trajectory. then it stopped. we hit a little plateau before the trees and the wet snow stopped. there i was, on my skis up to my crotch in avalanche debris. wholly shit.
it wasn’t huge but it really scared me. i was shakey for the next 30 minutes or so. looking back up after we were now all still in danger. if the upper headwall let go we were all done for. so we quickly moved out of harms way and had fun discussing exactly what happened on our skin out.
we made some mistakes today and we’re all lucky things didn’t go worse for us. slopes that “shouldn’t be sliding” were sliding all over the place. the signs were there to call it a day.. so we did. (updated video!)