Sunday, February 10, 2008

An Avalanche of Information

I just returned from two days at an Avalanche Safety Course.  After last weekend's spin on Highway 26 I was quite careful with the driving.  The first day took place in Parkdale, Oregon on the east side of Mount Hood.  It was difficult to be inside on this amazing clear day with a great view of Mt. Hood.
Glen Klesser of MountainSavvy and his able assistants led the class.  He used a variety of videos to instill a healthy respect of the power of avalanches.  He also had some low tech tricks up his sleeve.  At one point he was standing on a block of styrafoam, held up on a table by a layer of strafoam cups.  When he jumped up on the block of styrafoam, the styrafoam cups underneath collasped.  This effectivily illustrated how an avalanches is caused when a trigger causes a weak layer of snow to lose its bond with the layer above.  We spent Saturday learning about how terrain, snow stability, mountain snowpack, and weather contribute to avalanche conditions.  As a prospective climb leader I was quite interested in the material on assessing avalanche danger.  As the weekend progressed, I learned there is not a silver bullet in sniffing out an avalanche.  It is more of process of collecting information from a variety of sources.  It was also valuable discussing the decision making and human factors to consider.  I also found the discussions on choosing the best routes useful.

After Saturday's session we carefully drove up to Mazama Lodge.  After chaining up the car for the next day, we retired for the day.  For the first time I set my sleeping bag outside on the porch for a quite night's sleep.

On Sunday we drove up to Timberline Lodge and the class reassembled.  We spent the morning practicing with Avalanche Beacons.  The weather was windy and wet, so we ate lunch in the day lodge.  Then we went back outside to more on stability
 evaluation.  This was done by digging a snowpit and performing a variety of test.  The final one involved getting on a column of snow and seeing if it would collapse from the weight.

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