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-   -   AVALANCHE REPORT: A Major Slide & partial burial DEEP IN THE TREES (https://www.snowest.com/forum/showthread.php?t=439782)

christopher 01-22-2018 11:52 PM

AVALANCHE REPORT: A Major Slide & partial burial DEEP IN THE TREES
 
Jake Wohlschlegel added a photo and 4 videos.

<a class="_5pcq" href="https://www.facebook.com/jake.wohlschlegel/posts/887769900243" target=""><abbr title="Monday, January 22, 2018 at 7:00pm" data-utime="1516672802" data-shorten="1" class="_5ptz timestamp livetimestamp">3 hrs</abbr> ∑ https://www.facebook.com/jake.wohlsc...s/887769900243







So here it is. I have gone back and forth whether I even want to share this story. I have no interest in your negative comments and I am only sharing this because I truly hope the lessons learned will save a life. We've been through enough emotionally without dealing with the backlash of this. Since a lot of misinformation is being spread I will do my best to provide the most accurate account of this incident as I can. First off to halt the rumors no I was not buried in an avalanche. I know my family and friends are going to be terrified by what follows and say "Sell it, you're done, blah blah blah" trust me however scared you are reading this we were 100X more scared at the time. Every person with us is going to take the information gained on Saturday 1/20/2018 and evaluate our riding priorities. There is a part of me that also says "Sell it I’m done" but at the end of the day I understand this was a fluke deal. The incorrect decisions we made put us in the situation but the correct decisions we made saved our lives. And for the record one could just as easily be hit by texting driver on their way home from grocery shopping and nobody ever says "Don't go grocery shopping". So even after going through this I understand that there are areas we can still ride and have fun while staying 100% safe even on a ****ty year like this. However, for those that are treating the conditions as normal and continue to ride the same areas they always have without giving further evaluation, I truly pray for you. Seriously people when I tell you things are sliding in ways they haven't in all of my 30+ years of riding I'm telling you it's sketchy.


So first off to start the day it was the makings of the most epic day of the year 3-4 feet of fresh pow, completely blue bird conditions and 25 skilled riders headed out to shred. Before the ride started we checked the Avy forecast and briefed on the danger. Every person knew it was moderate but had the potential to increase to high and as such we were only going to be riding the trees. We verified transceivers, shovels and probes on every single rider before we left the lot. I personally checked functioning transceivers on all but just the last couple stragglers in the group who I trusted were prepared. So what I'm trying to get across here is we were prepared. Everyone knew the conditions and even with the group we had we made it clear we had one goal for the day and that was to make it back to the cabin with our entire riding group alive. Multiple times early in the day I heard across the radio guys saying "Hey let's tone it down boys that looks questionable to me" and guys were accountable for the momentary misjudgment and appreciated the feedback.



Next the riding area. Because of the danger we chose to go to an area where we have been a few times and knew to be relatively safe. However, not somewhere that we were super familiar with. We knew without a doubt it was significantly safer than the other side of the highway where 3 people had been buried in the last 4 weeks 2 of which were fatalities. It's basically a wide creek bottom with pretty heavy trees on both sides. The plan was to stay low on the hills and traverse up the creek bottom towards the top of the canyon where it opened up into some mellow hills and POW fields where we could play and even had plans to get the group together and conduct an Avy training. Here's the part we missed about our chosen riding area. Even though the creek bottom we were in was mellow, (we took kids and families up this just a couple weeks ago) and even the immediate hills on both sides are pretty small and forgiving there was more to the area that we had never really evaluated. Above the initial hills there is a flat shelf and once you climb above that shelf most places it drops over and there is a creek on the opposite side but in a few places it’s a shelf with a steep hill above it. Everyone in the group knew without a doubt we did not want to mess with anything up high on the hills and at no point in the day did anyone ever get up there including prior to the eventual slide.


The first mistake. A few in the group had jetted straight up the bottom ahead of the group and a few of us were hanging out, playing and waiting for the remaining members of the group to catch up. With my normal riding group we probably would have spent the entire day down in the thick heavy timber but because we had so many people and the snow was so deep we were finding it difficult to keep everyone together so pushed through towards the area where we thought we could better keep the group organized. The group was too large and too spread out to completely keep track of where everyone was we were basically in three different groups but who all was in which group? We had implemented a buddy system to create some organization but without knowing which groups of buddies were where there was confusion.


Now the dream turned nightmare. I was in the middle group and had side-hilled along the side of the creek bottom for at least a mile maybe more never getting any higher than about 20 yards and picking along through the trees. As I went to gap some trees my ski tagged one and knocked me off line burying the sled. Keep in mind here I have been side-hilling through trees and have no idea what is above me except still a bunch of trees. The last time I had been down and really evaluated the terrain above all I saw was thick trees and nothing that looked even remotely slidey. I quickly realize I am probably not getting the sled out by myself and radio my buddy requesting assistance. Once he gets there to help me we decide that I should cut the tree off and take the sled out where it is. I start to pull my Avy pack off and grab my saw but before I get it off I have a change of mind and just ask my buddy to grab my saw (never ever take your Avy pack off even for a second if you are still on a hill regardless if you think you are in danger if you absolutely must for a saw or shovel immediately strap it back on). After we got the tree cut we were just about to pull the sled out when we heard a yell from the bottom of the hill and up the canyon from us. We were unable to make out what was said but not even a second later across our radio we hear a second person yell "SLIDE!" Instantly, we both look across the slope because we are thinking it's going to be up the canyon where a few guys are playing in the bottom and many guys are sitting watching. Keep in mind as far as we know there really isn't a hill above us and what is here is so riddled with trees there's no possible way it could slide right? Wrong. Seconds after the radio notice we spot a cloud of snow barreling through the trees. With no time to react the slide comes in and for a split second we have no idea what's happening. I reached for the handle on my pack and locate it just as the dust settles. The first thing I see is complete daylight which is an incredible relief but realization quickly sets in that I can't move anything below my waste. I'm not buried but because of where I was when the slide came in with the sled uphill from me the sled caught the snow and was pushed downhill and my legs are partially pinned underneath it. The next thing I see is an orange Avy bag. Down the hill in front of me. I have to tell you that was equally relieving as seeing daylight knowing that my buddy was able that get his bag deployed and was completely on top of the snow. I immediately grab my radio and let the group know I am pinned but unburied and I see my buddy quickly begin hiking up hill and coming to help me get the sled off of me.



What I witnessed next is something that I can't even explain. Remember I said the plan was to go in and do some Avy training up higher in the canyon well now we have the real thing and It brings a tear to my eye even writing about it. Of this group of 25 people there's a handful that I ride with every single weekend. Those are the guys I regularly am trusting my life with and those are the guys that I watched immediately take charge of the situation. Colton Green I don’t know what kind of stress testing the government has submitted you to but your ability to keep a level head is truly inspirational. All three Nulph brothers I absolutely cannot express how glad I am to know that you guys have my back. And there were plenty of others that I know were doing the right things but these were the ones I could see in my immediate area. A radio message came across that said "We have a possible burial beacons on search and phones off immediately!" Within seconds a group of people climbed the hill on their sleds and parked over to the side of me where the majority of the slide had come through. They are making a pass down the slide scanning for transceiver signal. So here's the part of this situation that was bad because of the size and spread of the group nobody was completely sure where everyone was. As the team was scanning the slide with transceivers, messages were being exchanged across the radio accounting for the group. (Seriously if you haven't invested in a BCA radio you are missing one of the most valuable backcountry tools on the market.) Approximately 3 minutes after the slide a complete scan of the lower slide path had been conducted and every member of the group was accounted for. Insert sigh of relief here.



The aftermath. Because of where my sled was in the trees I would say 80-90% of the slide was caught before it made it to us. This turned a large slide into a small slide and if you looks in the pics you can see how much snow was caught in the trees before it ever reached us. My buddy was slightly more exposed because he was out in front of my sled and his sled was parked about 15-20 feet away from us in an even slightly more vulnerable spot. He was pushed about 10 feet downhill from where he was standing and his sled was pushed clear to the bottom of the draw. The video will put into perspective the size of the slide. It started about 300 yards above us broke about 5 feet deep and the crown was about 50-75 yards wide.


So what did we learn? First large groups are valuable tool when an incident happens but create a hazard without major organization efforts. If you choose to ride in a large group every person needs to be on the same page as far as where you are going who is going to be where and who is specifically responsible for who. Second cell phones will absolutely interfere with a transceiver signal even on airplane mode. Until we got all phones off we were still picking up a signal even with every transceiver on search. Third terrain evaluation and safe travel paths are absolutely critical. We all ride the trees knowing that slides are less likely in them but if you don't know what's above you then you never know if you are at risk. The trees truly are your best friend but nothing is guaranteed. You absolutely must be aware of your surroundings. Without the question the tree barrier between us and the slide saved our lives. There's a reason we were not allowing anyone above the tree shelf and had anyone been above the trees in the slide path this would not have had a positive outcome. Fourth if you hear someone yell slide your hand should automatically go to the handle of your Avy bag while you take a quick survey of your surroundings. Wearing them is useless if you can’t pull it when you need to. Because we didn't think we were at risk the thought didn't cross our minds until we saw the snow cloud and by then it could be too late. Fifth the second the dust settles get every transceiver on search and start your scan until you can account for every member of the group. Every second counts and because the group started the second the slide ended we were able to scan the entire slide path with a transceiver faster than we could account for every member of the group via radio. (Some of this had to do with people racing towards the group and not being reachable via radio as they rode). From what I witnessed I am 100% confident that this group would have had a location and recovery if the worst case had happened.


At the end of the day I have never been so relieved to just come home and give my wife and daughter a good night hug. We were very lucky but proper gear, some good decision making, planning and training all played a role in making this just a very scary lesson instead of something worse. I am incredibly thankful to have the amazing riding group that I do and to know we all have each other's backs. The rest of my season will be spent playing in the meadows with zero hill above me and I truly recommend every other person does the same or stays home. This year is a write off and with the surface hoar at ground level I just don't see conditions improving.



I am so thankful someone was looking out for all of us and I appreciate everyone that reached out after. I think we are all pretty shaken and just want the facts out so we can move past it.


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gonehuntnpowder 01-23-2018 07:55 AM

This is a great post. I think the majority of us would not view that slope as a threat. In the end the mountain is in charge. Valuable information.

WyoRado 01-23-2018 11:56 AM

WOW! Thank you for putting in the time to create such a detailed account of this. Glad you all made it out and home. There is a lot of great advice in this post.

Scott 01-23-2018 12:15 PM

I read that last night on FB.
VERY LUCKY!

That's quite a story to tell and to allow it to be a teachable moment for everyone.

kidwoo 01-23-2018 12:18 PM

Where did this even happen?

idacatman2 01-23-2018 01:49 PM

Glad you are all safe, great info, thanks for sharing.


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christopher 01-23-2018 01:52 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by gonehuntnpowder (Post 4124610)
This is a great post. I think the majority of us would not view that slope as a threat. In the end the mountain is in charge. Valuable information.

Bigger than life.
That was the whole point of his sharing this experience.
I think MOST of us would have thought playing in the trees was the "Safe Place" to be on that day.

Polaris Pilot 01-23-2018 02:24 PM

Where?
 
^
I am also interested in where this happened (canyon, creek, etc.) if you don't mind sharing. If it is where I think it is, I ride in the same general area. Either way, this post is valuable information, thanks!!

christopher 01-23-2018 02:59 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Polaris Pilot (Post 4124738)
^
I am also interested in where this happened (canyon, creek, etc.) if you don't mind sharing. If it is where I think it is, I ride in the same general area. Either way, this post is valuable information, thanks!!

So far as I know it was in ISLAND PARK IDAHO

deanross 01-23-2018 08:07 PM

Did this happen to you Christopher? Or are you posting a story from Jake?

ryanjeri 01-23-2018 08:37 PM

my wife said from reading the comments on the facebook post it said Black Canyon, I dont have facebook so Ill take her word for it.

Not sure if it was the actual "Canyon" or just somewhere on black canyon loop.

longlugs 01-24-2018 10:47 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by christopher (Post 4124722)
I think MOST of us would have thought playing in the trees was the "Safe Place" to be on that day.

Thanks for reposting the story. Sketchy year for sure.

At the last Mike Duffy seminar I attended, I recall him stating that riding in the "trees" was not any safer than an exposed slope unless the trees were very tight and had branches that were buried in the snow pack (pines) and acted as anchors.

Don't shoot the messenger.

christopher 01-24-2018 11:43 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by deanross (Post 4124874)
Did this happen to you Christopher? Or are you posting a story from Jake?

Posting for JAKE!!

christopher 01-24-2018 11:44 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by longlugs (Post 4125118)
Thanks for reposting the story. Sketchy year for sure.

At the last Mike Duffy seminar I attended, I recall him stating that riding in the "trees" was not any safer than an exposed slope unless the trees were very tight and had branches that were buried in the snow pack (pines) and acted as anchors.

Don't shoot the messenger.

Bigger than life it is!!

KTMDigger 01-25-2018 10:25 AM

Thank you for taking the effort and courage to post this thread. You words of caution resonate deeply with me ... awareness and preparation will be your biggest allies when entering the back country. The biggest lesson I learned from taking my AVI courses is FEAR, always be afraid and aware!

wwracer 01-25-2018 10:29 AM

I know that area, we were in there at Xmas time, and it was sketchy then. I've avoided the area since then, but still see plenty of tracks going back there...

christopher 01-25-2018 01:07 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by wwracer (Post 4125474)
I know that area, we were in there at Xmas time, and it was sketchy then. I've avoided the area since then, but still see plenty of tracks going back there...

Yup.
And the area gets SO MANY out of town visitors that there will always be NEW people venturing in there.

wwracer 01-25-2018 02:58 PM

Exactly.. I was up by Jefferson a couple of weeks ago, and people were going Gonzo on the hills... guess it never crossed there minds why they were untracked... They take an hour long class back east, and show up here, and as soon as they see those deep slopes they lose their minds, forget everything they learned and hit em hard

iplocal 01-25-2018 03:01 PM

One of the best avi posts I have ever seen. Thank you so much for sharing.

plumnuts 01-26-2018 10:11 AM

Many years ago we rode with friends up North in Canada and re-learned everything we thought was true and had learned about avalanches. We too had thought being in trees was a safe area until we came across two old avalanches that had came through dense forest of trees and actually mowed down mature trees (we are talking big trees).

Jake it was not your time. Thank you for sharing the account... and I am pretty sure we have ridden that area too.

christopher 01-26-2018 12:29 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by wwracer (Post 4125606)
Exactly.. I was up by Jefferson a couple of weeks ago, and people were going Gonzo on the hills... guess it never crossed there minds why they were untracked... They take an hour long class back east, and show up here, and as soon as they see those deep slopes they lose their minds, forget everything they learned and hit em hard

Nope
They just saw FRESH UNTRACKED POW and went for it.

Backcountry_Rider 01-26-2018 02:40 PM

Glad everyone made it out safe.

I like that he shared their lessons learned and hope that everyone puts these to practice in the future. He touched on some very important things that should always be used.

Accountability of personnel is key. Use the buddy system, everyone should have a partner they are accountable for.

Use scouts when in unfamiliar country, simple two-man team with sufficient training and experience should recon the entire area before the fun starts.

Use your equipment properly and don’t go unprepared. Train with your equipment. Muscle memory can save your life. They did equipment checks before heading up and it showed great judgement that he kept his avy pack on while getting his sled out.

The one thing I would question from their lessons learned is immediately switching beacons to search mode after the dust settles. While response time is critical, you should always take caution in being too reactive. If it slid once, it can slide again. Make sure the scene has been thoroughly sized up for safety of the responders.

I always run through a quick 5 point checklist when responding to an incident.
1. I’m #1 (the safety of you and your fellow responders are the #1 priority)
2. What happened to you (the individual(s) affected by the incident)
3. Not on me (use your protective equipment)
4. Are there any more (how many are involved, accountability check)
5. Are they alive (you may not know this in an avalanche situation, but other incidents it can be more obvious)

Great job guys and thanks for sharing. Your post will surely help others.

christopher 01-26-2018 09:52 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Backcountry_Rider (Post 4125943)
Glad everyone made it out safe.

I like that he shared their lessons learned and hope that everyone puts these to practice in the future. He touched on some very important things that should always be used.

Accountability of personnel is key. Use the buddy system, everyone should have a partner they are accountable for.

Use scouts when in unfamiliar country, simple two-man team with sufficient training and experience should recon the entire area before the fun starts.

Use your equipment properly and donít go unprepared. Train with your equipment. Muscle memory can save your life. They did equipment checks before heading up and it showed great judgement that he kept his avy pack on while getting his sled out.

The one this I would question from their lessons learned is immediately switching beacons to search mode after the dust settles. While response time is critical, you should always take caution in being too reactive. If it slid once, it can slide again. Make sure the scene has been thoroughly sized up for safety of the responders.

I always run through a quick 5 point checklist when responding to an incident.

1. Iím #1 (the safety of you and your fellow responders are the #1 priority)

2.What happened to you (the individual(s) affected by the incident)

3. Not on me (use your protective equipment)

4. Are there any more (how many are involved, accountability check)

5. Are they alive (you may not know this in an avalanche situation, but other incidents it can be more obvious)

Great job guys and thanks for sharing. Your post will surely help others.

Good List.

Wapow 01-29-2018 03:14 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by longlugs (Post 4125118)
Thanks for reposting the story. Sketchy year for sure.

At the last Mike Duffy seminar I attended, I recall him stating that riding in the "trees" was not any safer than an exposed slope unless the trees were very tight and had branches that were buried in the snow pack (pines) and acted as anchors.

Don't shoot the messenger.

There's a saying in skiing "wide enough to ride, wide enough to slide", but I'd say that's bit of an exaggeration, at least for our local snowpack in WA. The truth is old growth trees below big open slopes can be subject to avys (as happened in this case) and they will generally have signs of those avys (avy pros call this a "flag"), such as no branches on the uphill side, but branches on the downhill side. Where there is no slide zone above the relatively tightly spaced trees, the danger is generally very low, and the risk is that a localized slide in those trees could result in a terrain trap burial or cause a "strainer", i.e., were the victim is carried at high speed into an object, which actually kills a lot of avy victims (as opposed to suffocation).

frntflp 03-28-2018 12:20 PM

Thank you for sharing ! Very happy that all came out OK. A few short thoughts -

1. Like you, I found that trees don't stop a slide. I was tumbled down through trees, came out at the bottom and 98% buried. Very thankful I didn't hit any of them on the way. My buddy hit either his sled as he was tumbling or a tree (or two) on his way down. Broken collar bone and a cut on his head was all. Again, trees don't stop a slide - they might help slow it down, or at least slow down the impact....

2. Ours was 8 years ago, we both still drive west from MN and ride 2 or more times every year. We ride very differently. Different approach to our awareness, and decisions on where we ride. Better command of our gear (how and where packed). Even carry extra probes and shovels. Multiple Mike Duffy classes (learn something different each time) and, in my case two on the hill field rescue exercises. And practice my skills !!!!

3. Finally, I don't like to tell my story because of the choices I made that day. But in the right situation, and especially if it will help others to make a wiser choice, I will tell - just as you did. I wish everyone that rides in these conditions could hear a story like that - again, in the hopes that they would use it to learn about making wiser choices.

THANK YOU !


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