/ probe, shovel and beeper for UK?
Recent occurences would suggest yes, however, and I know you can't put a price on your life, I just think transceivers are prohibitively expensive. In all the years I've climbed/snowboarded in the Alps and Scotland I've never ever considered getting one, I decided to look last night after what's been happening of late.
Honestly? I actually thought... Nah, too expensive, I've been ok so far, I'll be reet.
Because the risk is low and rare, regardless of a cluster of recent events, particularly for walkers and climbers.
Shovel: £30 - £50
Probe: £35 - £70
Tranceiver: $180 - £250
A lot of cash for occasional use ( talking climbing rather than ski-touring here). Of course for a tranceiver to be of use, everyone has to have one.
A lot of people, including myself, use walking poles - could these be used as emergency probes? Also you can get a cord system that "floats" to the surface to help locate you.
> Shovel: £30 - £50
> Probe: £35 - £70
> Tranceiver: $180 - £250
> A lot of cash for occasional use ( talking climbing rather than ski-touring here). Of course for a tranceiver to be of use, everyone has to have one.
> A lot of people, including myself, use walking poles - could these be used as emergency probes?
Only if the poles are at least 3m long.
300 quid isn't a lot for a life. Same price as a jacket.
Tranceiver is very expensive, I'll admit. But probe and shovel aren't so much.
As of last season, my partner and I have carried it on our rare trips north.
No reason not to in my opinion, except for weight. Don't think many will buy it just for Scottish winter climbing though.
The cheaper of the probes are only 190cm - 240cm long
But the skills and training to use them probably are. Would you expect us to go on a Glenmore training course every year to keep our skills fresh? When many weekend warriors (and that includes me) only gets out on winter days maybe a dozen or so times over the space of the core months. It is hard enough finding good days to get out climbing, never mind keeping up to how to search snow in an avalanche, when the majority of the time the snow we cover is safe. The best days I have had are when the snow is good neve and these are the conditions I like to wait for personally. It limits the number of times I can get out, but also reduces my own risk. I dont see myself covering or crossing ground often enough to justify the outlay.
But it's not 300 quid for a life. That's only the case if you know in advance which parties are going to get avalanched, and make sure they're the ones who get the transponders. For the vast, vast majority of walkers and climbers it's 300 quid for something that'll sit in the bottom of your bag and never get used.
I was taught (many moons ago) that this was feasible, and we practised doing it. It was nowhere near as easy or effective as probes, but much easier and more effective than nothing at all!
£300 may not be much in the scheme of things. But it's significant to many, especially when they've just had to fork out for axes and crampons.
And if you'd spend £300 on a jacket then you've clearly got a lot of spare cash ;-)
Everyone needs a shovel and probe as well, not much use of the only people who have them have been avalanched.
There's also the question of learning how to use them, and regular practice. How many people bother practising ice axe arrest each year? Winter conditions being what they are, most people don't want to waste a precious half day on such things, let alone a full day if they're going to practice avalanche rescue too.
shovel: £15 - http://www.decathlon.co.uk/aps-shovel-id_8076494.html
(ok not as good a an ali blade, but better than nothing. but get an ali blade it shouldn't cost much more)
transciever: £120 - http://www.decathlon.co.uk/freeride-id_8114303.html
(not digital, but better than nothing, it will still work, but requires more training (never a bad thing))
I am not convinced a 3m probe is worth while, you have approx 15mins to clear the airway, you can't dig through 3m in 15mins - if you need to recover a dead body get a 3m one, if you need something light, good value and you can carry always, get a 2m - 2.4m one
> I suppose avalanches are more common there...
This winter 10 people have died in Switzerland as a result of avalanches. In Scotland 7 have died so far. Scotland has a smaller population, and also fewer people using the mountains every day. It is simply wrong to believe that large scale avalanches are an alpine only danger (though I do admit that many UK avalanche victim die of trauma, not burial).
In Scotland the skiers and climbers often need to go actively looking for the areas of the mountains where snow lies, which perhaps increases their exposure to risk? Also much of the snow in Scotland falls during periods of high winds, so the shorter periods that we do have deep snow cover are often unstable ?
IMHO a bigger issue is the culture amongst regular UK winter climbers for beacon / shovel / probe to be considered unnecessary 'extras' ?
If you are buried then companion rescue within 15 minutes is pretty much your only chance of survival....
Its a question of priorities - people are quite happy to spend £350 on the latest ergonomic axes or hard shell jacket (and many, many do). But people seem to think that £200 for a transiever isn't worth it?
I guess that mind set depends on where your life fits into your list of priorities.
A cluster of incidents does not signify anything meaningful. You can not read any sort of trend or statistic from it.
Unlike skiiers, climbers seek out consolidated snow and ice.
The decision on whether the cost of these items plus the time / money investment in being able to use them efficiently outweighs the increased risk of not having them is doubtless one to be made by each party or individual. But there is no doubt that having the gear and knowing how to use it does improve the chances of a buried person getting out alive.
Don't rely on walking poles as avalanche probes - they are nowhere near as good, as well as being way too short. Sure - you'd use one if you had nothing else with you but planning on having them as your only probing option is a recipe for a bad conscience.
One other thing for those who want to practice transceiver searches without using up their winter climbing time - you can hide them perfectly well in long grass, heather, gravel - even indoors. Remember they're not waterproof so use a ziplok bag!
^ as ever the cost / value depends how often you are going out on the hills... For example - many holidaymakers in the alps still ski off piste without a beacon. Most of them get away with it and nothing bad happens.
An avalanche beacon is the one bit of kit nobody ever plans to use (even in the alps) : however that doesn't make it any less useful. Regular winter hill goers should at least consider it ?
with easter coming up, if you have several transceivers, take your kids out to a large area that you have previously hidden some easter eggs and a transceiver (in transmit mode)
give them the other transceiver (in search mode) and tell them there are no easter eggs till they find them
or to make it more realistic give them shovels and bury the eggs 2 meters down
> But the skills and training to use them probably are. Would you expect us to go on a Glenmore training course every year to keep our skills fresh?
I'm not sure you have to go on a course every year - surely that's an exaggeration. Just go to the beach with some friends and bury some in a plastic bag and then try finding them.
In the wider question, almost all the arguments that people have used could be used in the Alps as well. But there it is just the done thing, where as here it is not. The only salient difference I can see is the point someone raised that skiers seek out unconsolidated powdery snow, whereas climbers do not...
Could you do this in a local grave yard to make it more interesting?
This year is sadly not that unusual.
Read "chance in a million" or look at the SAIS heat map.
Scottish avalanches occur *every* single winter.
On average 5+ fatalities per year. Though they do clearly always come in clusters. It is simply wrong to believe that avalanches only happen in the alps.
Climbers frequently have to cross open snow slopes to reach their routes.
For example most of the climbs on Ben Nevis, Northern Corries etc.
Also : the vast majority of UK avalanche victims are climbers...
RIP to those who perished yesterday. The chalamain gap is certainly not somewhere I would be expecting large avalanches :-(
Got to be worth considering I guess. I have a shovel and probe but I never take them. I did once and got the piss taken out of me all day. Traditions and cultures are very resistant to change. Reminds me of calls in the past for winter hill walkers/mountaineers to use a helmet more often. Always seemed to me that if you plan to take axe/cramps to avoid a slip then surely a helmet makes sense. But the culture always was and still is basically axe-cramps-no helmet. I wonder how many lives would have been saved if we had a long established axe-crampons-helmet culture? Even climbers tend to pack away their helmets when the route is finished. I try now to keep it on until I am well down the hill.
But before I started skiing I don't think it had even occured to me to buy one for winter climbing, but I guess I was young & ignorant.
How many of those 5 are buried?
Ironically one of the groups avalanched yesterday was on a Glenmore winter skills course.
^ Clearly most Scottish avalanche victims die of trauma - however you are sticking your head in the sand if you honestly believe that its uncommon for Scottish avalanches to bury people.
Don't have the statistics to hand... But over the last 15 years I can think of 5 different incidents (off the top of my head) where 3+ victims have all been buried by large scale avalanches.
Photos of yesterdays tragic incident from the Cairngorms below.
Oddly I've found that doing transceiver practice is better when its not snowy. If you do it in winter when there is lots of snow, your friend's footprints tend to show where he or she has buried it and then you are just "going through the motions" doing the "search". Go out in the woods before the snow comes and your friend can really hide one of the beepers then you get that feeling of panic of really needing to do a grid search or whatever to home in on the signal.
> (ok not as good a an ali blade, but better than nothing. but get an ali blade it shouldn't cost much more)
I thought after some terrifying incidents no one recommended plastic shovels anymore? I'm sure I read on TT or somewhere, that companies that still make them should be considered unethical!
But with the rise and rise of off-piste, side-country blah blah blah alu shovels are getting well cheap to. Here's one on sale for 20 euros! http://www.stadium.fi/urheilu/laskettelu/tarvikkeet/125539/everest-everes-adv-shovel?SelectedProduct...
> ^ Clearly most Scottish avalanche victims die of trauma
Do you have links to data on that? Genuinely curious as it's a common argument against carrying avo gear.
Purpose of a longer e.g. 3m probe is not for the depth you can search in but the additional speed it gives you in searching. If you're constantly bending down the the ground whilst trying to probe it's actually much slower than standing up straight with a longer probe and pulling it up and down. It may sound like nonsense but it's actually true and the extra say 30secs to maybe 3-5 minutes in a rescue situation could make all of the difference.
I don't, but I do think it is unusual. In any case, the only point I was making was that the number of avalanche victims alone is not an argument in favour of carrying beepers. I can't imagine any circumstance when I would consider one when climbing, but would almost always carry one when skiing.
I'd disagree that a plastic blade is worthwhile - they're notoriously poor at digging through the solid-concrete type of snow that avalanche debris becomes. Alright for digging a parking space for your car maybe, but I'd rather not ski with someone carrying one (though I don't ski expecting to be avalanched).
However I'd definitely agree with comments that transceiver practice does not require snow to be effective (and in fact does the Glenmore Lodge exercise area not use bark chippings to bury the devices?). So you really don't need to 'waste precious mountain time' practicing. It could even be done in a local park on a weekday evening.
snap x 2!
Glenmore training area looks like bark chippings.
Free to use, but bring your own transceivers.
I dont climb in the high grades so I am looking for more consolidated conditions all round. If someone is on a hardish mixed route then they might need to cross unconsolidated snow to reach it. However on that same day I would probably judge conditions to be dangerous to be on routes within my own grade. If the apron to a II or III gully is dangerous then it is very likely the gully itself is dangerous.
I have been avalanched without injury back when I started out winter walking and it is not something I plan to repeat. I avoid windslab and unconsolidated snow like the plague.
I managed to get out for my first proper route last Friday to Beinn Udlaidh because I felt the conditions were right for me. The closest SAIS report at Glencoe being favourable for the coire and the route I had in mind. I got there and having judged the snow on the ground decided I was happy with it. The full route was absolutely bomber neve. I used the SAIS and current conditions to pick and choose a route which I would be completely comfortable with on this day. At no point was there any avalanche risk and avalanche kit would have been wasted in my pack.
I actively seek out consolidated conditions. That is part of how I like to climb and where my own risk assessment is brought into play. Yes it means I might more wasted days than others but that is me using my own experience, skills and gut feelings to make my own decisions about where I go and what I do. Completely my prerogative.
your best bet for detailed statistics is the book "chance in a million".
I wouldn't necessarily say ironically, I think it proves that no matter how much training you've had and how well you know the mountains it can still happen to anyone. It happens every year in the alpes; very good guides are caught in avalanches on very low risk slopes, the mountains are unpredictable and thats partly why we're drawn to them. I'd be interested to know if the Glenmore Lodge group were wearing transceivers? (just out of curiosity)
Something that hasnt been mentioned is that if you want to find someone buried in an avalanche then you need all 3 items and know how to use them (Shovel, Probe and Transceiver), otherwise you are unlikely to find and recover someone within the 15min golden window. Been searching for the time break downs for the different combinations, but cant find them at the moment so if someone knows the link please post.
If you’re unfortunate to get caught in a big full depth avalanche you’ll need more than a shovel, transceiver etc. to save you/anyone.
Ok, not the UK but: I witnessed the aftermath of a huge avalanche in Val d’ Isere a couple of years ago, some of the debris blocks were the size of a large 4 x 4 vehicle weighing several tons.
The skiers who got caught in it were crushed to death, not suffocated.
Not even the new airbag avalanche systems would have saved them in that case
Yesterday’s tragedy was full depth looking at the SAIS picture, with some large debris block, nasty.
The debate will go on and on. Climbers/walkers will probably carry on not using any form of “avalanche protection”, whereas back country skiers / tour skiers may.
As a skier I personally pay more attention to a slope I’m about to go on to than I did when I climbed. Which is a bit odd really, as skiing I’m only likely to be in a danger area for a minute or two (good choice of route of course), but walking / climbing I maybe in that same danger area for hours.
I was avalanched at the foot of Left Twin Aonach Mor a few years ago, regardless of the precautions we took, digging a test pit etc. Quite simply we were in the wrong place at the wrong time
Thats useful to learn how the transceiver works, but thats the easy bit. You need to practice full on group orientated assess - organise - react - search - probe - dig with multiple victims in a realistic environment to move beyond that. You DO need to waste precious mountain time.
> The cheaper of the probes are only 190cm - 240cm long
That's still a good deal longer than a walking pole. And a probe is designed for the job - slimmer, and with a tip that's better at penetrating the snowpack. Most walking poles you'd have to wrestle the basket off first. Wearing gloves or mitts and/or with cold hands. Remember you're working against the clock...
Not to say that a walking pole is useless if that's all you've got, but a probe is better (and comparable in price to, if not cheaper than, a decent pair of poles).
I think we need to change the way we think here. OK if you get nailed by a Serac then I think you can say ‘'Quite simply we were in the wrong place at the wrong time’. However with an avalanche you have to have to say it you made a bad call.
Just put your feet on top of the basket and pull hard, then kick repeatedly as required.
All the guys I ski-tour with in Scotland carry shovels. I used to carry a shovel when winter climbing, not for Avo, for snow holing/ survival if caught out.
Why do we have a culture that is so resistant to change? Our culture is that we don't carry the kit, and every year there are multiple avalanche deaths. Yes, I understand that many will die anyway of the trauma, but if you happened to be the one to be avalanched (and you can never say never), then wouldn't you rather that there was a chance, however small, that someone would dig you out alive? Transcievers, shovels and probes are the best chance. You can pick up transcievers cheaply on ebay, I got mine for 140 euros on French ebay. Yep, it's still pricey, but if we all start carrying them then it's got to be a good thing. Avalanches are not a skier thing, they are a mountain thing. Infact, I can't think of the last Scottish avalanche that I heard of where a skier was involved!!
It was not a case of making a bad call and admitting it, but using the excuses that 'it was just the wrong place at the wrong time'. Hence we need to stop thinking of avalanches as unpredictable random events (hence the Serac analogy) and thinking of them an eminently predictable events.
I suppose it's similar to the wearing of cycling helmets - until the professionals began wearing them (the UCI made them mandatory), then there weren't many club cyclists who did. Essentially it was a fashion thing. How many sports climbers do you see wearing helmets for example?
Some ski jackets used to (still do?) have Recco reflectors sewn in to a panel. I'm not sure if they are specific to particular transceivers or are generic. Why aren't mountaineering jackets so equipped? Just done a search and Ortovox transceivers are going to become Recco compatible. It may not be a solution but it *is* an extra tool in the box.
I've not looked at any stats about this but my feeling is that many UK avalanches are of wet snow or certainly "wetter" than commonly encountered in alpine areas. This makes both searching by probes and digging much harder work. Also it depends where you are in relation to the release point - if you are close, i.e. high up then you are less likely to be buried to any depth.
With recent snow I set out with probe, shovel and beeper. I looked a bit stupid on the clap ham omnibus though...
recco is like a radio reflection type system. It needs very specific and cumbersome equipment to be of any worth. It's also not very accurate. As a result of which it tends to only be used by ski patrols and helicopter based MR in alpine areas. Is generally regarded as being more helpful in body retrieval rather than as something that's likely to save your life. caveat: though there have been cases of people that have been saved using recco it's more the exception than the rule.
I'm up the hill 2 maybe 3 times a week at this time of year. It would be unusual for me not to carry all 3.
Ta, I wasn't sure what the detector part of the system was like, though presumably if Ortovox are integrating it (Recco) in to their transceivers it must have reduced in size.
While I tend to agree with you (though probably not to the extent of changing my behaviour) - there are many other "non-standard" things that could improve someone's chances. Deaths from hypothermia/exposure for instance could be largely avoided if everyone took a tent and sleeping bag with them.
I always used to carry a sleeping bag, bivvy bag, stove and shovel in the winter. I eventually decided that the extra weight was tiring me out sufficiently to be increasing my chances of needing them. I have however looked out my old shovel (the sort that attaches to an ice axe) and may start carrying it again.
They unscrew on mine - but clockwise!
I use Mt King trailblaze poles, which are probably one of the thinnest (and thus least unsuitable) poles for this - but having compared using one to a proper avalanche probe, the pole was basically a waste of time. It just wouldn't penetrate deep enough in anything except loose powder.
I'm surprised nobody's suggested hiring them. Skiers regularly do this rather than buy their own.
I think that they are putting reflectors in their transceivers, not detectors!
Can any one explain why in Val d'Isere you see ostensibly well-off couples parading around in restaurants wearing beacons and no evidence of shovels or probes?
> I'm surprised nobody's suggested hiring them. Skiers regularly do this rather than buy their own.
It would be great to be able to hire these things more easily near popular climbing/hiking areas. I know you can hire them from some places already but to have them more easily accessible and a lot cheaper I reckon it would get more people using them. It could perhaps even be done as a means of fundraising for mountain rescue which again could increase their popularity.
> Ironically one of the groups avalanched yesterday was on a Glenmore winter skills course.
I saw that too, I wonder if they had transceivers? If not it seems funny they train for their use but don't use them themselves.
In France I've just hired them, we had skis and boots but the same shops will hire you a complete kit - probe, transceiver and shovel. A lot cheaper than buying them if you don't need them often.
Certainly a good case for Scottish off piste skiers looking for deep snow and powder to carry transceivers, shovels and a probe.
However, sensible climbers and hillwalkers will avoid such terrain as they seek out good solid neve and ice to climb on.
In many cases climbers involved in avalanche incidents in the UK are injured or killed by trauma injuries from the fall (hitting rocks!), when a small localised snow slide knocks them off their feet.
Large scale burials are fortunately rare in the UK, though when they do it's often been because the group has sought out a large deep drift of snow to practise, on as opposed to folk just going for a hike or climb and being avalanched.
IMHO for your average hill-goer, I don't think having transceivers will make that much difference, but for organised groups going into remote avalanche terrain the argument is a lot stronger.
Most civilian Winter Mountain Leaders and Instructors I've worked with already carry shovels, probes on snowcraft and will use transceivers when snowholing. However the rest of the group is unlikely to have them or have been trained how to use them.
On the other hand some of the MOD and Adventurous Training groups I've worked with have had a very strict HASAW policy and have insisted on everyone having transceivers and basic training. Unlike the private sector they have also had a very low instructor to client ratio which is great for all concerned despite all the hoops and military red tape!
> Can any one explain why in Val d'Isere you see ostensibly well-off couples parading around in restaurants wearing beacons and no evidence of shovels or probes?
That's cool and no doubt with the price tag still on them. A bit like climbers with all the gear on and ropes in full show in Tesco and the bars Aviemore!!!
Unless I'm mistaken but apart from Buachaille Etive Mor's gorge they've all mostly been on courses training on deep snow drifts rather than just normal walkers or climbers walking up the hill. Skiers and Boarders are excluded as they seek out deep snow!
Are you sure? The text doesn't say it is, but it does say that it's on a NW aspect. The report in the "Recorded Avalanche Activity" page on the main SAIS web site says that the fatal avalanche was on the NE wall of Chalamain Gap. Apart from that discrepancy, though, I'd agree it does look very likely to be the same incident.
Just curious, do MR take transceivers when rescuing avalanche victims in Scotland?
I've been wearing an ABS for ski touring for years and am generally very conservative (a wuss my mates would say) but regardless of all precautions the mountain doesn't know who you are or how well equipped
I know that in the early nineties everyone in Cairngorm MRT had to wear a transceiver during winter searches... As for nowadays and other rescue teams really I don't know!
> Just curious, do MR take transceivers when rescuing avalanche victims in Scotland?
Braemar MRT members can't go out on the hill without going through a tranceiver check.
I think the MOD (as Ron has pointed out) are entirely correct in using them routinely on official training courses.
In fact, I would go as far to say that other prominent organisations are flat wrong in their policy of not routinely carrying them when they are operating in the Scottish mountains. It is entirely debatable about exactly how much objective value they add in terms of safety but I think that carrying transievers etc. also contributes a massive amount in terms of bringing avalanche awareness to the forefront of peoples' thoughts both consciously and sub-consciously.
A Fatal Accident Inquiry might well be appropriate in light of the recent sad incident in the Cairngorms, in which case the Sheriff would probably need to make an official determination on this very question.
Whatever happens, I am more convinced than ever that carrying transiever/probe/shovel should be the norm, rather than the exception.
I'm an expat living in the Washington Cascades (real mountains) and have been nagging a nephew who is in Scotland and getting into the mountains to take part in formal avalanche training despite it "only being Scotland" and "I'm not going to be anywhere dangerous" or "I trust my (inexperienced) friend's judgement". Even sent him a beacon to use (hopefully he wears it and isn't talked out of it by you guys?)
He was on a "Winter skills" course in the Cairngorms yesterday... hopefully he'll be able to put to good use the tragic lesson of yesterday's avalanche?
The rest of you get your wallets out and buy and use avalanche beacons. If for no other reason than SAR being able to recover your bodies more easily.
Never was there a more archetypal profile written of an avalanche victim ;-)
Whilst we might hope that companion rescue has improved in the last 10 years, it still mostly comes down to shovelling, as you say so I don't know why this research would not still be relevant.
Most climbers and walkers avoid this sort of snow.
MRT need to go dangerous snow conditions out of necessity to facilitate rescue.
> I'm an expat living in the Washington Cascades (real mountains) and have been nagging a nephew who is in Scotland and getting into the mountains to take part in formal avalanche training despite it "only being Scotland"
Scotland is not the Cascades. We live in a rapidly changing environment driven by atlantic low pressure systems. While in greater ranges like the cascades (like and alps and the himalya) where dangerous slopes may persist for a full season, Scottish snows constantly changes through quick cycles of freeze and thaw, unstable conditions do not generally persist for long. Most climbers can climb all their days and never go near dangerous snow conditions due to being flexible with the changing environment.
I would strongly disagree with that statement. Unstable conditions routinely persist for 1-2 weeks and in previous Winter seasons unstable depth hoar has persisted for extended periods.
Just as one example, this year in the Cairngorms, the avalanche risk on Northerly aspects above 900m remained Considerable or High for 13 consecutive days from 16th to 28th January.
The current Northern Cairngorms forecast is also in its 6th consecutive day of forecasting a Considerable or High risk on Northerly and North West aspects.
> But it's not 300 quid for a life. That's only the case if you know in advance which parties are going to get avalanched, and make sure they're the ones who get the transponders. For the vast, vast majority of walkers and climbers it's 300 quid for something that'll sit in the bottom of your bag and never get used.
You have slightly missed the point. If everyone carried these items then it how on earth can it matter who gets avalanched?
No doubt the exact numbers will vary from place to place and it may well be that a study in a region with a different kind of snowpack would give different results. Not sure how any study could not be retrospective though!
"Scotland is not the Cascades. We live in a rapidly changing environment driven by atlantic low pressure systems. While in greater ranges like the cascades (like and alps and the himalya) where dangerous slopes may persist for a full season, Scottish snows constantly changes through quick cycles of freeze and thaw, unstable conditions do not generally persist for long. Most climbers can climb all their days and never go near dangerous snow conditions due to being flexible with the changing environmen"
Seriously?! did you just compare a maritime Cascadian snow pack with the Himalayas?
But you raised another great but surely unintentional point.. the snow-pack in question... recent storm snow and wind event (previous day) followed by sunshine and warming? Doesn't seem like a good idea to travel at all let alone on foot (slowly) through a patently obvious terrain trap. Well not to me anyway? And as the facts prove, I'd struggle to actually teach a worse example of mountain travel if I tried.
What do I know though? Hundred plus days a year in Avalanche terrain and all that training/study/educating experience in North & South America, Alps...
Carry on. After all it's "only" Scotland... clearly you don't need to apply basic snow safety principles there. Despite all the corpses and relying on mountain rescue heli rather than the BASIC concept of companion rescue enabled by beacon use.
We just walked around in the area we were practising for about 5 minutes, also to confuse my mate I would smooth over the area where I placed the transceiver or dig a small tunnel to place it under some smooth untouched snow haha.
In reply to PNWRob:
You're missing my point. I'm saying it's possible to be a Scottish winter walker and climber and never be in avalanche terrain often if you are flexible on venues and days. I can't comment on other peoples' decision making and I won't. I am very aware of basic snow travel while not being a high grade winter climber I would consider myself more of a scottish mountaineer as mountaineering consists of more than just the climb itself.
As Ron Walker (guide) also states. We seek out neve and stable snow. Avalanche terrain is the exception rather than the rule.
Personally I'd far rather people put into practice sound avalanche awarenesses skills and 'screw the nut' regarding making sound decisions than rush out and spend money on kit.
The sad fact is that the majority of avalanches in Scotland are victim triggered i.e. climbers/walkers/mountaineers head onto suspect slopes. Having transceivers would make no difference in these case - the individuals/group would still trigger the avalanche.
The other sad fact is that in both recent avalanche incidents the wearing of transceivers would have made no difference to the tragic outcome.
Transceivers have a place in mountain safety no doubt about it. BUT they are the last bit of the moving safely through snow covered mountains.
I'd personally far rather that mountain goers follow a simple process:
Pay attention to the weather and snowpack history days PRIOR to heading out on the hill
Formulate a 'avalanche theory' i.e. what they think they will encounter based on all sources of evidence the day they head out the hill.
Base the plan on this theory and have a Plan A, B, C etc that avoid risky areas - DON't go with we must get this route/hill etc done. Be flexible. The more risky the situation the more flexible you have to be.
Check this theory against what you observe as you walk in - weather forecasts can be wrong. If the weather forecast is wrong or inaccurate then you will have to revise your 'theory' as events on the hill will be different.
Be very aware of 'human factors' - peer pressure, following others thinking they know what they are doing or it must be safe because they have gone there, only having Plan A.
By putting into practice this simple process you'll find you may not always get your Plan A done but you'll stay around long enough to develop experience and hopefully - live long and prosper!
Note: no pits, no transceivers just good old route planning and avoidance.
Other note: This links below outlines current Swiss thinking on the whole process of avalanche awareness and are well worth checking out.
I'm comparison to the alps where it can remain unstable for months it is still different.
While it's is pretty safe on moderate south slopes if you look at route choice. Its possible to climb somewhere in the current north cairngorms and not cross avalanche terrain. The alternative to a different venue is staying in bed until there is stabilisation which I regularly do myself. It means don't climb as often as I want but it means I am staying safe with the information provided.
With current conditions I am away winter walking rather than climbing and I have planned a route which will cover southerly aspects before gaining my ridge and summit. So the SAIS is keeping me safe and I am planning my day on the information provided. The key point is I am planning my day to avoid avalanche terrain, not engaging it so therefor avalanche rescue kit would be wasted.
Anyway just sitting in lay-by with coffee. Off out on hill. Stay safe.
Always carry my tranceiver and showel (lost my probe, I need to invest) when skiing.
I never do so in climbing for a variety of reasons such as: route choice, weight and bulk...
I have in the past whilst water ice climbing in the alps carried the lot because: approach was on skis, gear was only ice stuff and therefore bag lighter, and particularly because the exit slopes were huge (although if you do get avalanched and jump the crags you've just climbed, even if you're alive and just buried your pals will not get to you in 15min).
We all have to make compromises: price. safety. weight. choice... We spend our time in the hills trying to minimize risks: I can't personally cart around a 20kg bag safely. The bag would have everything with the trio, storm shelter, first aid kit, change of clothes, 3 pairs of gloves, a stove, ad nauseum.
I am not being too complacent, just very pragmatic. I think however, that it is a worthwhile question to ask, and an excellent debate. I have not yet read a post that has made me change my mind.
I meant in Scotland, my post in not clear.
I try not get complacent...
Very well said George
The real debate needs to be about peoples decision making process not about the use of technology ie transceivers when they get it wrong.
SAIS provide their analysis, weather forecasts are widely available and avalanche education is also available in a number of formats.
Some useful work could be done to explore the decision making process of people who have been avalanched. Questions such as
Did you get a weather and avalanche forecast?
Could you understand and interpret the information?
Did you then use that information when out on the hill making decisions along with what you observed?
Then, depending on the circumstances, what led you to travel on the route you did.
Influencing peoples behaviour and decision making is key to reducing avalanche casualties.
Just my opinion, but I do wonder if in these days of "tech" being an every day part of life, people are looking for a hi-tech solution to many of our mountain challenges? I'm no Luddite - I love my smartphone - but just as GPS is not a tech solution to navigation, avalanche beacons are not a tech solution to safe travel in the mountains in winter. A beacon is only useful if you're caught in an avalanche - surely better to avoid being caught in the first place.
I was avalanched about 300m from the site of Thursday's Chalamain Gap avalanche in 1984. To support you point about victim-triggered avalanches, we were a group from IM Marsh College doing winter skills - we were testing snow anchors and literally pulled the whole slope down. 3 buried, and all found and dug out within 5 minutes. We set off the avalanche.
Enjoy the rest of the winter.
I understand your advice on avalanche assessment ( including leading upto a day out)[very clear tips thank you] and that this should be the primary 'protection' against getting caught out but I wasn't clear if you were advocating backing that up with carrying kit or not . ( is it just a cost issue or does the weight become a factor especially as to be effective everyone in the party would need to have one)
Now imagine yourself 10 minutes into your burial and and I doubt any of the arguments against would stand up to much.I have witnessed a survivor of avalanche who had torn off his fingernails as he searched for his best mate who incidentally was a further 30 metres from where he had spent 45 mins digging in vain.Im just saying that maybe a shift in perspective when thinking about this one
I can only speak for one Scottish MR team where the wearing of transceivers in winter is compulsory regardless of any avalanche forecast.it is considered an insult to your teammates to not have one on. It weighs less than my smartphone and is way way cheaper.
comparisons with the causes of death in recent avalanches and whether the wearing of a transceiver would have helped or not ie asphyxia v trauma injuries is a dead end argument I'm afraid.Trauma injuries can and often are survivable but not if you are still buried.
The very nature of climbing incidents often leave casualties outside the golden hour of treatment, any extra time spent searching isn't going to do you any favours
Not only the group but also as many people as possible in the area as if a whole group is avalanched they would have to be rescued by others who weren't. It seems to be standard practise for ski-mountaineering on the continent but not so much for climbers. As said the problem with gadgets is they can give a false sense of security, they also allow people who need to be rescued say that "we were not irresponsible, we were all well equipped." They cover their arses in other words.
When I had one on my belt, with spade and probe on my sack I felt safer, like when you put a seat belt on, but I only hired one as it was the done thing, I'm pretty convinced that real security comes from what's between your ears (or not) rather than gear.
There are new gadgets available in France which inflate if you get into an avalanche and are said to help you float to the surface as you go down but from what I've read the sort of avalanche that took place hear wouldn't have allowed for much floating, the lumps were to chunky. So rather than us all jumping to conclusions and pushing for obligatory equipment (which is what the popular press seems to like) maybe it would be a good idea if some people on the spot could put together a bit of data to see just how these deaths or injuries took place and whether the wearing of transceivers would in fact have helped?
With experienced climbers and off-piste skiers it's not a cost thing as they will already have the kit for off-piste skiing. It's more a decision whether to carry extra kit, faff and weight that they will make, depending on their experience, route, area, weather and snow conditions.
Not sure about George, but what worries me is the less experienced but affluent hillwalkers and climbers and that includes most poor students from what I've seen!
They will often go out and buy shiny new kit at the expenses of getting the proper mountain training and experience, somehow thinking the kit will bypass all this.
If you look at the brain washed media hype and public perceptions of climbing it's often all about having the right kit. It's not about kit, it's about having the right experience and training and making the informed decisions on what to carry and which route to climb given the prevailing weather and snow conditions.
Like maps and compasses and the GPS, some folk will carry transceivers without really being able to use it properly. They and the general public wrongly thinking they are now immune from getting lost or being avalanched because they are carrying the "right kit" be it a transceiver, GPS or a smartphone, in the bottom of their bag.
People need proper training, experience and less kit and not more kit and less experience!
Our posts crossed! Your argument is unassailable in a way, like the ones about buying winter tyres... How much is your life worth? Sounds convincing, but is it really? There's no end to what equipment could be bought... I'm not sure what the answer is though, just making a suggestion.
In much the same way that a rope is only useful if you fall off - so better not to fall off in the first place?
That is a little flippant. I agree there's no point having the kit and hoping it'll ward off danger - you also need to know how to assess snow conditions. And use the kit. Etc.. But I don't really buy the arguement that it's too much to carry, unless you're climbing particularly hard stuff. But then I already have the kit from skiing, so cost isn't a factor.
Anyhow, on the practice side of things - we had a great transceiver practice on a slope of big scree/loose rock. Fairly hard to move over, so rather more realistic than a flat piece of ground.
From a personal point of view I find the opposite. I find that the group 'ritual' of switching on and checking transeivers helps provide focus at the start of the day on the risk from avalanches and hence enhances the overall level of avalanche awareness and hence avoidance.
"Wrong place at the wrong time"
We were traversing underneath Left Twin to get to Typhoon to climb up that having earlier climbed Right Twin and then abseiled down Forgotten Twin.
The weather forecast for that day was Heavy snow from 8pm onwards, but the forecast was wrong the snow started falling at 2pm, we crossed under Left Twin at about 3.30, the head wall at the top of the gully released sending a fair amount of snow from the gully on top of me.
1. Saying that carrying transceivers can encourage complacency is like saying that carrying a compass encourages people to get lost. Encouraging complacency is not an argument for not carrying transceivers. It's an argument for guarding against complacency.
2. There's a view that's being expressed by a few people here that the key to avalanche safety is not getting caught. That's unquestionable - the statistics demonstrate it beyond doubt. The point is that avoiding being avalanched is a process that involves human beings processing incomplete, changing and often confusing data on weather, snowpack, navigation etc. in challenging circumstances and you need to come up with the right answer on a consistent basis.
My question to you all is what if you make a mistake?
> From a personal point of view I find the opposite. I find that the group 'ritual' of switching on and checking transeivers helps provide focus at the start of the day on the risk from avalanches and hence enhances the overall level of avalanche awareness and hence avoidance.
I wonder how a set of airbags would bias decision making.
You were lucky. Small avalanche? Victims near the surface?
Do you carry a transceiver now?
Well...kinda. Except that a compass can help you not to get lost in the first place. An avalanche transceiver is only useful as an aid to rescue after being avalanched (whether through incompetence, bad luck or some combination of the two). The difference being that one is about avoiding the risk, the other is about mitigating it. The first is preferable; the second is a welcome back-up to the first but should not be regarded as replacing it.
An analogy is seat belts in cars. They can't stop you having an accident - safe, attentive driving is the best avoidance strategy for that - but they can make the effect of an accident less severe. On the other hand, the phenomenon of risk compensation (aka the Peltzman effect) suggests that people tend to behave less cautiously where they feel more protected, and hence the argument that people carrying transceivers may take more risks in avalanche terrain.
Lucky? - yes. Small? Crown wall about 1m high and avalanche was 75-100m wide down a slope approx. 100m long into a burn valley. Victims near surface? yes. Do I carry a transceiver now? No, never have.
Better not to fall off in the first place? Yes.
That's pretty small, size 1-2?
So you don't wear one in Scotland, fair enough, it's certainly debatable. What about the alps etc?
I completely agree. If nothing else, this weeks events (and those last year on Mont Blanc, and those on Aonoch Mor in December 1998) demonstrate that those purely advocating avalanche avoidance as a supposedly coherent strategy seem rather misguided.
If the BMG's Safety Officer can't avoid killing 4 clients, if one of the UK's most experienced Mountain Guides can't avoid being killed and Scotland's National Mountain Centre can't avoid killing their students then I think those preaching 'avoidance' need to have a long hard think about the logical basis for their arguments.
To my mind, some of the arguments put forward sound depressingly familiar to those put forward in numerous other debates, such as the now discredited arguments put forward in the late 1970s and early 1980s against the compulsory wearing of seatbelts in cars.
I ski tour and own a bleep and probe primarily for this - have had a shovel since long before skiing. I rarely carry my bleep and probe when mountaineering, but thinking about it this is ludicrous and all will be carried from now.
I do, however, agree that awareness and prevention is far more important which is why I recently updated my knowledge through an MCofS avi course. This was a great day, with super instructors in the shape of Heather Morning, Rich Bently and Sandy Paterson - at only £40, it was also dirt cheap! Sadly of two days, only the Sat ran due to lack of numbers - incredible.
So, what I'm saying is - get yourself some additional education, just spending a day in the mountains looking at how the snowpack, terrain and weather interacts will help, regardless of your experience. Carry a shovel, bleep and probe - if you want. Just recognise their advantages and disadvantages and make a call, but know that if the worst does happen, you are pretty much dependent on your buddies to dig you out. Don't assume as a climber or mountaineer that you won't get caught in a slide as this has been thoroughly disapproved over the last year.
Lastly, enjoy the mountains and be safe - I'm a trainee with an MRT and have dealt with enough bodies through a previous career in ambulances to not want to see another one.
Any idea what percentage of people climbing in Scotland in winter get hit by avalanches, and how many of them would have been helped if they had transceivers? Of these subtract those who were in largish groups in training situations, who I admit should probably have the gear, and I suspect the result might be rather less than conclusive concerning carrying them systematically when on normal climbing trips.
The figures may prove me wrong though.
At the end of the day, talking numbers, statistics or percentages almost leads to a perception of certainty where none really exists. If you are unlucky enough to be caught in a slide, you are still pretty much dependent on your buddies. That is enough for me to make a decision - I will educate myself and my friends as much as feasible, but I also want the odds stacked in my favour as much as I can if I get caught out. Others may make a different decision and that is also fine - I know plenty of people who's opinion I value that don't carry the kit.
Of course, my opinion may change if I'm caught in a slide and am the only one wearing a bleep!!
> If the BMG's Safety Officer can't avoid killing 4 clients, if one of the UK's most experienced Mountain Guides can't avoid being killed and Scotland's National Mountain Centre can't avoid killing their students then I think those preaching 'avoidance' need to have a long hard think about the logical basis for their arguments.
You might want think about re-wording that.
No, too reasonable, I'd have thought?
For someone who claims to be "generally proved right about things in the end", it strikes me that you have gone spectacularly wrong with these statements. The way you describe yourself in your profile doesn't suggest that you are regularly given to reflecting on your behaviour but I think you should give it some serious consideration in this instance.
(Some of the postings on this thread and the other recent, related ones really do make we wish that UKC had an "ignore" function.)
I should probably know better by now, than to attempt to use powerful or provocative rhetoric on UKC - it fails far too often in the online medium where people cannot see past a superficial reading.
It is patently obvious I don't agree with the literal statements, far from it - I was attempting (and it seems utterly failing) to use these tragic accidents to highlight the clear falsehood of the claims from some posters that avalanches are essentially avoidable.
To my mind, some mountaineers no matter how experienced, will always end up in the 'wrong place' at the 'wrong time' as far as avalanches are concerned. I am more than happy to make that point abundantly clear to those who have not clearly grasped that from my earlier posts.
This is a H&S issue, pure and simple.
If your employer made you, as part of your job, work in the mountains, in winter, you would be demanding absolutely every bit of PPE you could get your hands on - ABS, peeps, probe, shovel etc. Risk assessments would be taken very seriously, with local knowledge, weather, SAIS etc all documented. Training would be mandatory for the environment, and would continually be augmented.
Yet, as this is recreation, on our own time and money, all this seems to go out of the window. This attitude amazes me.
H&S cannot eliminate every risk, just as we cannot do so through common sense in real life. However, we can reduce and minimise it, and we must.
It is interesting that the ski tourers here carry gear, when they are potentially less at risk than walkers or climbers. Ski tourers avoid cornices, whilst climbers ultimately aim for them. Skiers are probably more likely to start an avalanche at the top of the slope, and avoid it, while climbers/walkers will usually be in its path, with less means to escape, and much less chance of having "PPE".
Cost should not be an issue. This is a non argument, and should be discarded immediately. Weight - I don't really buy it. Better climbers than you were carrying much more 20 years ago.
The only real discussion here is the age old argument of personal choice. I have a friend and his wife who insist on not wearing cycling helmets as they read somewhere that drivers give cyclists without them a wider berth. But what if they fall of their own accord? Laterally, I am not arguing you should be forced to wear PPE, as you are not at work, but then again, that section of society will always benefit from the fact that even with the gay abandon of free choice, our emergency services will always come and get you, assuming you are alive.
Unfortunately this is not always the case. Skiers also aim for cornices - but normally going in the opposite direction - and tend to land very hard on the deposition zone under the cornice.
Secondly, I managed to cut an avalanche a few years back while skinning up a wide-ish valley. I'd taken a deliberately prudent line (as I thought) and was on flat terrain some 50m out from - but luckily past - the slope to my left that formed the valley wall. The slope was well over a 100m high. I heard and felt the whoomph of the collapsing layer as it propagated up the slope. I swung round to see a large slab released from the top of the slope and crash down over my track - which it obliterated spectacularly. This had been the first warning 'whoomph' I'd heard that day. I'd deliberately placed myself more or less in the middle of the valley in an effort to be out of any terrain trap and also to try to avoid what actually happened. I'd got skins on my skis and was no more able to get out of the way quickly than someone on foot or on snowshoes.
This I wholeheartedly agree with.
Yes, I agree and could see your point exactly. It's also interesting to consider that it's possible to ski tour right up to the end of May in many places over here. The Oberland immediately springs to mind. Everyone will be armed with Arva, shovel and probe. Come June, a couple of weeks on and the start of summer alpinism, your likely to have exactly the same conditions but no-one almost will have any of those things.
Just noticed that the SAIS have a twitter account so you can follow them and get the latest precis. @coordinatorsais is the account to follow.
Ok. Answer this question then.
If I choose to only climb routes when there is good neve, including on the apron and the scarp and I not avoiding an avalanche? Cant remember last time someone was avalanched on neve. Can you?
The stats in 'A chance in a million?' (1985-1999) suggest that of the 493 recorded avalanche victims in Scotland, 55 were buried (11%).
By way of comparison, of the 1866 recorded victims of avalanches in Switzerland (1981-1998), 735 were buried (40%).
Usual caveats about comparing data gathered by two different organisations, but that might go some way to explaining why people feel justified in judging the nature of the threat posed by Scottish avalanches to be somewhat different from those in other mountain ranges.
Each to their own, but there are many additions to my winter climbing pack that I would make before avalanche gear.
Thank you for that. Does anyone a figure for how many reported avalanches resulted in injury but no fatality to put that into better context. While in that period you had 11% chance of being buried if you were involved in a fatal avalanche, but what is the chance of being buried by being in an avalanche in general. It is going to be less than 11%
> Thank you for that. Does anyone a figure for how many reported avalanches resulted in injury but no fatality to put that into better context. While in that period you had 11% chance of being buried if you were involved in a fatal avalanche, but what is the chance of being buried by being in an avalanche in general. It is going to be less than 11%
Sorry, I should have been clearer. I meant victim in the wider sense of anyone who was caught in an avalanche (which then came to the attention of whoever collected the stats). The Swiss figures are comparable.
I agree that it would be interesting to have a more detailed breakdown, but that is not given for the Scottish data. For the Swiss data, 89% of fatalities involved total burial.
Should also have said for anyone who wants to check, or comment.
Swiss data here: http://high-mountains.de/Alpinmedizin/Managementlawinen.pdf
Originally collected by: http://www.slf.ch
These stats tie in with my own (anecdotal) evidence - the majority of avalanche victims in Scotland die from trauma i.e. a slope goes poor hapless climber who triggered it is ends up being trundled over/down/through boulders/cliffs etc and suffers trauma. Often they are on top or partially buried by the debris. No need for transceiver. So I'm in agreement generally speaking in a Scottish context.
I'd like to add about the good points you made above (and this is for all not specially yourself)
There are a few exceptions the above cases of avalanche trauma - in these cases either the casualties were buried so deep that death (due to crushing from weight of snow)would have been quicker than anyone could have dug them out in or all the party were buried so there would have been no-one to carry out a buddy rescue.
I'm not saying we should not carry transceivers and for the record I do own one and carry it as and when. But in a climbing context I'm acutely aware I would far rather be seeking to avoid being slid (mainly due to the fact I know my risk of injury or death due to trauma from the resultant fall is more of a concern than being buried.
In a MR context then wearing a transceiver would be more common as often I'd be going out into potential high risk avo situations - in this case I'm deliberately going into a 'hot LZ' so I'd be taking every precaution. FWIW I think most MR teams would have this as a SOP anyways.
So to sum up I would still advocate education and a hyper awareness of the human factors involved in the whole avalanche awareness dynamic - these 'heuristics' potentially lay at the heart of why often experienced people are whoofed (and also for FWIW I've been avalanched - sacred the beejaysus out of me!!!).
Carrying transceivers. shovels and probes and importantly knowing and practised in using them is an important part of the whole avalanche education package BUT I would still press and argue for us as climbers learning to make sound objective decisions based on knowledge and free from heuristic traps namely social proof, scarcity and familiarity http://www.snowpit.com/articles/traps%20reprint.pdf Oh if you can't be bothered reading the whole thing then please read section 5 - then you may just go back and read the whole thing.
MRCofS Survey of Avalanche stats 1980-2009: http://www.mountainrescuescotland.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Avalanche-Study-1980-2009.pdf
Found this through Heavy Whalley's excellent blog: http://heavywhalley.wordpress.com/2013/02/16/avalanche-study-of-30-years-mountain-rescue-statistics-...
Great info. Thanks
So the Scottish % of buried victims is *very* similiar to SLF stats for Switzerland (where typically 10% of all avalanche victims are actually buried).
However the problem with such stats is that most minor incidents go unreported - so results are always skewed.
I agree that education (and common sense!) are the most important factor's to remain safe.
However this thread if full of comments from scottish ice climbers trying to justify to themselves why they don't need to carry beacon / shovel / probe for winter travel in the Scottish mountains.
Ultimatly its a cultural issue more than anything else.....
> So the Scottish % of buried victims is *very* similiar to SLF stats for Switzerland (where typically 10% of all avalanche victims are actually buried).
Not so for the data I linked to. Are you referring to something different?
Just a thought regarding the cost is no issue comments.
Having been involved in a university club that on a busy trip in winter would issue up to ~17 pairs of crampons and walking axes from the club store. Buying 17 sets of (pole/spade/bleeper) would be of the order of at least £3500.
Not happening without another body giving them the money.
You should insist on member buying their own personal gear, the club supplying just ropes and tents.
I agree about "the cost not being an issue" is a bit iffy, maybe the case for middle aged professional people but hardly the case for students and other young climbers - especially if they are rarely of any use, which I suspect is the case for most Scottish climbing. The statistics seem to say this.
In the course of a day, a ski tourer can easily traverse all the slope aspects (0-360deg) in a relatively short period of time. They are continually going into new terrain with changing aspect, snow pack conditions etc. Thus they are increasing the potential of getting into a hazardous terrain. Information gained from Rutschblock tests is not Gospel (I'm sure we've all seen the report from that Canada who took 60+ tests on the same slope and found lots of different results) so to dig one EVERYTIME you skiied onto a new slope could not be classed as reasonably practicable.
A climber will generally not cross nearly as many slopes, it might even be as little as one, so if s/he uses all the available data available (previous weather history, SAIS, on-site conditions, personal experience + sixth sense) then I would say that you had done everything that is reasonably practicable to avoid an avalanche.
I generally don't carry a Transceiver as I don't feel that it mitigates the risks.
As an aside I once saw an instructor pull a shovel and handle out of his rucksack when sat at the top of a slope. He had sent his clients down ahead of him as the day was coming to the end. Mildly confused as to what he was doing with a shovel (I was 14 at the time) I sat down to watch. What I saw next will go with me to my death bed.
He slotted the two components together with an experienced hand. Slung his rucksack over his shoulders, turned and gave a knowing nod to me an my dad and was off. One foot on the blade the other on top of the handle out in front. He surfed that shovel all the way to the bottom. I like to think that when he got to the bottom he stamped on the shovel to flick it up into his hand, but I couldn't see. It is to date the coolest thing that I have ever seen in the mountains.
no one ever buys a beacon and plans to use...
it is the one bit of kit you never plan to use in anger.
the stats seem to indicate that climbers / winter walkers are actually more at risk than Scottish ski tourers though. (perhaps because there are more of them?).
But I don't recommend many of you carry this stuff at all. Because you don't want to!
You have to make your own decisions, and your own risk assessments (unless you are taking care of others).
All that stuff is just PPE anyway. It is not expected to be the main mechanism to save you. (Doesn't sound as if it would have saved any lives in the recent avalanche incidents). The other control/management measures are your best hope there. The PPE is simply the last ditch defence/"hope" if absolutely everything else put in place fails. It probably won't work, but at least you gave it your best shot.
(The cost thing is completely unrelated to all of this, but is peanuts spread over 10 years or so. Boots, waterproofs, ropes, tools all cost way, way, way, more over the same time period. Weight is nothing. The bulk of a shovel is the only downside. Been through three versions of shovels as technologies changed.)
Have fun. Beautiful weather out there!
Climbers will not use them because they are heavy (they add about 1.5kg) although people could easily carry this extra weight and change to easier objectives.
It's all because they don't view the risk reduction to be worth it. Everyone will have their own personal acceptable risk limit and has to make informed decisions about what they are comfortable with.
I own a beacon etc but don't normally carry it with me when I go winter climbing because I don't think the reduction in risk is worth the extra weight of gear. Similarly with ski touring I will take them because I feel that, for me, the risk is higher.
I can't take a blanket approach with saftey gear as soon I'll be wearing a full face helmet and body armor to cycle along the path to work.
learning to make sound objective decisions based on knowledge and free from heuristic traps namely social proof, scarcity and familiarity http://www.snowpit.com/articles/traps%20reprint.pdf Oh if you can't be bothered reading the whole thing then please read section 5 - then you may just go back and read the whole thing
Thanks - very interesting article. And look at the New York Times piece http://www.nytimes.com/projects/2012/snow-fall/#/?part=tunnel-creek for a sobering example of heuristic traps and group think.
If you go with a guide he provides them but then you have to pay for the guide.
Most clubs insist you take with you
In the recent fatal Glencoe accident (do not know details) but I did read that some hours after the accident they were still searching for someone. With a transceiever you can pinpoint a person inside 5 minutesCannot remember survîval rate but most of deaths which occur in the first 15 minutes are instantaneous due to injuries ragther than asphyxiation.
So it is a matter of choice- You can gamble with your life and more than likely you will get away with it
I was sent the tunnel creek article some weeks ago. In my opinion it is a fairly unbiased report (not sure if same one but from New York Times)
Myself and two sons are skiers on piste and off piste we carry and wear at all times transreceiver ,probe,shovel survival blankets,first aid .celox( traumatic wound treatment) its confident to know we can help rescues ourself and if need be others
Time is the factor in all this even if your a dealing with a broken body if the person is alive and you get them to air
For the rest of your life you will know that you could help not stand be helpless
Help the rescuers that will have to come to the rescue scene
If you watch video on YouTube were it takes 8 minutes to rescue a skier his camera is rolling waiting on rescue I have never felt so helpless wishing I had a shovel and I am watching a video
Anyhow, I for one will be jumping over the Mountain Police barricades...and I am sure the ones who have been lost in the recent incidents would ibe doing the same too...after all, why do we love the hills and mountains ? Freedom.
I was hoping you'd weigh in :) I agree my view is only based on my experience and anecdote (witnessing avalanches, getting first hand info). I agree re hard data - that would help inform the safety kit choices we make.
Transceivers. shovels and probes aside I still see, on a sadly routine basis, climbers and mountaineers making poor calls regarding avalanche risk. As well as having access to the appropriate safety kit I'd really like to see people develop the risk assessment skills - and pay heed to the human factors outlined above - to greatly reduce the chances of them having to use the safety kit...
I do agree though that it is time for some up to date information about mortality causes in avalanche incidents.
I started a thread a year or two back asking if transceivers had ever saved anyone in Scotland. Nobody could provide an example then and I haven't heard of one since.
The main reason people carry transceivers in Scotland is because they have bought them for use when skiing abroad and having shelled out the cash it seems silly not to use them.
My opinion is that it is perfectly justifiable to ski tour / winter climb in Scotland without a transceiver. I do personally carry one when touring, because I purchased one for a trip to the Alps a few years ago.
> You have to make your own decisions, and your own risk assessments (unless you are taking care of others).
> All that stuff is just PPE anyway.
Its not PPE though is it? Its more like 'GPE'. Whats the point of carrying one unless you know others are also? I wouldn't go touring with someone who wasn't equipped, otherwise how are they going to find me and dig me out? And vice versa of course too.
Since it can be used for other purposes eg digging pits to inspect the snow pack, or constructing a shelter, a shovel arguably is "safety kit". However, I'd suggest that the probe and transceiver should be more accurately described solely as "rescue kit" since they have no function beyond the location of a burial victim.
Of course! But I'm sure folks know what I mean. Last resort on the risk management hierarchy.
My tuppence worth is that with greater than ever access to relevant up to date information (SAIS reports), good availability of equipment and the chance to hire if you want to many winter mountaineers are chosing to ignore the avalanche issue in Scotland. If this is for some obscure feeling about freedom or perceived risk then I would seriously question their decision making. Some commitment to training, keeping up with forecasts and the snow history that winter and the aforementioned shovel/probe/transciever would reduce the number of avalanche victims each year. What is so bad about that?
> Since it can be used for other purposes eg digging pits to inspect the snow pack, or constructing a shelter, a shovel arguably is "safety kit". However, I'd suggest that the probe and transceiver should be more accurately described solely as "rescue kit" since they have no function beyond the location of a burial victim.
I'd have to say that a probe can also be used to determine the depth of snow when digging an emergency snowhole. It can also be used for seaching debris for an avalanche victim WITHOUT a transceiver.
> I'd suggest that the probe and transceiver should be more accurately described solely as "rescue kit" since they have no function beyond the location of a burial victim.
A couple of tranceivers used to keep my kids amused for hours......
From the (limited) information that's in the public domain, I'm not sure that this would have made any difference to this year's fatal accidents, which seem to have mostly involved experienced and educated people. In one case, a commitment to training is what cost someone their life.
What I said in the previous post perhaps relates more to the rescue side. Sadly when involved in MR I saw a lot of what you describe where trauma was the obvious cause of death. I raised this with ICAR as that was a forgotten part of recovery of the injured in the early guidelines and we used to see avlx victims single stropped into SAR assets. Thankfully trauma management is now seen as part and parcel of all avlx victim recovery. Sadly among the obvious trauma avlx's I have also been at multiple burials where all were victims of early asphyxia and late profound hypothermia and unmarked. Galbraiths "Necropsy Study of Scottish Mountain Accidents" showed detectable levels of alchohol in victims killed on weekends. The "Social Facilitation" Heuristic? talking it big in the pub and too hungover to change plans!
Link to Galbraith paper here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1140765/pdf/jclinpath00319-0053.pdf
Not sure that it does suggest alcohol in the blood of those killed at weekends. It says, in the 40 cases measured alchohol was found in the blood and urine of three, it then attributes putrifaction as the cause of two of these and possibly the third also. Or have I miss-read the paper?
I once watched a walker dig a snow block in the Pentlands. I was quite impressed that he was taking this matter seriously...no one else seemed too concerned. As is often the case in Scotland the snowpack was very spatially variable where we were. The snow pit he dug was on a more stable part of the snow pack. Literally a couple meters to his right was an obvious accumulation of snow in a shallow gully rising up the hill side...it was windblown with a dull appearance to its surface, i.e. windslab. He may have concluded the snow was safe where his pit was. Had he done this just 3m further right to the unstable windblown snow then he would have concluded something different...hopefully. He ended up waking up in both the stable and unstable parts of the snow pack. In reality anything that could have fallen should have been smallish.
It seems that the tragic events this winter have got folk thinking about avalanches. This increased awareness will hopefully prompt folk to get clued up. A reasonable understanding of the snow takes a while, seeing and understanding different scenarios takes time and should be started the day one ventures out on the snow!
Which is a rescue function ie mitigation, not avoidance.
My point is that referring to shovel, probe and transceiver as "safety" gear in the context of avalanche risk is misleading. Apart from the possible value of a shovel in examining the snow pack (and others have already cast some doubt on the real benefit of digging snow pits) they don't keep you safe, they just increase the chance of survival when your situation ceases to be safe when you get avalanched. I think that is a valid distinction to raise when George was trying to emphasize the importance of people developing proper risk assessment skills, including having an awareness of the heuristic traps, rather than relying on carrying the kit as a sort of 'talisman'.
> Link to Galbraith paper here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1140765/pdf/jclinpath00319-0053.pdf
> Not sure that it does suggest alcohol in the blood of those killed at weekends. It says, in the 40 cases measured alchohol was found in the blood and urine of three, it then attributes putrifaction as the cause of two of these and possibly the third also. Or have I miss-read the paper?
It was a tongue in cheek joke! I lost my copy of this 20 years ago so thanks for linking it as I was trying to remember what it said.
You aren't Dr Bob, Dave Cumming's mate, are you?
> Link to Galbraith paper here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1140765/pdf/jclinpath00319-0053.pdf
From the summary: "Necropsies were carried out on 42, which form the basis of this report. In 21 cases head injury was a major fatality factor, but in 11 of these there were alsoserious chest injuries. Focal brain damage haematomas, contusions, or lacerations) was more common (n = 21) than diffuse brain damage (n = 18). Over half of the victims with severe head
injury had few other injuries and would probably have survived had the head injury been prevented."
Sounds like wearing a helmet might help....
One does wonder whether pair of climbers standing at the top of a decent slope in dubious condition but equipped with transceivers and stuff might have their decision on whether to risk the descent swayed by the presence of their rescue kit.
"One does wonder whether pair of climbers standing at the top of a decent slope in dubious condition but equipped with transceivers and stuff might have their decision on whether to risk the descent swayed by the presence of their rescue kit"
I think the answer unfortunately is yes. Risk homeostasis is a major factor and one that is even more pronounced in those with ABS. We all know that the decisions should be no different with or without but sadly myself included can fall into the trap. We all have to accept that if you want to ski big lines and get powder the odds of fecking up even after making careful risk assessments is still pretty high if you do it often enough. That's why I have an ABS for added insurance. I am only human after all. Mountaineers walk into trouble - there is a lot more thinking time unless its an epic.
You are only human, how is your back ...;-)
The movement towards avalanche awareness and avoidance, from the previous focus on avalanche assessment, suggests that 'safer travel techniques' in avalanche terrain are not widely understood and employed (as per both of your respective comments on terrain and the position of the individual in respect of it), especially when multiple victims seem to be frequently caught in avalanche paths in Scotland.
"Widely" ? And how are you quantifying that? What about all the people who are out and never in incidents. The hills are packed with people every time I am out leading me to believe that these incidents are a minority! You would need some way of recording just how many people were on the hill or in the coire on that particular day to make a meaningful statistic but I doubt you could ever.
Yes, these reported incidents reflect the propensity of a weak layer in a particular snowpack to collapse and then for a fracture to propagate sufficiently, thereby releasing an avalanche. As Blair Fyffe pointed out elsewhere on UKC, spatial variability is a significant fact in arresting this propagation. From our incomplete understanding of this complex medium, this spatial variability *perhaps* helps to explain why so many people never find the weak spot necessary to collapse the weak layer or why the fracture arrests and the slope whoomphs instead. Equally, the effect of spatial variability is also - to some extent, it is suggested - responsible for the reinforcement of messages about behaviour in avalanche terrain: 'I must be doing it right because I've never been avalanched' or 'I know I was on a stable snowpack because it didn't avalanche'.
There are numerous reports on UKC this season - including this and other recent threads - and previous seasons focusing on the concerns about the ways in which individuals are using avalanche terrain. In particular, it's the position of the individual in relation to avalanche terrain that is the greatest concern.
As for meaningful statistics about participation in avalanche terrain, researchers rarely record exactly how many off-piste skiers were active off-piste in the area when an avalanche released. Instead, they focus on the number of people caught in the avalanche. The evidence for this approach can be found in the research papers submitted to the ISSW. Cautious off-piste skiers work on the basis that only one person should be exposed to avalanche terrain at a time, if at all - and this approach is usually reflected in the avalanche statistics where only one victim is caught.
Finally, as others have noted publicly (I'll cite Tremper's 'Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain' as being the most prominent example of this) avalanche terrain is 'stable' most of the time which reinforces exactly what you have observed, namely 'What about all the people who are out and never in incidents. The hills are packed with people every time I am out leading me to believe that these incidents are a minority!'. It's that reinforcement heuristic again - sorry, Davy. Instead, next time, look more closely to identify the safe travel techniques employed as these individuals use avalanche terrain. Is one person at a time exposed to the avalanche hazard or is more than one person potentially exposed at a time?
You use "get away with" as to say taking chances or testing luck which isn't always the case. You might cross a convex slope because you have judged in your own skill and the info required that the slope is safe. That's not the same as ignorance which is of course the word being talked about when you mention getting away with it.
I chose to climb today as the snowpack was stable. I had great fun on great bomber neve. I went up a steep snow gully and descended into a large snowfield with convex slopes. At no point did I consider myself getting away with it. I used the information provided by the SAIS and picked my day and venue because of that. Avalanche equipment would have been wasted weight in my sack today and that's why I chose not to have it, because I chose to climb on days, venues or aspects where I won't need it. Simple.
Whilst you might be a paragon of avalanche knowledge and reasoned risk assessment, I suspect the majority of people are, in fact, "getting away with it" on many occasions. I know I've done in the past.
Ok so I have a bit of time on my hands through injury so will re bite at this topic. First response with a coffee and bun in my hand and off the top of my head. The global picture skews things especially with the huge volume from N. America. Multiple burials overall seem to be less common in N.America but of course when they do occur make big headlines. Tracker beacons are popular in N. America as they are so damn fast at single person recovery because multiples were not seen as a big problem by BCA. Mammut took the opposite track with the "Pulse" because in Europe multiples are a problem. In Europe multiple burials are more common especially among touring groups and quite frequently on ascent. In fact touring skiers account for the majority of incidents in France if my recollection of the last 5 years stats are correct. I would say as a general observation that "safe travel" as you might employ as as skier is not employed by mountaineers. It's often just a question of load and stick a biggger load on a slope with a weak layer and at some point the critical mass is reached when the weakness will snap and if unlucky propagate. Even allowing for group load, why even expose one person if it's that dodgy? The "scarcity" heuristic plays a big part as instead of giving the mountain best and going for tea and buns folk are determined to push on, and also hubris. I should also pick up that avalanche paths are where the much more predictable wet snow slides occur. A slab can form just about anywhere. My own view is that some days avoidance is choosing a route carefully and others staying at home. I quite liked Tom Patey's maxim of "there are old climbers and bold climbers - but not many old bold climbers".
Range is about 40m, so not really much use for that. There are other solutions though, like a SPOT beacon.
At the risk of diverting the thread, you may wish to search JimF's contributions to this parish, on SPOT, to understand current fundemental limitations due to satilite paths, and use in Scotland and particularly at lower levels, with limited southerly horizons.
I wasn't restricting myself to Scotland.
Interesting points made from JIB about how people often avoid avalanches through luck when on another day the slope might have gone ... makes you wonder how often you've gotten away with it.
Maybe that's why its not unusual for "experienced" mountaineers to get caught up in avalanches, as the more often they go out, doing what they've always done and gotten away with, the chances of being avalanched increase over time.
Certainly makes you think
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