/ Avalanche kit for the alps this summer?

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Sam Maher - on 18 Aug 2013

Some friends and I are going to the alps at the end of the month and were wondering if its common practice to take avalanche transceivers, probes and shovels for your first alpine trip?

Looking at the BMC's kit list for alpine mountaineering and generally in books it doesn't seem to suggest its necessary to take avalanche kits but is it better to be on the safe side... but then there is the weight... Currently we're looking at just doing the normal route up mt blanc and some beginner alpine routes around Arolla.

Thanks in advance

Alasdair Fulton - on 18 Aug 2013
In reply to Sam Maher: Nah. Avalanche kit is mainly to help you quickly dig your mates out of a slide. In the summer you'll more than likely be roped together so digging each other out is less....possible.
simondgee - on 18 Aug 2013
In reply to Sam Maher:
TBH I only ever carry avalanche kit for skiing/boarding and for MR.
tjin - on 19 Aug 2013
In reply to Sam Maher:

Unless there is fresh snow, most of the snow will be compacted by the thaw and freeze cycle, making summer avalanches very solid and having a lot less air in it to breath.

My guide claimed that trying to shovel somebody out would only result in a broken shovel.
Kane - on 19 Aug 2013
In reply to Sam Maher: In Summer the snow pack stabalises very fast, normally within a few days, becasue of the relatively high temperatures and freeze-thaw cycles. This makes avalanches much less likely provided you avoid snow slopes in the afternoon when wet avalanches occur. In winter certain snow packs can take months to stabalise and prone slopes are much harder to predict. There is also much more snow fall and avalanche activity. Avy beacons are used in winter because there is a much bigger risk of avalances happening and people getting caught. In summer they do happen but are less frequent and mostly predictable (ie wet slides in the afternoon or immediately after a storm) and so the risk is greatly reduced.

The reason about not being able to dig your mate out is BS. If there was a reasonable risk then people would carry beacons and not rope up when exposed to dangerous slopes, unless the risk of falling down a cravasse is higher of course.

A large part of alpinism is working out a strategy that reduces the risks of the route to acceptable levels. In fact this is partly what makes it so interesting.
Alasdair Fulton - on 19 Aug 2013
In reply to Kane: It's not BS thanks! Maybe I didn't put a lot of effort into explaining it well.

In winter you will normally either be skiing, or skiing into or away from routes. When skiing you inevitably ski on slopes more probe to avalanche than the slopes you encounter in summer. You should not be skiing terrain traps (cliffs, wide cravasses etc.) so one of the biggest risks is burial.

In summer, like you say, avalanches are more likely to be wet snow or triggered by serac fall (like the unfortunate one recently). The afternoon ones are relative easy to avoid (negating the need for equipment).

In my opinion burial is quite low down the list of likely outcomes in summer, and if it does occur - the pair of you are more likely to be in it together, or off a cliff, or down a crevasse. That is why I don't bother with avi kit in summer. If you did end-up traversing a dodgy slope with fresh snow and the risk of avi was percieved to be greater than crevasse fall then you probably would take off the rope and try and make your way one by one down safe spots. Best avoiding those days though...

GridNorth - on 19 Aug 2013
In reply to Sam Maher: The quick answer is no. What do you mean by the "normal" route. The route via the Gouter ridge is, apart from the Grande Couloir, relatively avalanche free as far as I know. At least I've never heard of anyone getting into trouble above the hut where the snow begins in earnest. The 3 M's route on the other hand takes in a notorious slope beneath Mont Blanc Du Tacul where there have been numerous accidents. Because of this it is important in the alps to move fast so that you are off slopes like this before the sun hits them so don't be tempted into carrying things for "just in case". Go light like the French Alpinists do and not laden down with huge packs like many Brits do. Being able to move fast is safer than carrying excess equipment.
Kane - on 19 Aug 2013
In reply to Fultonius: Sorry, I put that strongly. I completely agree with your new explaination but the reason still is not to do with how hard it is to dig your mate out but how likely it is you will be caught, which I think is what your explaination says.

There are of course the upredictable avalanches that occaisionally occur in summer, like the serac fall triggered one on MB, but these are normally quite severe and I doubt having transievers would be much use.
Sam Maher - on 19 Aug 2013
In reply to Sam Maher: ok, well thanks all for your input. The obvious concencus should hopefully make the experience a little more enjoyable with the lighter packs and saving some money. Thanks again for the good replies.
stuart58 - on 22 Aug 2013
In reply to Sam Maher: if you are asking this question have you got enough experience to be doing the blanc? On your own.
jwdickinson25 - on 22 Aug 2013
In reply to Sam Maher: Hi, I came back from Chamonix 4 weeks ago. I carried a transceiver the whole time we were out climbing. While I was on the Left Edge Route of the Tacul early morning, it avalanched. After returning I was shocked to hear that two people had been killed in an avalanche on the descent route from the Tacul under the dubious seracs that we had passed, again at approximately 4am (when its hopefully frozen)....Transceiver or not, even if you make an informed decision about conditions from experience and the condition/ weather reports, sometimes its unpredictable. I felt our group was a little safer knowing that we had a transceiver. Make up your own mind. Not to scare you on your first will be amazing Im sure.
Alasdair Fulton - on 22 Aug 2013
> I felt our group was a little safer knowing that we had a transceiver.

You might have felt it, but does that mean it was true? Am I misunderstanding you, or did you have one transciever for the entire group?

Does anyone have any good links to information on when seracs are most likely to fall?

It is a fairly commonly held conception that they are more stable at night and more likley to fall during the day. I am sure I have read somewhere that this is not true and seracs are basically completely unpredictable. I would have thought that the main body of a serac is actually unlikely to change temperature very much during the day but that is only a hunch.

I've never seen a serac fall but have seen plenty of debris in the mornings...

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