/ Avalanches

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French Erick - on 12 Mar 2019

pretty nasty out there the now...careful route choice needed I think

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Mike Nolan - on 12 Mar 2019
richlan - on 12 Mar 2019
In reply to Mike Nolan:

Every year you see stories like this, people need to start reading and understanding avalanche forecasts.

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olddirtydoggy - on 12 Mar 2019
In reply to French Erick:

Even a quick test of the snowpack before wandering up is a healthy addition to the habit of forecast and conditions pages.

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Jim Fraser - on 12 Mar 2019
In reply to French Erick:

Heavy snow combined with strong sustained winds? This is not a great mystery. 

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Denzil - on 12 Mar 2019
In reply to Mike Nolan:

Was outside the CIC hut when the avalanche came down number 5 gully. Huge powder clouds. Guys at the CIC hut who had attempted a climb earlier, and had aborted because of the conditions weren’t aware of anyone else out climbing today on the Ben. Didn’t suspect anything until the Coastguard heli started buzzing around and when we got down to the car park the Lochaber team control vehicle had just showed up.

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Simon Caldwell - on 12 Mar 2019
In reply to richlan:

Sometimes these things happen to experts, guides even, so maybe best to wait until we know more?

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Mike Nolan - on 12 Mar 2019
In reply to Simon Caldwell:

Agreed! It's not always as simple as just reading the forecast. 

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johnhenderson - on 12 Mar 2019
In reply to French Erick:

Looking like a very serious situation latest reports 2 dead and 2 injured.

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Sophie G. - on 12 Mar 2019
In reply to Mike Nolan:

That's terrible. RIP. 

It's been a sad, sad winter for losses like these.

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richlan - on 12 Mar 2019
In reply to Sophie G.:

Yes very sad, I have just deleted a reply to as post further up when i saw this.

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99ster - on 12 Mar 2019
In reply to Mike Nolan:

> Agreed! It's not always as simple as just reading the forecast. 

Although, yesterday & today surely the risk forecast by SAIS couldn't be more severe?

https://www.sais.gov.uk/lochaber/

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kenneM - on 12 Mar 2019
In reply to richlan:

Not really the time for criticism is it !

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richlan - on 12 Mar 2019
In reply to kenneM:

Just hold your horses pal, i posted that before any of this came knowledge.

I was replying to "reports of" nothing more to read into it than that.

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French Erick - on 12 Mar 2019
In reply to johnhenderson:

I did not see the news, was just quickly looking at the SAIS page and seen for myself on Sunday!

Pretty bad news indeed. Best wait for proper reports on the incident before further conjectures on the Ben's avalanche(s).

Well done MRT finding 2 and getting them down...conditions must be atrocious. It's bad here (Eastern Scotland!).

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George.D - on 12 Mar 2019
In reply to French Erick:

I was climbing on the Ben on Friday and Saturday - whilst Friday started OK, there were signs from early afternoon that the snow pack was unstable and a fair amount of fresh came down shortly after. Reports of avalanches in No 2 saw us turn back after retreating from Comb Gully under heavy spindrift. On Saturday late morning, several inches of graupel came down in a short period. We then went up No 5 to get to ledge route - snow conditions were close to the line for me, but we judged acceptable enough, particularly as we were branching off out of the gully. Since then lots more fresh snow came down (on top of the layer of graupel) and high winds had a huge effect - one person died after an avalanche at SCNL. We then regretfully made the decision on Sunday morning to end our trip early (we had been due to come back south Monday night), given the very poor forecast and elevated avalanche risk for the next few days.

It's hugely sad to hear this has happened. It does though serve as a reminder of the reality of what considerable avalanche risk on the Ben means. I wouldn't advocate a blanket approach of not going out in such circumstances (it is much more complicated then that), but for us it was enough to justify that.

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kevin stephens - on 12 Mar 2019
In reply to French Erick:

In general I find too many climbers are ignorant of avalanche risk, where to get information, importance of wind direction and aspect etc. This ignorance is much more than with , for example off-piste skiers. I think UKC and BMC etc could do a lot more with education to try and address this. Following a tragedy some years ago I did suggest to UKC having a prominent link to SAIS on the winter climbing forum but it was politely rejected 

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nuts and bolts on 12 Mar 2019
In reply to French Erick:

It's always difficult to discuss these issues in such tragic circumstances without seeming a bit callous and I would like to express my sincere condolences to those involved.

All I will say (and in no way a comment on the present accident of which we have no knowledge of circumstances) is that if we are to go out into the mountains  that we love, in winter, then we have to accept that there is a risk no matter how experienced we are and it is up to us to accumulate enough knowledge (usually hard won over a number of years) and information to reduce the risk as much as possible. The decision making process is key - eg suitable route choice and, the hardest choice to make, when to abandon an attempt especially after looking forward to a route and often travelling a long way. I have been guilty of bad choices in the past and it is probably only luck rather than judgement that I am still here.

Once again RIP to those that have died today.

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Big Lee - on 12 Mar 2019
In reply to kevin stephens:

I think efforts need to be made to try and pull all the vital information about weather and avalanche risk into one place. Switzerland does a good job of this. Yr has recently introduced avalanche warnings when searching for weather forecasts. I've no doubt some novice climbers are totally ignorant of avalanche risk and don't read the forecast. This bares no reference to the Ben Nevis accident as I don't know the details and no longer live in the UK. It's was actually something I was thinking about the other day.

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fifthsunset - on 12 Mar 2019
In reply to kevin stephens:

> In general I find too many climbers are ignorant of avalanche risk, where to get information, importance of wind direction and aspect etc. This ignorance is much more than with , for example off-piste skiers. I think UKC and BMC etc could do a lot more with education to try and address this. Following a tragedy some years ago I did suggest to UKC having a prominent link to SAIS on the winter climbing forum but it was politely rejected 

I'm one of them. Can you tell me how I can educate myself?

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ScraggyGoat on 12 Mar 2019
In reply to fifthsunset:

https://www.sais.gov.uk

Reading is lesson one, understanding is part two and predicting is part three..........I personally get annoyed when people say they have, or say you should just 'read' the forecast. 

SAIS put a lot of effort into trying to educate, I've learn from them over the years. 

Post edited at 19:18
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kevin stephens - on 12 Mar 2019
In reply to fifthsunset:

There’s a lot of information on off piste ski sites. Here is an example https://www.msrgear.com/blog/backcountry-basics-recognizing-assessing-avalanche-terrain/

But the first point of call should be the SAIS which offers an excellent downloadable ap for information 

https://www.sais.gov.uk/

Post edited at 19:14
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Alex Riley on 12 Mar 2019
In reply to fifthsunset:

Be aware learning on the SAIS website.

Books, training courses (National Mountain Centres, MICs, Guides).

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John Kelly - on 12 Mar 2019
Jim Fraser - on 12 Mar 2019
Sean Kelly - on 12 Mar 2019
In reply to fifthsunset:

See p.20-p.22 Scottish Winter climbs which has a superb few paragraphs on avalanches and how to avoid them. The book mentioned in the text Barton & Wright's 'A Chance in a Million' is also very informative if you can get hold of it. Of course as the article states, the best way to be informed about avalanche risk is to go on a relevant course at Glenmore Lodge or similar, so you can learn first hand. It also an asset to have the latest access to the SAIS website about the latest conditions on the hill. And it is best to remember that avalanches don't just happen in Scotland.

Number Five Gully is  a well known avalanche area as are most of the major gullies on the Ben. One day of extreme avalanche risk we adroitly avoided number Five and actually ascended the snowy rocks to the R of the gully to gain Ledge Route which is one of the safer routes on the Ben. but as someone else has said, if it really too bad to climb, then go for a ridge walk and avoid any risky suspect slopes.

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nawface - on 12 Mar 2019
In reply to Jim Fraser:

A better book would be 

Avalanche Essentials: A Step by Step System for Safety and Survival https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1594857172/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_apa_i_LAaICbP2JZ4P2

Much more recent than chance in a million and concentrates more on decision making which is what it's all about really and Tremper explains things really well.

If you want to understand the science and mechanisms more then read his other book as well.  Tbh I'd recommend both 

Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1680511386/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_apa_i_jEaICbDA3WSH8

I'd also recommend an avalanche specific course.  not used these guys myself but from reading their blogs etc I bet the courses are excellent. 

http://avalanchegeeks.com/

Loads of good vids on YouTube.  Search 'decision making in avalanche terrain' and you'll find loads of good stuff.

Sais is great with regards to forecasting but educationally there's a lot more out there.

Post edited at 19:55
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telemarker - on 12 Mar 2019
In reply to fifthsunset:

If you fancy a course I can recommend the Avalanche Geeks. I have completed both the level 1 & 2 course with them and they were great. Mike and Bruce are also a great laugh and have lots of stories to tell making it good fun. They are based in the Alps but run courses based out of Glenmore lodge every winter.

http://avalanchegeeks.com/

S.

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george sewell - on 12 Mar 2019
In reply to Mike Nolan:

Maybe its not always as simple as reading the Sais forecast if the forcast isn't clear or lower and you want to mess around digging pits (not a great tool as just show you the stability of the place you dug the pit and did ur block test , so not best practice as slopes tend to vary )  , but when its up at 4 or 5 best to stay at home . If I wouldn't go ski touring in it I defiantly wouldn't go gully climbing in it... but climbers seem to take risks with avalanche conditions. It is sad though

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nuts and bolts on 12 Mar 2019
In reply to French Erick:

Just been thinking a bit more about this topic and I have realised that as a ski tourer I always carry an avalanche transponder, probe and shovel yet when I was winter climbing this kit was never discussed. 

As a straw poll how many winter climbers carry this essential avalanche kit nowadays?

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top cat on 12 Mar 2019
In reply to George.D:

George, a party was avalanched in Number 5 on Saturday late on.  I expect you were there earlier in the day?  Guess you got lucky ;).

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tjdodd - on 12 Mar 2019
In reply to george sewell:

Whilst climbing in Canada in January I took the opportunity to do an avalanche skills course (AST 1).  It was really useful confirming some things I knew but giving me lots more knowledge. We also did a skills day practicing searching for avalanche beacons and digging out which was really hard.  I am certainly much more thoughtful now about what conditions I go out in.

Out of about 30 on the course there were only 2 climbers and the rest were off-piste skiers.  This was typical according to the instructor with off-piste skiers most engaged with such courses, then climbers and finally snowmobilers who just think they can outrun avalanches (they often don't).

I wonder how many winter/ice climbers have done courses and would be really interesting to know how many carry beacons, probes and shovels (we did on many of the climbs in Canada).

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top cat on 12 Mar 2019
In reply to nuts and bolts:

I was having the same conversation with  my climbing partner on Sunday .   I'm also a ski tourer who always carries the holy trinity on planks but almost never when climbing.   Sometimes take a shovel for remote routes for snow hole shelter after being forced to  dIg one with just an axe........ 

Of course a transceiver isn't much use unless other folk are also carrying one  and not just the guy you are tied to!

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Mark Bull - on 12 Mar 2019
In reply to top cat:

I believe it is the case, though I can’t immediately find a reference for this, that the majority (or at least a significant proportion) of avalanche fatalities in Scotland are caused by trauma rather than burial. 

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Mike Nolan - on 12 Mar 2019
In reply to 99ster:

You’ve missed my point. 

SAIS forecast is one part of the picture.

Actual conditions on the ground, awareness of changeable weather etc. should also factor into your decision making. People have been avalanched with a relatively benign forecast. 

Making decisions purely on the SAIS forecast is a heuristic trap.

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nawface - on 12 Mar 2019
In reply to Mark Bull:

Yep, it's the majority.  

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DaveHK - on 12 Mar 2019
In reply to nuts and bolts:

> As a straw poll how many winter climbers carry this essential avalanche kit nowadays?

This has been discussed on here a number of times. I have the kit but don't carry it winter climbing because the nature of the climbing I do is very different to skiing and this makes the kit much less likely to be of use.

Post edited at 21:00
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Mark Bull - on 12 Mar 2019
In reply to george sewell:

I don’t think it is widely appreciated that there has been no such thing as a Cat 5 (Very High) forecast in this country the SAIS adopted the European standard avalanche scale. 

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fmck - on 12 Mar 2019
In reply to French Erick: March is usually the best month for the be n but this year has been not so good. Maybe it has pushed some of us to take more of a chance than normal to catch the last

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Davy Gunn - on 12 Mar 2019
In reply to DaveHK:

Several Scottish MR teams have Recco detectors. Several clothing manufacturers such as Arcteryx  and Patagonia have the passive reflectors in ski clothing and some mountaineers carry the single reflectors. Some SMR have also chosen to attach the adhesive reflectors to their helmets. This is as a back up to a transceiver as Recco is more directional and faster and works from a helo. The detector is an organised rescue tool so companion rescue via beacon is still paramount. £50 for two reflectors makes you searchable. Cheaper option for mountaineers but less likely to be as successful as companion rescue with beacon shovel probe. But a lot better than not being found and at least puts a victim back up the survival curve in time. ICAR search guidance is all tools simultaneously searching so beacon out front, Recco strips and a dog working the pile with a probe line following as resources become available. Recco is very much part of that.

Post edited at 21:05
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Mike Nolan - on 12 Mar 2019
In reply to george sewell:

Please don’t misinterpret my comment. 

I’m well aware of the limitation (and benefits) of pits, and capable of interpreting the forecast. 

My point is that the forecast is just one piece of information. It shouldn’t be used on its own to make a decision. People have been avalanched in areas with a ‘Low’ hazard level.

Post edited at 21:10
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Joe79 on 12 Mar 2019
In reply to Davy Gunn:

Are you aware of anyone being rescued alive with Recco? I'd always understood it to be more of a body retrieval thing, given the length of time involved for a rescue team to get on site, unless maybe you've been caught within sight of ski patrol perhaps. 

Like others, when skiing, I carry probe, shovel and a transceiver and normally an ABS too when there's powder. But I never have when climbing. Possibly as good ice and neve tends to be more prevalent when the risks of avalanche is lower whereas skiing is generally more fun in fresh snow. 

Very sad news on the Ben. 

Post edited at 21:24
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DaveHK - on 12 Mar 2019
In reply to Davy Gunn:

Recco is a very different thing though isn't it? Sort of falls into the 'so easy to do why would I not' category. It's also very much a last line of defence. I wouldn't have much faith in it helping me out in a remote Corrie in the North West.

For the kind of climbing I do I think the risks are best managed through knowledge and awareness rather than self rescue kit. For other climbers that might not be the case but I don't think it's the clear cut 'skiers do it so why don't climbers' that some people put forward.

Post edited at 21:21
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TobyA on 12 Mar 2019
In reply to French Erick:

The BBC is reporting that one of the people recovered alive from the avalanche has died in hospital.

Terrible news. It's a tragedy whoever it is, but I seem to have quite a few friends and acquaintances who have been working on Ben Nevis and the surrounding area recently, so I'm at same time hoping none of my friends are involved. And that of course makes me feel worse, like you're trying to push the tragedy away on to people you just happen not to know.

I feel terrible for the friends and families of the people who are or soon will get heartbreaking news. Love climbing so much, but days like this make you think is it ever really worth it.

Post edited at 21:25
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andrew ogilvie - on 12 Mar 2019
In reply to telemarker:

I wonder if Bruce told his "Runnel" story from the good old/young and foolish days before SAIS and his Mountain Guide status?

I certainly remember it pretty vividly: we landed ( well he and the late JT landed… I managed to avoid airtime by luck rather than judgment) almost embarrassingly close to an MRT exercise. (RAF Kinloss I think). If tumbling down a cliff is on your itinerary I can heartily recommend falling into a rescue team...any one will do though my favourite is certainly Arrochar MRT.

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andrew ogilvie - on 12 Mar 2019
In reply to andrew ogilvie:

I should add that, of course, given the light hearted post and the awful news today that JT was uninjured in The Runnel story.

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atthedropofahat on 12 Mar 2019
In reply to Mike Nolan:

It seems as though we don't really talk about hueristic traps enough. All the time we talk about the forecast but here it was plain as day warning about the aspect that this occured on so why go? Scarcity; because this seasons conditions have been poor to non-existant? Over commitment; because they planned to do a particular route and traveled plus a long walk in for it? Leader halo; because there are plenty of UKC ticks on the winter conditions page for ledge route in the last few days? Confidence; because it's an easy route we'll below my max which I'll piss in any conditions?

My experience on number 5 a few years back put the frighteners on me. We made the decision early, based on forecasts climb another climb, with low avalanche risk. We knew that number 5 was on a risky aspect and had a reputation, but the route was busy so decided to find another. To access it we cut across number 5. Less than 5 ft after I stepped off the well trodden track the snow around me moved. I scrambled back onto the track and we just walked out. It was a busy day, guides and clients had been merrily going up the track to do ledge route so we thought it was safe. We fell foul of all the traps listed above. It's easily done and as climbers we really need to search within ourselves for answers as to why we as a community, guides included, make poor decisions.

Sometimes shit happens in the mountains which isn't how we planned our day to end but there was little sense in being in number 5 gully today given the forecast. It should be a stark and sad lesson to us all to learn how to spot the traps and make better decisions. 

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Jim Fraser - on 13 Mar 2019
In reply to atthedropofahat:

Not only was No5 of that high risk aspect but; although there are no good places to get avalanched; it is probably one of the worst possible places in Scotland. This is due to the load it carries at the top section, its total length, and the narrowing lower down where everything falling from higher up gets funnelled into a deep narrow flow and battered about. Not a pleasant thought. I don't know what part those terrain aspects played in this recent incident. Can anyone enlighten us?

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atthedropofahat on 13 Mar 2019
In reply to Jim Fraser:

Quite frankly there were safer options at the same grade within an hour's drive. Maybe UKC should write an article on hueristic traps. The American skiers have tonnes of articles on the subject with case studies of accidents on their websites but the UK climbing community isn't half as informed. Most people who aren't in an instructor role haven't heard the terms .

We've all made mistakes in the mountains and some of us have been lucky but in my experience it helps to think critically about them. The airline industry is very good at this safety related engineering type investigation.

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DaveHK - on 13 Mar 2019
In reply to atthedropofahat:

> It seems as though we don't really talk about hueristic traps enough. 

Some of them get talked about quite a lot but often in general terms rather than the technical terms being used.

Avalanche awareness is good but without self awareness i.e. awareness of ones own decision making processes it isn't enough.

Alexander Pope said it better than I ever could in 'An Essay on Criticism'. The whole thing is well worth reading if only to show that people knew about these things long before they had catchy names or were discussed in psychology journals. 

A little learning is a dang'rous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.

This is easy to say and much harder to do. For many, myself included, knowledge of how your thought processes can lead you astray only comes after a near miss and even then only if you sit down and think self-critically about why it happened.

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Michael Gordon - on 13 Mar 2019
In reply to atthedropofahat:

I think a lot of (probably most?) No.5 Gully incidents are down to it being the approach to Ledge Route which is perceived as a 'safe' route which can be done in any conditions, and it's only a wee section of ground to cover in the context of the whole route. Of course, this 'wee section' is a fair stretch of gully, not a good idea in the wrong conditions. The higher approach onto Ledge Route from the coire would just involve crossing it, not going up it, so maybe 10m(?) of dodgy ground to cover, and could perhaps be pitched when the snow pack is a concern? But when snow conditions are this bad, best to avoid the route entirely. 

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summo on 13 Mar 2019
In reply to Michael Gordon:

> crossing...  not going up it, so maybe 10m(?) ......But when snow conditions are this bad, best to avoid the route entirely. 

As you say best avoid. Crossing can potentially be worse than just going straight up the very edge. Your footsteps across could cut the whole slope free. 

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wee jamie on 13 Mar 2019
In reply to Michael Gordon:

Yes, the alternative higher approach to Ledge Route has been mentioned in books as a safer route in poor snow conditions.  It really isn't much better.  It's a lot further than traversing across 10 metres of number 5 gully higher up, plus the lead up crosses a lot of steep ground with a drop below you.  After crossing number 5, you then have a rising traverse up steep open ground which is also often loaded with windslab, until you reach the safer ground of the perched boulders. 

Weather and conditions were very tough yesterday.  I watched the helicopter sidle around the North face of Castle Ridge to avoid buffetting in the storm.

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Davy Gunn - on 13 Mar 2019
In reply to atthedropofahat:

I have been involved in avalanche education for quite a bit. Heuristic traps are often mentioned and its a common trope and  become something of an iteration without proper context other than as a list of things that cause folk to get caught. I now prefer to avoid the term and just refer to it as discussing common thinking traps or biases that are no different when applied to financial risk or avalanche risk.  What's often lacking is practical interpretation and application of how to avoid falling into them.  As an example of one I use:  if I go out without my transceiver today then the decisions I will make and the terrain I will go in should be no different to the day I take my transceiver - discuss.  Of the thinking traps for mountaineers then scarcity of good winter conditions and combined with determination to make something of it by committing is far and away (IMHO) the one that needs most consideration.  Being over familiar less so as local folk know when to keep away from certain places with a track record. Skiing wise familiarity is a bigger issue. Skied it 30 times before and it was fine .......   That then leads on to risk exposure. Most folk who work in the mountains have been avalanched.  They are not ignorant or stupid its just a probability. All who go into the winter mountains must learn to manage uncertainty as in all honesty its not a safe pastime and apart from stating that I am not sure how else the subject could be covered any better than many of the excellent book or online resources.

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Jonny on 13 Mar 2019
In reply to Davy Gunn:

>As an example of one I use:  if I go out without my transceiver today then the decisions I will make and the terrain I will go in should be no different to the day I take my transceiver - discuss.

That depends on how effective traceivers/probes/shovels are in getting people out alive. If they worked every time (which they don't, of course), and you don't mind a tumble and a few minutes struggling for air, then whether or not you have one on you should changing your thinking process.

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AlH - on 13 Mar 2019
In reply to French Erick:

Its interesting to me that amongst the replies so far that whilst people have an increasing awareness of concepts like heuristics or biases no-one has yet mentioned that they use the Be Avalanche Aware process; the decision making framework created by SAIS for the British avalanche problem and to help reduce the chance of being caught out by the psychology of the decision making. I'm oversimplifying but it advocates looking at Weather/Snow/Conditons/Hazard + Party/People/Human Factors + Terrain on 3 occasions (at a Planning Phase, on the Journey- often to confirm the accuracy of the forecast, and at chosen Key Places- out loud discussions to reduce the chance of being caught out by biases). It emphasises making most of the decisions at the planning phase where it is easier to be objective rather than waiting until you get on the hill where its so easy to be reactive to often limited or misleading information. http://beaware.sais.gov.uk 

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Jonny on 13 Mar 2019
In reply to Jonny:

I should make clear that it's whether the members of your party (including you yourself) have the equipment that should modify your thinking process (to a degree proportional to their effectiveness).

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Andy Moles - on 13 Mar 2019
In reply to Jonny:

> That depends on how effective traceivers/probes/shovels are in getting people out alive. If they worked every time (which they don't, of course), and you don't mind a tumble and a few minutes struggling for air, then whether or not you have one on you should changing your thinking process.

What exactly are you trying to say here? You seem to nullify your own proposition (by pointing out that TSP does not work every time).

As for 'a tumble and a few minutes struggling for air'... see further up the thread. In a majority of Scottish avalanche fatalities, the cause of death is trauma.

Is what you meant that if carrying TSP has some positive effect on your chances of survival (however difficult that might be to quantify), then your thinking process should account for that by shifting the bar on key decisions which you know to be risky?

Post edited at 11:53
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Jonny on 13 Mar 2019
In reply to Andy Moles:

> Is what you meant that if carrying TSP has some positive effect on your chances of survival (however difficult that might be to quantify), then your thinking process should account for that by shifting the bar on key decisions which you know to be risky?

Exactly. The claim was that the thinking process should be 'no different'. I disagree.

Dave Gunn made a post with technical and geeky concepts, and I responded in kind. Plenty of other have made the general points perfectly well. To be clear: you are not in the clear just because you or you partner(s) are carrying avalanche equipment.

Post edited at 12:01
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coldwill - on 13 Mar 2019
In reply to Jonny:

Avoiding a tumble is a priority for climbers who don't carry safety equipment (and those who do).  Carrying equipment for skiers should not change their acceptance of any risk which was the point of the post you were responding to. If it does change their risk acceptance then that becomes part of the problem.

Post edited at 12:06
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augustus trout - on 13 Mar 2019
In reply to French Erick:

This maybe of topic, but have avalanches been more common/larger in recent years it does seem that even when I was climbing or skiing regularly between 2010-16 that the season was steadily getting later and shorter and defined more around dramatic dumps of snow rather than the freeze thaw that a lot of people with a great deal more experience than me would describe of previous decades.

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In reply to French Erick:

BBC Scotland is reporting that the 3 climbers are Swiss

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george sewell - on 13 Mar 2019
In reply to augustus trout:

https://www.sais.gov.uk/sais-annual-reports/

SAIS do a report each year so  it would be possible to see if there is indeed more avalnces (reported) now than say 10 years ago. though winters are fairly up and down regarding snow anyway , like early 2000s it just didnt snow allot... e.g last year i managed 32 ski days in the uk but this year im only on 5 so far 

Post edited at 12:27
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Andy Moles - on 13 Mar 2019
In reply to Jonny:

> Exactly. The claim was that the thinking process should be 'no different'. I disagree.

So just to be clear, do you think that in some cases it is acceptable to go into situations where you believe there is a risk of being avalanched, because you and your partners are carrying TSP?

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george sewell - on 13 Mar 2019
In reply to Andy Moles:

maybe more that you probably wouldnt go on said ski tour without TSP but because you have it you will leave the car , as it has been said before even in low avalanche conditions they still happen ? 

eg when considering the party that you are with i wouldnt go out toring withsomeone who doesnt have it or if i did i would make plans to do something super mellow at say 12 -15 deg like in perfect spring conditions in the morning etc etc 

it would certainly impact my planning of a day out 

Post edited at 12:41
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Eric9Points - on 13 Mar 2019
In reply to Jonny:

Of the four avalanches I know of that involved people I know, in three of them the people didn't get buried and walked/limped away.

In the forth one one of the people involved was snapped in half by the snow. Bent backwards so his heels ended up by his ears.

Transceiver or not I take the view that if I think a slope or gully is going to avalanche I avoid it. Surely that's common sense?

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nuts and bolts on 13 Mar 2019
In reply to Jonny:

I suspect the weight of opinion is going to be against you on this one.

The use of TSP will not change the avalanche risk on the ground, it will only increase your survival chances if you get caught in one. 

If you use safety equipment ( be it recco, transceiver, airbag, ava-lung etc ) as some sort of comfort blanket that affects your decision making process then you will inevitably increase your risk. 

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Joe79 on 13 Mar 2019
In reply to Andy Moles:

I think the point is more that if you want to go skiing and do or go near anything steeper than c. 30 degrees you need to accept that there is some risk of being avalanched. Once this is accepted most people will try to reduce this risk choosing to ski in relatively settled conditions and mitigate to some extent the consequences of being caught in an avalanche by carrying TSP and maybe an airbag. Many people would not go skiing off piste at all without this gear. As such they would be taking a different approach to risk on the basis of the kit they were carrying. I don't see this as problematic. 

On the other hand if someone decided to ski a lee slope loaded with fresh windslab on the basis that the run out wasn't either a cliff or a terrain trap because they had a new airbag and would likely be okay if it inflated then I think this would for me and many others probably represent a more dangerous shift in behaviour.  T|he imminent possibility of being avalanched would be accepted on the basis that technology will save them. 

I agree that it is very important to think about risk assessment and what has a bearing on it, but to say your equipment should have no bearing is perhaps somewhat simplistic. 

Post edited at 13:32
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NottsRich on 13 Mar 2019
In reply to Davy Gunn:

> Heuristic traps are often mentioned and its a common trope and  become something of an iteration without proper context other than as a list of things that cause folk to get caught.

It took me a little while to get my head around heuristic traps, and even how to say the word, partly because of the language/terminology used, such as in your example above. On the other hand I'm pretty conversant with the snow science part of it, so maybe my brain just has a better affinity for the more technical bits. Perhaps an alternative phrase would make the psychological aspect of avalance avoidance more approachable for some people?

> I now prefer to avoid the term and just refer to it as discussing common thinking traps or biases that are no different when applied to financial risk or avalanche risk.

Just like that, thanks.

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Andy Moles - on 13 Mar 2019
In reply to george sewell and Joe79:

I agree completely with what both of you have said, but I'm not sure it's the same as what Jonny was saying above. He seemed to be saying that his decision making at key places on the mountain would be different if he was carrying TSP - but I wasn't sure, which is why I was asking again for clarity.

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Jonny on 13 Mar 2019
In reply to Andy Moles:

I was making a fairly academic point, and taking issue with Davy Gunn's claim (or rather, the discussion topic he initiates in his education groups) that one's thinking process is no different if one is carrying TSP. I was making the general point, and George and Joe have given specific examples of when that simply isn't the case. It should affect one's decision-making process. The lower the risk (and TSP does decrease risk in some circumstances) the more likely one is to accept that risk. It's a very simple point that everyone is familiar with.

That doesn't mean one marches out onto windslab because one has a 'comfort blanket', as nuts and bolts called it. It isn't going to prevent an avalanche, and won't stop you being folded in half or dashed against a rock. Of course! No need to make this into a black-and-white issue - I think people are (at least capable of being) nuanced enough to know when it helps, and when it doesn't.

This feeds into a broader point on discussion of 'cognitive biases' which is that they are often derived from very contrived scenarios in a psychology lab, and don't give people the benefit of the doubt in taking into account more factors than the original experiments allow to vary. Besides, we don't need the term 'leader halo' to express the concept of 'if your friend ran under a bus, would you do the same?'.

Post edited at 15:07
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Rich W Parker - on 13 Mar 2019
In reply to Mark Bull:

The evidence for this, as such, is anecdotal but there is currently, I believe, an ongoing effort to collate historical information and establish wether this is the case or not.

The persons on Ben Nevis yesterday were wearing transceivers but unfortunately this did not make for a better outcome, despite us being at the CIC and on scene quite soon after the avalanche. This is similar to other incidents I attended in the past, so wether this is the tendancy or just chance I couldn't say.

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blurty - on 13 Mar 2019
In reply to French Erick:

In ski touring, there is a rule of thumb that when the avalanche forecast is cat 3, which equates to 'considerable' in the UK, then don't go on slopes steeper than 30degs. (Swiss ski touring maps have those slopes separately shaded). Skiers will generally die from suffocation in avalanches so can protect themselves somewhat with avi gear.

A climb isn't worth doing if it's less than 30 degrees slope, and most avalanched climbers die of trauma not suffocation, so can't protect themselves with equipment really. Because climbers spend a relatively extended period in one location (which is often a terrain trap by skiers standards!) then knowledge of local conditions, and how the winter has built up is obviously important. 

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Jonny on 13 Mar 2019

In reply to Graham Briffett:

> I think you are mixing up "risk" with outcomes. 

If risk is likelihood of an event times its consequences, then the likelihood of severe consequences (death or hypoxic injury) that are modified (reduced) by carrying TSP feeds into the calculation of risk.

> Just for clarification, which way would you allow carrying a transceiver to influence you? To allow you to take more risk / less or neither?

I would expose myself to more potential avalanches, although to a very small degree, given the small range of 'outcomes' that it helps with. 'Risk', in the technical sense, would stay constant. This given that the risk I was originally taking was where I wanted it to be. If not, I would gladly take the reduction.

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Myr - on 13 Mar 2019
In reply to Davy Gunn:

Surely your assessment of a particular objective should be influenced by whether or not you have a transceiver.

As soon as you set foot on a snow slope - even if you assess that it has a Low or Moderate avalanche hazard - you are conceding a slight risk that you will not make it home that day. Having a transceiver very slightly reduces that risk.

By taking into account the transceiver, you can more accurately assess the risk to life, which you can weigh up against the benefits of the objective, to decide (more accurately) whether it's worth it. This should surely impact your choice, even if only slightly.

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Joe79 on 13 Mar 2019
In reply to Jonny:

I agree with you in theory. If you are willing to accept a certain risk of death / injury this risk is slightly lessened in the same situation with TCP and arguably slightly less again with an airbag. Good practice such as spreading out your party in areas of heightened risk will further help ensure this equipment is of use should things go wrong. Therefore I get that it follows logically (but perhaps not practically) that in such a situation you may rationally be prepared to place yourself at more risk of being avalanched. 

However, I think there is something in the subtleties of Andy's argument above.  There is a qualitative difference between it influencing a specific decision on the hill and a decision of whether to go out at all as in the example i set out above. The former makes me a bit more uncomfortable, because as you say it would be quite a fine judgement. As opposed to the latter which for me is more about thinking it would be a bit silly to get buried in an avalanche without a transceiver as its easy enough to bring skiing rather than a precise analysis and calculation of risk. 

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summo on 13 Mar 2019
In reply to Joe79:

You could alternatively liken carrying tsp to a first aid kit. You don't do anything that increases the chances of needing it, but having it may help you and equally importantly others. 

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Michael Gordon - on 13 Mar 2019
In reply to summo:

This seems like a more sensible way of looking at it. Carrying something like this shouldn't influence your decisions on the hill. 

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Michael Gordon - on 13 Mar 2019
In reply to wee jamie:

> Yes, the alternative higher approach to Ledge Route has been mentioned in books as a safer route in poor snow conditions.  It really isn't much better.  It's a lot further than traversing across 10 metres of number 5 gully higher up, plus the lead up crosses a lot of steep ground with a drop below you.  After crossing number 5, you then have a rising traverse up steep open ground which is also often loaded with windslab, until you reach the safer ground of the perched boulders. > 

OK, thanks for this.

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Simon Caldwell - on 13 Mar 2019
In reply to The Watch of Barrisdale:

The BBC report has been updated

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-highlands-islands-47553208

They weren't novices; the survivor is apparently president of the Sion section of the Swiss Alpine Club.

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Trangia on 13 Mar 2019
In reply to Simon Caldwell:

Very sad.

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DaveHK - on 13 Mar 2019
In reply to Myr:

> By taking into account the transceiver, you can more accurately assess the risk to life, 

You're pondering imponderables. There are far too many ifs in that equation to be able to make a reasoned decision.

Having been caught in an avalanche, IF I am not killed by trauma and IF my companions are not also caught and IF they are able to make a search then wearing a transceiver MAY make a difference to the outcome.

No thanks, I'll continue to try my hardest to not let the kit influence decision making!

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Davy Gunn - on 13 Mar 2019
In reply to Jonny:

The safe travel and route choice decisions should not be influenced by TSP, ABS or Recco (IMHO).  Some of the comments suggest they should.  A point the posters might want to ponder. If safety gear increases risk appetite then much of their benefit is nullified.

The point is surely to not to get avalanched by making safe travel choices.  If you get avalanched even with a transceiver you still have a very reduced chance of survival as digging you out takes time.  Same for Recco.  ABS via inverse grading at least keeps you near the top so improves survival dramatically as long as your not in a terrain trap. Basically you are reducing your chances of dying by being searchable or not needing dug out. 

TSP,ABS, Recco are consequence reduction tools because we play in an uncertain environment and being human make human errors. Spend long enough in the winter mountains then no matter how clever you are it will catch up with you so these tools to a skier are to address that.  A long time ago i blogged a bit on it. Its a bit dated but maybe of relevance https://crankitupgear.blogspot.com/2015/12/uncertainty-and-avalanches.html

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Myr - on 13 Mar 2019
In reply to Davy Gunn:

> If safety gear increases risk appetite then much of their benefit is nullified.

Perhaps I'm getting too much into subtleties here, but it's only if safety gear increases risk appetite disproportionately that there is no benefit to the safety gear.

> The point is surely to not to get avalanched by making safe travel choices.

This makes me unclear as to your position. Here, you appear to be claiming that it is possible to totally avoid getting avalanched by completely safe travel choices. Great - completely safe cannot be improved upon - so why be influenced by having a transceiver?

However, in your blog you claim that avalanche prediction and avoidance will never be 100% accurate. This would suggest that there are no completely safe travel choices, and so the risk of a given objective is influenced by having a transceiver, even by only a few %.

To caricature your position:
- You get to the start of Orion Face and discover you forgot your screws. You shouldn't let that affect your decision to climb the route, because you should be avoiding falling off in the first place.

Now, I know that climbing is a higher risk activity than general mountain travel, but it's not true to say that mountain travel can be made risk-free. And so while I agree that a transceiver should only be a very minor influence on one's risk assessment, it cannot be totally irrelevant.

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Davy Gunn - on 13 Mar 2019
In reply to My

Not sure your seeing my point which is basically travel safely in an uncertain  environment as if you had inadvertently left the TSP at home. Dale Atkins who mentored me with Recco put up an interesting audio on it "travel as if you left the stuff at home"

https://www.cpr.org/news/story/what-to-know-about-colorado-avalanches-whether-youre-on-the-mountain-or-in-town?fbclid=IwAR3X80PeZeHBsvKvJuWp1IhjSRQTiA0VRqzJoM7obdCV0-rnbGpfx3ENnGE

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Myr - on 13 Mar 2019
In reply to DaveHK:

These 'imponderables' are actually totally key to understanding bad outcomes in the Scottish mountains. The majority of mountain rescue callouts aren't caused by single events, but rather by one unlikely event/bad decision/lack of preparation that alters the probability of another, and another. 

Useful article on the subject by Heather Morning - https://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/news/the-swiss-cheese/0018025/

It is worth thinking through these 'imponderable' spirals, as the risk to life may increase steeply as you move down them. The initial events are only part of the overall risk we face; but it's the risk from the events conditional on these initial events that we tend to ignore. And the fact is that our decisions alter the probability of these conditional outcomes too, and thus our overall risk.

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Jonny on 13 Mar 2019
In reply to Joe79:

I agree with most or all of what you say, and I think many of us are talking at cross purposes here. I have little doubt that those of us debating these points would agree with each others' decisions out on the hill (whether or not we were carring avalanche kit!). That would be the ultimate measure of our agreement.

With something that helps with such a small proportion of possible avalanche outcomes (like the aforementioned kit), certainly, we won't in practice give much weight to it in our decisions. In such a fine judgement, as you say, we would be liable to overweight its benefits. In the aggregate, though, it's likely the case that safety advances are taken into account (that is, nullified, to some degree) in the mind's decision making, much of which goes on 'behind the scenes' (I am not suggesting that any of us perform a 'precise analysis and calculation of risk', which would be deliberate and explicit).  Such 'risk compensation'  makes sense to a certain extent: if I was happy with the level of risk I was taking before, then I can use this safety advance to squeeze out some more adventure and enjoyment (again, not something you would ever catch yourself thinking, but still something that would manifest itself in your behaviour).

Post edited at 19:28
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DaveHK - on 13 Mar 2019
In reply to Myr:

> It is worth thinking through these 'imponderable' spirals, as the risk to life may increase steeply as you move down them. 

I agree with that but it seems to me like a completely different point to the one you were making above.

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Myr - on 13 Mar 2019
In reply to Davy Gunn:

If I left my helmet at home I'd be more reluctant to climb. Both a helmet and a transceiver increase my chance of survival in admittedly fairly restricted scenarios; rockfall where the rocks are not too big, or an avalanche where one other party member isn't buried. If I was to behave as if I wasn't wearing a helmet, then I probably just wouldn't go climbing.

I don't see why a transceiver is that different. 

I agree we're all talking at cross purposes a little though, and we'd probably all be doing the same things on the hill!

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Myr - on 13 Mar 2019
In reply to DaveHK:

> I agree with that but it seems to me like a completely different point to the one you were making above.

It's not, sorry if I was unclear. I'm saying you can make the risk to life increase less steeply down the spiral by having a transceiver. And that therefore affects the overall risk of your objective.

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DaveHK - on 13 Mar 2019
In reply to Myr:

> It's not, sorry if I was unclear. I'm saying you can make the risk to life increase less steeply down the spiral by having a transceiver. And that therefore affects the overall risk of your objective.

That's a bit clearer. No argument from me on that.

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abr1966 - on 13 Mar 2019
In reply to Simon 

> They weren't novices; the survivor is apparently president of the Sion section of the Swiss Alpine Club.

Very sad......RIP to some fellow climbers on a trip....like we all do, the looking forward to it, the travel, the banter, the walk in...

Maybe I'm feeling my age but I increasingly feel sorrow these days, such a waste....

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Eric9Points - on 13 Mar 2019
In reply to Myr:

> It's not, sorry if I was unclear. I'm saying you can make the risk to life increase less steeply down the spiral by having a transceiver. And that therefore affects the overall risk of your objective.


Well I'd estimate that your chances of dying in an avalanche in Scotland are maybe 10 in 100. Carry a transceiver and it might go down to 9.5 in 100. Why would you cross a dangerous slope because you had a transceiver in your rucsac? The chances of it saving you from death or injury aren't that great.

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DaveHK - on 13 Mar 2019
In reply to Eric9Points:

> Well I'd estimate that your chances of dying in an avalanche in Scotland are maybe 10 in 100. Carry a transceiver and it might go down to 9.5 in 100. Why would you cross a dangerous slope because you had a transceiver in your rucsac? The chances of it saving you from death or injury aren't that great.

Some classic back of a fag packet numbers there!

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Joe79 on 13 Mar 2019
In reply to Jonny:

Fully agree. I think your last sentence probably gets to the crux of if. The assumption / assertion that some are making is that people will / should use advances in technology to increase their safety margin. Whereas rightly or wrongly this isn't always the case. People used cams, quality ropes and sticky rubber to climb harder routes than the previous generations, not just stick to Cenotaph Corner or whatever happy with their increased safety margin. This is probably not an appropriate anaology for moving through the mountains more generally, but nonetheless people no doubt feel more confident pushing further with avalanche gear, satellite phones, better clothing etc than without such kit. 

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mattdennies - on 13 Mar 2019
In reply to French Erick:

On an avalanche course this winter, the instructor had a fantastic analogy which definitely changed my perspective of the  SAIS risk forecasting and how we probably look at them too favourably, either because of the words or colours (they have apparently done a lot of research into this).

"You are walking through a city that you don't know, in the pouring rain, trying to get back to your hotel late at night, and you ask a stranger for directions. They explain you can go a longer way, taking the open streets where you'll get soaked, or suggest you can cut through a sheltered alleyway that will keep you dry and take you straight to the hotel. However, there is a considerable risk that you will be mugged if you go down the alleyway. Would you take the alleyway?" and then what about moderate risk of being mugged, would you take that chance?

I think we have all at some point given these words a different definition to provide us with the internal reassurance we seek to justify our actions. Perhaps it's because people feel avalanches are 'a chance in a million' that moderate or considerable risk may still present themselves as slight variations of tiny chances.

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Eric9Points - on 13 Mar 2019
In reply to DaveHK:

> Some classic back of a fag packet numbers there!


Oh sure but my point is that if avalanched in Scotland when climbing, skiing may be different, having a transceiver with you won't make much difference to your chances of survival. No doubt figures exist somewhere but I wonder how many people in Scotland are buried to a point they can't extricate themselves and still left alive for any appreciable length of time.

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george sewell - on 13 Mar 2019
In reply to Eric9Points:

it might not when in a steep narrow gully on the climbing bit ...but on those circa 30 degree  approach slopes that you might walk up or traverse across on the way up or down e.g if you crossed the red burn it might just be helpful if it did go....  maybe better to have.  i dont climb much at the moment and mostly ski tour in winter. but in ski touring there is a mind set that you just put you tranciver on it the car when ever you go out to the extent that its just second nature to have it on in the mountains. it shouldnt impact on where you end up skiing that day. though it does mean that if you are out you have it on as do all your budies and if you didnt or they didnt you wouldnt be out ski touring. if treated like that it doesnt make your desisions any diferant that putting your ski boots on does. 

Post edited at 20:40
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DaveHK - on 13 Mar 2019
In reply to French Erick:

Something that isn't often mentioned in discussion of transceivers etc for climbers is that for them to be really effective it isn't sufficient just to carry them and be trained in their use, there would also need to be significant behavioural change.

So that all of the party is not avalanched and some are left to search climbers would need to adopt the skiers strategy of crossing slopes one at a time. This works well for skiers in descent due to the faster movement but has potential to be really onerous for slow moving climbers. In some situations this would also expose them to other risks like stonefall or benightment.

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Patrick Roman - on 13 Mar 2019
In reply to george sewell:

> ...but on those circa 30 degree  approach slopes that you might walk up or traverse across on the way up or down e.g if you crossed the red burn it might just be helpful if it did go...

If you’re thinking for one second that a slope “might go” and you’re not committed already to it, you’d need to be nuts to think it’s justified because you have a safety aid that may help if it does go! Why would you risk your life like that? Find an alternative!

Especially for those unfamiliar with Scottish winter, I think the takeaway from these incidents is if there’s been significant snowfall in the days leading up to your outing, stay at home. I’ve never liked the advice of choosing a safer route, as people still get it wrong by coming into contact with loaded slopes either on the approach or descent. If in doubt, stay at home, read, learn, take a course.

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george sewell - on 13 Mar 2019
In reply to Patrick Roman:

yes but as descussed before any slope might go even in low avalance conditions , if you were going up the edge of a gully to start a climb or something im just beeing hypothetical 

i was more getting that the tranciver if used correctly isnt there to make you able to make a bad desion it should just happen to be there if the worst happens despite all your other planning and avoidence 

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Eric9Points - on 13 Mar 2019
In reply to george sewell:

Oh sure, I'm not saying you shouldn't carry one but just that I suspect it will only improve your chances of survival by a small amount and certainly isn't some sort of magic force field that allows you to be hit by any avalanche and walk away.

I guess skiing is different for several reasons. The nature of the terrain is different, more open slopes, a skier will cover a lot more ground and therefore has more chance of traversing dangerous areas and because you're moving faster across the top of the snowpack it's harder to figure out if you're on a dangerous slope or not.  

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Mark Bull - on 13 Mar 2019
In reply to Patrick Roman:

I was surprised to see that only a small proportion (12%) of avalanches involving people in Scotland were reported as being triggered by the victims: http://www.scottishmountainrescue.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Avalanche-Study-1980-2009.pdf

I expect this is biased low, but it suggests you should be thinking as much about what is going on above you as under your feet. 

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Michael Gordon - on 13 Mar 2019
In reply to Myr:

> If I left my helmet at home I'd be more reluctant to climb. Both a helmet and a transceiver increase my chance of survival in admittedly fairly restricted scenarios; rockfall where the rocks are not too big, or an avalanche where one other party member isn't buried. If I was to behave as if I wasn't wearing a helmet, then I probably just wouldn't go climbing.

> I don't see why a transceiver is that different. >

The difference to me is that the transceiver is more about getting off the hill (through being rescued) after a traumatic incident (avalanche) has occurred. It's a cure, not prevention.

The helmet to me is equipment to prevent injury from occurring in a fall, much like a rope. The 'cure', in the absence of being able to walk off due to injury, comes from perhaps a mobile phone or your partner going to get help. But prevention (e.g. avoiding dodgy snow slopes) is surely better than cure. 

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Michael Gordon - on 13 Mar 2019
In reply to mattdennies:

> On an avalanche course this winter, the instructor had a fantastic analogy which definitely changed my perspective of the  SAIS risk forecasting and how we probably look at them too favourably, either because of the words or colours (they have apparently done a lot of research into this).

> "You are walking through a city that you don't know, in the pouring rain, trying to get back to your hotel late at night, and you ask a stranger for directions. They explain you can go a longer way, taking the open streets where you'll get soaked, or suggest you can cut through a sheltered alleyway that will keep you dry and take you straight to the hotel. However, there is a considerable risk that you will be mugged if you go down the alleyway. Would you take the alleyway?" and then what about moderate risk of being mugged, would you take that chance?> 

Interesting analogy. The difference to me is that the alley is KNOWN to be dangerous, but the snow slope isn't (otherwise people wouldn't cross it). The snow slope can be assessed and is often pretty safe, while the alley is always risky (and at, one assumes, a fairly constant level depending on time of day). If the snow slope was known to be death on a stick, people would avoid it, much like the alley.

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Myr - on 13 Mar 2019
In reply to Michael Gordon:

I agree that prevention is better than cure in all of this. I think I differ from most posters in that I don't think we can totally prevent risk of avalanches, even the best of us.

There seems to be an informal school of thought that there are 'safe' snow slopes, and there are 'dangerous' snow slopes. It seems unnecessary for me to state that no avalanche service would state that a snow slope is 'safe'. 

So presumably we strive to find whether a snow slope is 'safeish' or not; dependent on our own personal level of acceptable risk. I don't think it's disrespectful for me to say that even our most experienced mountaineers and snow experts sometimes get this wrong. But from the appalling decisions I've personally seen made out in the hills, your average mountaineer does not have the ability to perfectly assess avalanche risk - not even close - even after having been on a course. 

I therefore think it's unrealistic to state that anyone frequenting snow slopes can totally avoid being avalanched. Therefore consequence reduction tools are relevant in mitigating risk, especially for the least knowledgeable/experienced at avalanche assessment.

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Patrick Roman - on 13 Mar 2019
In reply to Michael Gordon:

> Interesting analogy. The difference to me is that the alley is KNOWN to be dangerous, but the snow slope isn't (otherwise people wouldn't cross it). The snow slope can be assessed and is often pretty safe, while the alley is always risky (and at, one assumes, a fairly constant level depending on time of day). If the snow slope was known to be death on a stick, people would avoid it, much like the alley.

Sticking to that analogy, I’ve been to a fair number of dangerous cities around the world. In most cases, nobody has highlighted hotspots to avoid and instead it’s been up to me to assess them as I find them BEFORE I decide whether or not to proceed. The same should apply to a snow slope. I’m trying not to criticise, because I’ve made mistakes while travelling and in the mountains. It’s just frustrating to witness, and I get equally annoyed at myself when I make an error, however small.

On Saturday, I was out getting some miles in my legs on a couple of different hills. In the afternoon I was heading up Schiehallion and around 20 people passed me on their way down in the space of about half an hour. Winds were fairly strong (50mph at 550m) and there were deep drifts in places, but all behaving as forecast (by MWIS and the MET office). I was surprised to find no trace of footprints beyond two thirds height. Maybe one or two had reached the top but I couldn’t find any trace, even around the summit rocks. So that’s 20 people who had little idea that the weather and conditions were going to be as they were, because who hikes half a hill? Quite startling I thought.

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Patrick Roman - on 13 Mar 2019
In reply to Myr:

> I agree that prevention is better than cure in all of this. I think I differ from most posters in that I don't think we can totally prevent risk of avalanches, even the best of us.

> There seems to be an informal school of thought that there are 'safe' snow slopes, and there are 'dangerous' snow slopes. It seems unnecessary for me to state that no avalanche service would state that a snow slope is 'safe'. 

> So presumably we strive to find whether a snow slope is 'safeish' or not; dependent on our own personal level of acceptable risk. I don't think it's disrespectful for me to say that even our most experienced mountaineers and snow experts sometimes get this wrong. But from the appalling decisions I've personally seen made out in the hills, your average mountaineer does not have the ability to perfectly assess avalanche risk - not even close - even after having been on a course. 

> I therefore think it's unrealistic to state that anyone frequenting snow slopes can totally avoid being avalanched. Therefore consequence reduction tools are relevant in mitigating risk, especially for the least knowledgeable/experienced at avalanche assessment.

I disagree. Given a basic level of competency, there are safe snow slopes in good conditions, but you have to wait for those conditions.

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nawface - on 14 Mar 2019
In reply to Myr:

I'd say there are safe slopes and dangerous slopes.  Wind stripped Neve on western aspect, ton of slab loaded on the East.

In terms of people who are inexperienced regarding avalanche the best risk reduction is surely education and the best tools are planning ones such as Be Avalanche Aware.  

Education and understanding of Avalanche terrain and decision making is key and if you've been on course and it's not worked for you packing a shovel etc to mitigate that sounds pretty dangerous to me.  

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SenzuBean - on 14 Mar 2019
In reply to French Erick:

I don't really have too much to add. A couple of weeks ago, I'd planned a club trip up a mountain here in BC (Slalok). I should add that knowing I only have 6 months left in BC (and in all possibility, may never be back) was a bit of a heuristic trap too - and I knew that, but I still found it really hard to make the safe decision to postpone. Trip was postponed until last weekend, and it was really good. I'm now very glad I made the right call.
Unfortunately, some weren't so lucky: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/mt-seymour-avalanche-1.5025997

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DaveHK - on 14 Mar 2019
In reply to Myr:

>  I think I differ from most posters in that I don't think we can totally prevent risk of avalanches, even the best of us.

I don't think you differ in that. I think the majority of people would agree with you.

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DaveHK - on 14 Mar 2019
In reply to Myr:

> Therefore consequence reduction tools are relevant in mitigating risk, especially for the least knowledgeable/experienced at avalanche assessment.

​​​​​​That's putting the horse before the cart. Self rescue kit takes a huge amount of skill and knowledge to use effectively and even then the risk will only be slightly reduced. I think for the less knowledgeable experienced far far greater risk reduction will come from improved avalanche education.

​​​​​

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HardenClimber - on 14 Mar 2019
In reply to Michael Gordon:

> Interesting analogy. The difference to me is that the alley is KNOWN to be dangerous, but the snow slope isn't (otherwise people wouldn't cross it). The snow slope can be assessed and is often pretty safe, while the alley is always risky (and at, one assumes, a fairly constant level depending on time of day). If the snow slope was known to be death on a stick, people would avoid it, much like the alley.

It's alot quicker (and drier), I'm wearing my old clothes, simpler route so I won't need to get my phone out, I can move fast so people will be less likely to stop me, might have problems on the long route round, it's not that late so the Alley isn't deserted, guy at hotel said the city centre is pretty safe now with cctv, I didn't have any trouble in those dodgy looking underpasses ....

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Andy Moles - on 14 Mar 2019
In reply to Mark Bull:

> I was surprised to see that only a small proportion (12%) of avalanches involving people in Scotland were reported as being triggered by the victims: http://www.scottishmountainrescue.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Avalanche-Study-1980-2009.pdf

That is very surprising, the SAIS states that 90% of victims trigger their own avalanche.

http://beaware.sais.gov.uk/

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Michael Gordon - on 14 Mar 2019
In reply to Myr:

There are safe slopes (someone above gave the example of hard neve), and yes, there are other slopes with different informal categories of risk from 'possibly a bit dodgy' to 'death on a stick'. But what is black and white is that we either decide a slope is 'worth the risk' to cross, or we avoid it. It seems fair to assume that no-one is going to decide that an incredibly dangerous slope is 'worth the risk'. I think we basically agree on the point that no-one is perfect and many are poor a assessing risk. (And therein lies the problem.) 

I don't think that anyone should take their consequence mitigating measures (whatever these may be) into account when assessing whether to cross a snow slope. For a climbing analogy, it's maybe like whether a poor RP is going to alter the way you were previously climbing a route (as though you were soloing). 

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Michael Gordon - on 14 Mar 2019
In reply to Andy Moles:

I wonder if that is wrong, and what they mean is that 90% of avalanches are triggered by people (i.e. not necessarily the victims)? But 12% does seem incredibly low, particularly for Scotland.

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Offwidth - on 14 Mar 2019
In reply to Michael Gordon:

All I know is I've never seen the gullies that should be avoided in high risk conditions empty. The No5 entrance into Ledge route being the most dangerous and the most commonly risked. Its almost as if the SAIS advice is invisible to some. We have all these UKC discussions about how accidents help people learn to avoid mistakes but this is really basic and stupid high risk behaviour in the face of huge amounts of terrible evidence. I think this behaviour I commonly saw was way beyond heuristic traps.

The BMC do loads of good stuff to try and educate.

https://www.thebmc.co.uk/make-winter-count-with-a-bmc-skills-lecture-2018

https://www.thebmc.co.uk/watch-and-learn-new-winter-skills-video-series

https://www.thebmc.co.uk/new-winter-skills-videos-refresh

https://www.thebmc.co.uk/training-novice-club-members-winter

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Rich W Parker - on 14 Mar 2019
In reply to French Erick:

Does anyone on here remember the lad that posted looking to borrow or rent some transceivers, as they were short, for a climbing trip to the Northern Corries? A quick internet stalk suggested strongly that he was young and inexperienced. This was the precisely the sort of the thing that concerned me about the TPS in mountaineering discussion and the, undoubtedly influnencial, trial that was run at Glenmore: the attention focussed on carrying a transciever distracting from the main issues i.e. understanding weather, conditions, human factors and being skilled in using terrain. A Be Avalanche Aware pamphlet in the hand is likely to be far more effective for staying safe.

Post edited at 09:13
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george sewell - on 14 Mar 2019
In reply to Rich W Parker:

but surly like in skiing if in climbing it just became abnother thing that you put on at the start of the day with ur jacket and boots. aka it became normalized and second nature to just happen to be waring it . then it wouldnt impact peoples planning beyond not going out if they didnt have it etc.  like road bikers didnt use to ware helments in races they wernt any less quick on descents than they are now , it just becomes normal , you still asses the real risk factors because you should just accept the peice of safety gear is there anyway. you shouldnt be carrying it thinking you need it you should just be carrying it , then if the worst happens despite your good planing alvalanche aware planing etc it is there.  

a tranciver isnt there to replace good planning , safe travel , and good avalnche education nor is it there to keep you safe really (your not going to be in a good way if you need it ), it there to mitigate the bad outcomes slightly if that all fails. 

it would just be a cultural shift surly ? 

Post edited at 09:49
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99ster - on 14 Mar 2019
In reply to The Watch of Barrisdale:

> BBC Scotland is reporting that the 3 climbers are Swiss

More detail here:

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/03/13/swiss-climber-among-three-dead-ben-nevis-avalanche/

Looks like they were all very experienced alpinists.  Tragic.

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Mark Bull - on 14 Mar 2019
In reply to george sewell:

I agree with what you say, but there is the possibility of risk compensation (a.k.a. the Pellman Effect) here - the increased protection may (at least to some extent) be offset by riskier behaviour. 

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depthhoar - on 14 Mar 2019
In reply to Andy Moles:

> That is very surprising, the SAIS states that 90% of victims trigger their own avalanche.

Worldwide stats not just Scottish.

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tjdodd - on 14 Mar 2019

Avalanche Canada has produced the Avaluator which is really good for pre-trip planning

http://kananaskistrails.com/avaluator2/2010/

See the two cards half way down. 

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The Grist - on 14 Mar 2019
In reply to French Erick:

I personally have become more risk adverse in the last few years and pay much more attention to avalanche forecasts. This has resulted in me winter climbing a lot less......as I now cancel trips North a lot more frequently.

The CC hut in Roy Bridge introduced wi-fi a couple of years ago - primarily as people like me were arguing it was a safety feature these days in the winter months of Scotland. I think that has helped planning safe choices immeasurably. Although it should be pointed out you can now get 4G on the walk in to the CIC hut so there should be no excuses for not knowing the dangers.

I have been in 2 separate avalanches in 20 years climbing in Scotland. Both relatively minor and I was lucky. Those who died recently were very unlucky. Very sad news.

Post edited at 14:06
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Tricadam on 14 Mar 2019
In reply to The Grist:

One of the most dangerous things of all, whether in medicine, surgery, mountaineering, relationships or life, is lacking the courage, honesty and humility necessary for the self-scrutiny that leads to owning and admitting one's mistakes - and then the determination and persistence necessary to change. A doctor who makes a mistake is human. A doctor who cannot admit s/he made a mistake or that s/he makes mistakes: that is a catastrophic moral failure. As is making a mistake and then failing to take the action necessary to ensure it does not happen again. If that is the duty we owe our patients as doctors, we owe ourselves and those with us in the mountains no less. Trust in a doctor or a mountaineer who cannot tell you of his/her mistakes and what s/he has learned from them is profoundly misplaced.

Post edited at 16:03
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French Erick - on 14 Mar 2019
In reply to AlH:

> Its interesting to me that amongst the replies so far that whilst people have an increasing awareness of concepts like heuristics or biases no-one has yet mentioned that they use the Be Avalanche Aware process; the decision making framework created by SAIS for the British avalanche problem and to help reduce the chance of being caught out by the psychology of the decision making. I'm oversimplifying but it advocates looking at Weather/Snow/Conditons/Hazard + Party/People/Human Factors + Terrain on 3 occasions (at a Planning Phase, on the Journey- often to confirm the accuracy of the forecast, and at chosen Key Places- out loud discussions to reduce the chance of being caught out by biases). It emphasises making most of the decisions at the planning phase where it is easier to be objective rather than waiting until you get on the hill where its so easy to be reactive to often limited or misleading information. http://beaware.sais.gov.uk 

People might not be aware they are using a sort of framework?

I think this kind of conversations do happen but only in a climbing party that knows each other well. No ego, no trying to impress.

Last Sunday, we pretty much knew we weren't going to climb a route 3/4 of the way to the access. We were both alert to wind directions and commented all along about access slopes assessment with poor visibility. We went as close as was safe to be sure. I would only have been near that place with very few people and never on my own.

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Michael Gordon - on 14 Mar 2019
In reply to Offwidth:

> All I know is I've never seen the gullies that should be avoided in high risk conditions empty. The No5 entrance into Ledge route being the most dangerous and the most commonly risked. Its almost as if the SAIS advice is invisible to some. We have all these UKC discussions about how accidents help people learn to avoid mistakes but this is really basic and stupid high risk behaviour in the face of huge amounts of terrible evidence. I think this behaviour I commonly saw was way beyond heuristic traps.>

I can only agree. A 'High' risk forecast (and for as far as I can recall the first time this season) should set major alarm bells ringing for anyone going anywhere near a gully or approach slope of the relevant aspect/altitude. 

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French Erick - on 14 Mar 2019
In reply to Michael Gordon:

Provided they know where to find the avalanche forcast and know how to read it let alone interpret it. Those lads were foreigners in the land on a short visit. They probably didn’t know the place as well as many on herre and also seem to be very unlucky. Do you always read the guidebook to a new area cover to cover? I don’t ! 

> I can only agree. A 'High' risk forecast (and for as far as I can recall the first time this season) should set major alarm bells ringing for anyone going anywhere near a gully or approach slope of the relevant aspect/altitude. 

Fighting off the tablet and losing hence the wrong quote

Post edited at 19:55
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Frank R. on 14 Mar 2019
In reply to French Erick:

It's a sad story. Nobody knows what planning they did or did not do, but them. 

But checking local conditions in a foreign country is pretty easy nowadays, the EAWS map at http://www.avalanches.org takes you to whatever the local service website is (although interpreting the forecast in a foreign language can be difficult, at least the basic symbology is still the same). 

Post edited at 20:38
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Myr - on 14 Mar 2019
In reply to Mark Bull:

> I agree with what you say, but there is the possibility of risk compensation (a.k.a. the Pellman Effect) here - the increased protection may (at least to some extent) be offset by riskier behaviour. 

I don't think that the presence of a transceiver automatically causes complacency in climbers, any more so than for a skier carrying a transceiver, or a sailor carrying a PLB.

Is it fair to say, then, that:

- If you are likely to overcompensate for any risk reduction from a transceiver then you shouldn't be carrying one.
- If you can guarantee that you will never stray from iron-hard neve, and will never climb below a cornice, or below anyone else who is on any snow that isn't iron-hard neve, then you have no need for a transceiver, because it is 'impossible' (I still don't know if I believe that) for you to be avalanched.
- If you sometimes stray from iron-hard neve, and are able to avoid overcompensating for any risk reduction from a transceiver, then you very slightly reduce your overall risk by carrying a transceiver.

I concede though that the presence of a transceiver makes such a minor difference to overall risk, because avalanche burial is so unlikely in Scotland, that any compensatory change in behaviour is likely to be an overcompensation. 

Perhaps another point is that transceivers make such a minor difference to overall risk for climbers, and so cost and weight unconsciously come into the arithmetic of whether it's worth it. I think this discussion would be different if transceivers cost £2 and fit in your wallet.

Interesting discussion all, I think my views have changed a bit.

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Rich W Parker - on 14 Mar 2019
In reply to george sewell:

There is evidence to suggest that they do influence behaviour adversely, add to that the uncertainty of any benefit and we have to ask, well, what else can we do, what will be effective? Shoving some gadgets in your bag is not necessarily effective. Skiing is very different because we actively seek out snow slopes and move around them quickly with less time to evaluate metre by metre. 

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Tricadam on 15 Mar 2019
In reply to Rich W Parker:

Indeed. A fundamental difference is that fresh powder between 25 and 40 degrees is a joy to ski but purgatorial to climb. 

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Andy Moles - on 15 Mar 2019
In reply to Myr:

> Perhaps another point is that transceivers make such a minor difference to overall risk for climbers, and so cost and weight unconsciously come into the arithmetic of whether it's worth it. I think this discussion would be different if transceivers cost £2 and fit in your wallet.

Interesting thought experiment. If that was the case, I imagine that (for climbers, not skiers) it would be closely comparable to carrying a whistle, only with the added wrinkle that both partners would have to be carrying one, and check that the other person had turned theirs on. Do all winter climbers carry a whistle? How about a survival bag?

Post edited at 08:24
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innes - on 15 Mar 2019
In reply to Andy Moles:

> Do all winter climbers carry a whistle? 

^^^ This is such a no brainer....

’Touching the Void’ would be have been a short essay if Joe Simpson had carried a whistle. 

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jonnie3430 - on 15 Mar 2019
In reply to Andy Moles:

I dunno, I've ended up with two transceivers now and still don't take them climbing. A friend broke ribs from a car key in a pocket in a fall, what could you do with a transceiver? I know someone who ruptured a spleen from something similar. What's more likely: Falling climbing or getting avalanched? Haven't done either for a while but both are possible.

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jonnie3430 - on 15 Mar 2019
In reply to innes:

> ^^^ This is such a no brainer....

> ’Touching the Void’ would be have been a short essay if Joe Simpson had carried a whistle. 

Definitely, there's always someone else around, but people need to know what to do with it: http://www.mountainsafety.co.uk/EP-Whistle-or-Torch.aspx 

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Tricadam on 15 Mar 2019
In reply to jonnie3430:

Re splenic injury from transceiver, this is something that has occurred to me, as mine can only be worn on the left. A friend lost his (spleen, not transceiver!) in a skiing accident due to wearing his camera on the left. The liver is a bit more resilient so it would make sense for transceivers to be worn routinely on the right. I suggest you do the same with your camera.

PS For those who are unaware, the issue with splenic injury is not that you can't live without a spleen (you can) but that it is liable to cause catastrophic haemorrhage. If you or a friend (or a fellow hillgoer whom you find yourself assisting) ever experience major trauma in the area of your lower left rib cage, call for help sooner rather than later. 

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Tricadam on 15 Mar 2019
In reply to innes:

> ’Touching the Void’ would be have been a short essay if Joe Simpson had carried a whistle. 

Indeed. Surely one of the most useful,  cheap and lightweight safety net devices. (Foil blanket up there too.) In terms of other safety nets, I now routinely carry a GPS beacon in the hills. As we all know, mobile reception in the Highlands is usually absent. What prompted this was hearing the story of someone who was rescued because he had one who would certainly have died had he not. This is obviously more expensive than a whistle, but cheaper than other things we rely on to keep us safe such as jackets, ice axes, sleeping bags, tents, a climbing rack, etc. Worth considering. 

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