/ climbing with TSP- misconceptions?

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French Erick - on 13 Mar 2019

This has been discussed on UKC many a time but the same argument still crop up: "in the name of better safe than sorry, I might as well chuck this in the bag just in case. I completely disagree with this attitude".

I will always tour/ski offpiste with them.

I will almost never climb with them (almost refers to ice climbs in the Alps with long approaches in potentially dangerous terrain- never in Scotland).

My thought process is as follows:

  1. On skis you can move fast and find yourself on very different slope aspects within seconds- thus increasing your being exposed to lurking snow traps.
  2. When climbing I am moving much slower. If deep snow is involved, I probably have misjudged my planning or I am at the foot of the route and maybe have taken steps to protect myself (roped and placing gear if I am concerned/changed route altogether).

I firmly believe that there is hardly any benefit from carrying TSP when climbing in Scotland. This could even lead to a greater false sense of security.

It is my opinion that the best way to deal with avalanches, in this country particluarly, is to never be near one. Mitigate the route in order to avoid them rather then mitigate the situation whilst in one.

Thought process in planning is key, and I have made mistakes over the years and been avalanched (more than once would you believe...some idiots learn slow) but I have learned from them. 

I was out Sunday, it occurred to me that it was a potentially dangerous day. We made plans beforehands and discussed the what if... we went to the top of the hill (climbing was on the other side) and decided that going blind what reckless and never climbed. We came off the hill via what turned out as planned to be a  safe route (on paper at least- cross loading could have been possible theoritically).

Ultimately if you don't want to be avalanched, don't ever go near snow and you should be fine. With TSP to be safe ;)

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Pay Attention - on 13 Mar 2019
In reply to French Erick:

Could you please just clarify that TSP is not teaspoon or Thrift Saving Plan

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

You need to only look at the statistics to see that trauma is the biggest cause of fatality and injury, and not burial, and where there has been burial, there has been trauma as well.

The alps tends to have longer lived unstable snow conditions, but as we know our maritime weather results in pretty quick snow stabilisation.

And given that lee slopes are usually always available somewhere, the chances of picking a bad route, on a bad day, and being buried in a way that TSP will help you? Really we are picking a tiny number out the air there.

Caveat in "considerable" as I doubt there is anyone here who hasn't been up the hill in "considerable" slopes, but it comes back down to the trauma question again anyway. Biggest risk is being knocked off a ledge and having a bad run out, than a burial.

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

Let's face it: any time you're working on or below snow slopes there is a non-zero probability of avalanche burial. 

Can you have a satisfying winter climbing career and make the probability of avalanche burial low? Yes. 
Can you make that probability zero? No.

Personally I don't carry TSP when I go winter climbing because I can't be bothered. But I am under no illusions that I'm taking a slight risk by doing so (one of many slight risks of the day out). There is no qualitative difference in burial risk between skiing and winter climbing: it's a sliding scale. There's no benefit in attempting to make these issues black and white.

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

An interesting contribution.

I think I need to clarify my position beyond the black and white position that it may appear to be.

Simply put, the possibility of having many "what ifs" pieces of kit in my bag represents a bigger "risk" to my safety overall. If TSP why not a stove, a tent, a bivvy bag, a...

I see very little benefit to my safety to take TSP out whilst winter climbing in Scotland. I'd rather spend time in decision making and route picking before, and constantly reassess on the go but travel with a lighter bag. 

This position changes if I go home for some ice climbing. I might even access the climbs using ski touring gear in which case I would have TPS with me for the reasons mentionned at the start of the thread. I would probably take them because the climbs often takes you on to big snow slopes that represents a risk almost all winter.

However I take your point about making such a binary discussion: "you should/shouldn't have them with you" is very context dependent.

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teh_mark on 13 Mar 2019
In reply to French Erick:

My Scottish winter experience is limited, but I wouldn't consider carrying them other than in exceptional circumstances. My rationale is that:

  • Skiing places skiers in potential avalanche terrain by its very nature - the sort of slopes the majority of off-piste people might want to ski are going to sit right in the 'sweet spot' of gradients for sliding. Climbers on the other hand, are more likely to be on those slopes approaching a route (easy gullies excepted), and so planning can mitigate this to a large degree.
  • Skiers are also more likely to spend more time exposed to the risk.
  • Climbing is almost certainly going to be just me and my mate - maybe a couple of mates, and there's a reasonable chance we'll be in a remote location far from the maddening crowds. The odds don't seem to be great.

I'd wager that the real avalanche danger for climbers comes from smaller slides - spindrift, cornice collapse, etc - and the danger isn't from burial but rather from trauma, from going with it over exposed terrain or into rocks.

Post edited at 16:03
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ianstevens - on 13 Mar 2019
In reply to Pay Attention:

> Could you please just clarify that TSP is not teaspoon or Thrift Saving Plan

transponder, shovel, probe

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Gwilymstarks on 13 Mar 2019
In reply to French Erick:

It depends on what Hazard you identify and try to avoid

HAZARD 1 = Getting caught in an Avalanche                                    RISK = The chance that it will happen

On this basis, I believe that TSP has no positive influence. ie carrying it will not reduce the risk of you getting caught. It may however actually increase the risk as the carrier may be willing to chance it on the basis that they have more tools available if they get avalanched. 

HAZARD 2 = Not being located after being Avalanched                    RISK = The chance that it will happen

For this one then TSP will have a positive influence as it will undoubtedly increase your chance of getting found (dead or alive) assuming other people and MRT have TSP as well.

HAZARD 3 = Dying in an Avalanche                                                   RISK = The chance that it will happen

In this case, then TSP may have a positive influence as it might allow others to get to you in time if you survived the initial slide. Scottish statistics would suggest this is unlikely where as Alpine stats suggest more likely.

In my thought process, when I go winter climbing in Scotland, the only hazard I am trying to avoid is the first one and therefore TSP does not offer me any benefit. Trying to minimise the risk of Hazard 2 or 3 is an acceptance of Hazard 1.

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

I had never envisaged it in such brief and clear terms but I suppose it works. Interesting.

Maybe I don’t analyse things as much as many folks on here.

I want a day out in winter hills, I want to have a challenge and some fun and I want to come back to tell the tale. If climbing, Ill do all of the above without transceiver-showel-probe desite owning them.

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