It’s a fine line….

7th April 2015

……between agony and ecstasy. Sometimes.

When I used to run a lot of avalanche courses I’d often quote Bruce Tremper’s (director of the Forest Service Utah Avalanche Centre) great line about the human (in)ability to perceive hazard,

“….many photographers know that you can effectively approach animals like deer, caribou, and elk by holding your camera’s tripod over your head. When the caribou sees the ‘antlers’, it assumes the approaching animal is safe, despite the conflicting parts of the picture.”

People just don’t see stuff, or if they do, the context is all wrong in their mind and they can’t see something that’s really obvious. Had a little bit of that today.

Two split boarders in Coire Chriochairein looking for a decent line.

Two split boarders in Coire Chriochairein today looking for a decent descent line.

I genuinely believe these two guys weren’t aware of the cornice hazard. It’s too nice a day for bad things to happen….

The weather cheered up and became a lot brighter, and the spring snow would be great especially if you were on a snowboard. Yes, it was a nice day and they probably felt good about what they were contemplating.

What’s missing here is the warm temperatures weakening these huge (and already weak) cantilevers of wet snow, plus the all too obvious evidence of recent cornice collapse debris elsewhere but nearby.┬áThe bigger gnarly one top left of the photo would have completely cleaned out the gully they had ascended, to say nothing of the cornices more directly above them.

Split boarders at the end of their descent.

Split boarders at the end of their descent.

Yes, a happy ending but I’m guessing they were none the wiser about ‘what might have been’ given the conditions.

None the worse for their day's sport.

None the worse for their day’s sport.

Cornice debris below 'Cinderella' in the Inner Coire. Arrows mark the section of cornice that collapsed.

Cornice debris below ‘Cinderella’ in the Inner Coire. Arrows mark the section of cornice that collapsed.

Different demographic, same deal. Passed two young guys – one in shorts, deck shoes and a hoody (I kid you not…), the other better clad but with denims on – working their way up to have an up-close-and-personal look at the very large pile of very recent cornice debris in the Inner Coire. (The arrows in the photo show the extent of the cornice collapse, the sideways arrow indicates a continuation of the collapse going left some way.)

Cornice debris tourists - one in shorts and deck shoes.

Cornice debris tourists – one in shorts and deck shoes – approaching the cornice debris.

Situational awareness……with loads more unstable cornice still in place?

Genuinely believe they too were probably not troubled by such issues. In part it’s down to the easy access up the Coire Ardair path (at the moment you could push one of those big child buggies as far as the lochan), the good weather where shorts would be pretty appropriate in the Creag Meagaidh car park, and the time of year when there’s a lot of un-mountain savvy tourists around.

Apologies for the rant but it just needed saying.
Cornice above Bellevue Buttress looking very large.

Cornice above Bellevue Buttress looking very large.

Ice floes on Lochan a Choire below the crags in Coire Ardair.

Ice floes on Lochan a Choire below the crags in Coire Ardair.

The Post Face of Coire Ardair. Stripped of ice but still with deep snow in all gullies.

The Post Face of Coire Ardair. Pretty stripped of ice but still with deep snow in all gullies.

Comments on this post

  • Callum
    7th April 2015 7:41 pm

    Well said! Thanks for all the blogs, it’s been a real education, I’ve definitely learnt a lot from your blogs…gave myself a big fright in the Drumochter hills yesterday skiing a lovely slope until I stopped just short of a massive glide crack so made a sharp exit away from the hazard.

    Cheers
    Callum

    • meagaidhadmin
      8th April 2015 4:45 pm

      Thanks for your comment, Callum.

      Really pleased you find the blogs useful.

      You’ll be a wiser man after your encounter with the glide crack. Didn’t someone once say that ‘experience is the sum of your near-misses’?

      (However, a very good counter to that well-worn phrase comes from Dave McClung, co-author of ‘The Avalanche Handbook’, who once said, ‘If you make decisions based on experience alone, the final exam sometimes comes before the lesson.’)

      My personal mantra when working with snow and avalanches is, ‘always learning, always adapting to change’.

  • Grant Duff
    8th April 2015 6:31 pm

    I’d like to say some of the behavior is madness but its clearly not, its just people not understanding the situation. Great to see the coverage the BBC gave your blog and it can only help to educate people.

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