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December 2004, Week 1

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Vermont Skiing Discussion and Snow Reports <[log in to unmask]>
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Thu, 2 Dec 2004 11:08:07 -0500
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Whew!  I was reading and hoping for the best for winter, a heart stopping
piece.  I know for myself with a soft spot for dogs that I've come to love
winter and her grand spirit through your stories and photo's.  You've
created a great life for a dog... and a human but she has it better having
all play without worries of bills or avalanches.  I am relieved you're both
okay.

You know enough to count your blessing, learn form this near miss, and do
all you can to never experience it again.  Feeling bad is natural but serves
no purpose.  Learning from it and becoming better skilled, learning from it
and gaining better judgment, learning from it and teaching others, learning
from it and living in a state of gratitude are all better choices.  Most if
not all catastrophes come from not one big failure in judgment but typically
many small things that stack and create momentum in & with a particular
trajectory.  A break in the link of any of those small events and a
different outcome is determined.  Luckily you were prepared to rescue if
needed, good job and not enough if both were buried (worst case trajectory).
Luckily it happen early this season to keep you sober when the big snow
falls.  Even if you do all that you know to do, there are no guarantees.
Sometimes just a hike up and hike down is a good day.
Stay safe, I selfishly want your posts to keep coming!
Rich
P.S. Go to the butcher and get that dog a big juicy bone.

----- Original Message -----
From: "Matt Duffy" <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Thursday, December 02, 2004 8:21 AM
Subject: [SKIVT-L] Quandary Avalanche


> From the Summit Daily News:
>
> "Mike Schmitt, spokesman for Summit Rescue Group, said a backcountry
> skier was on Quandary Peak south of Breckenridge at about 1 p.m.
> Monday afternoon when he caused a 300 foot wide avalanche.
>
> The skier made it out safely, but his dog was buried in about three
> feet of snow, said Schmitt."
>
> I screwed up really bad. Tear me to shreds right now, because I
> deserve it. I feel sick.  Go ahead, kick me, maybe it'll make me feel
> better.
>
> It started out innocently enough. I look at this through my window every
day:
>
> http://www.uvm.edu/skivt-l/image_upload/World/20041129q1.jpg
>
> I won't ever look at it the same way again.
>
> It was one of those calm, sunny, yet frigidly beautiful winter days.
> The temperature was somewhere around zero when we were getting close
> to the goal.
>
> http://www.uvm.edu/skivt-l/image_upload/World/20041129q2.jpg
>
> That view makes it look steeper than it really is, and I very
> ignorantly thought that it simply was not steep enough to tear loose.
> That was my critical error. It caused other mistakes, but they all
> fall under the umbrella of slope-angle underestimation. This is what
> caused me to ignore the danger rose. It's also why I didn't dig a pit;
> and it's why I was up there with a dog as my only partner. Bad, bad,
> bad.
>
> The following are not rationalizations, nor excuses. Just some details
> that led to the poor judgment. I've looked at that bowl on a daily
> basis for well over a year now and I had never seen a slide on it.
> I've seen plenty of ski tracks though. And I made some of mt own in
> that exact spot last May. After that, I just thought it was too tame
> of a place to be worried about. Kick me, now.
>
> http://www.uvm.edu/skivt-l/image_upload/World/20041129q6.jpg
>
> After a good long conversation with the head of the Colorado Avalanche
> Information Center, I am now aware of more things about that bowl. The
> average pitch is 28 degrees, with very brief max of 34 at exactly the
> spot that it released. There are few, if any sizeable rocks in it.
> It's pretty much all a smooth, grassy meadow.  In other words: There
> are no anchors to hold the snow in place.
>
> This is a picture I took about five minutes before descending into it:
>
> http://www.uvm.edu/skivt-l/image_upload/World/20041129q3.jpg
>
> That's Winter, aka "Black Dog", staring down into the place where her
> fate would soon be decided.
>
> At the start, the snow was thin, yet smooth and creamy. It soon became
> blower and powder was whisking up my thighs. It was building toward
> euphoria when something alarming appeared about 50 feet ahead of me. I
> saw snow curling up in the air and it registered. I was skiing on a
> moving slope. Without a thought, I stopped turning and tucked in a
> straight line to gain speed. I shot through the billowing cloud rather
> quickly, angled to the side and took a look over my shoulder.
>
> I caught a glimpse of Winter swimming down a river of moving snow
> before losing sight of her when I had to pay attention to my own
> route. I remember thinking that she was going to make it. When I
> looked up again, the avalanche was slowing, but my little girl was
> gone.
>
> Oh my god, what have I done?
>
> I stopped instantly, and I don't really remember clicking out of my
> skis, but I did. I probably called out her name, but I'm not sure. All
> I remember is running back to the slide, even as it was still running
> toward me. It had pretty much stopped when I was getting near and
> throwing off my gloves. I began fumbling for my beacon on a dead,
> post-holing sprint to the area I last saw her. That orange thing
> duct-taped to her harness in the above picture is a transmitter, and
> it became her only hope.
>
> My hands were shaking, but even so, my thumb depressed the red button
> long enough to switch my Tracker to search mode. I remember for sure
> at this time that I gave out a desperate shriek of "Winter!"
>
> Oh my god, what have I done.
>
> I was about to become frantic beyond logic when my beacon started
> beeping at a slow pace. I looked at it and a flashing "32" appeared.
> The lights on it flickered under arrows and I wasn't even looking at
> where I was going anymore. I was fixated on the arrows. Running
> blindly, taking my eyes of the horrid mess of debris, and being guided
> by instrumentation kept my panic level from rising any further. I was
> right on top of her in a matter of seconds. After tightly circling her
> twice, the closest I could get that beautiful BCA Tracker to register
> was "3.1" "3.1" "3.1" "3.1".
>
> I threw my pack off, unzipped it and flung its contents everywhere. I
> picked my avi-probe out of the strewn mess of gear and assembled it;
> my hands still shaking. "Beep-beep-beep" "Beep-beep-beep"
> "Beep-beep-beep" went my dangling beacon. Then there was another
> sound. I heard a desperate howl, through three feet of snow. It was
> muffled and barely audible. It was the sound of a dying dog, right
> next to me. A swan song, of a sort.
>
> The probe fell to the snow unused. The handle clicked into my shovel
> and went to work. More crying. Both me and her. Everybody hurts,
> sometimes. Sometimes everything is wrong. But when you feel like
> letting go, when you feel you've had too much, hang on. Sometimes
> everybody cries.
>
> The blade of my shovel found her nose first and it was pointed
> straight up toward the sky. I used my bare hands to uncover her face.
> Snow was caked into her eyes. I removed it and wept "daddy's here,
> daddy's here, daddy's here!"
>
> She opened her mouth, which was full of snow, and began gagging. It
> was a miracle.
>
> "Daddy's here, daddy's here, daddy's here!" Her mouth opened and
> closed, spat out some snow, and she was coughing and wheezing, but
> alive. There was a tiny pause before I continued working.
>
> My hands were still shaking.
>
> Only her head was sticking out of a wall of snow now, but at least she
> could breathe. I tried to minimize snow falling on her face as I dug
> around her, with only moderate success. Her body was twisted awkwardly
> and I remember shuddering – thinking her back was probably broken.
>
> Oh my god, what have I done?
>
> When I had her mostly uncovered though, there was another miracle.
>
> She squirmed the rest of the way out on her own. She jumped up, shook
> herself off and then started licking my face. I'll stop the world and
> melt with you.
>
> I put my arms around her, held her tight and gasped. I started
> hyperventilating. There was immense relief in there, but even more
> self-loathing. "I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry."
>
> I think back on how terrified I was, then I realize how much more fear
> she must have felt. She made a mess while she was buried. I won't show
> you that, but still, it was all my fault.
>
> http://www.uvm.edu/skivt-l/image_upload/World/20041129q7.jpg
>
> http://www.uvm.edu/skivt-l/image_upload/World/20041129q5.jpg
>
> http://www.uvm.edu/skivt-l/image_upload/World/20041129q4.jpg
>
> Minutes of reuniting had passed when I snapped this one off:
>
> http://www.uvm.edu/skivt-l/image_upload/World/20041129q.jpg
>
> We took a slow pace away from the slide, looked back often, and I
> couldn't help but say aloud, "oh my god." About 45 minutes after it
> all happened, this thing started hovering and circling directly above
> us:
>
>  http://www.uvm.edu/skivt-l/image_upload/World/20041129q8.jpg
>
> I gave a thumbs up sign, wrote the letters OK in the snow, and
> eventually it flew away.
>
> We headed back into the trees and followed our ascent route all the
> way down to the unplowed road on the way to an entourage of SAR and
> police folks. Here she is, back in action after all that trauma:
>
> http://www.uvm.edu/skivt-l/image_upload/World/20041129q9.jpg
>
> It's a miracle.
>
> But inside, I feel ugly. I keep flashing back to her wheezing and
> gagging with just her head sticking out of the snow. You can say we
> were lucky, but I don't think she felt too lucky at that point in
> time. I know that we were, or more accurately, that I was. It could've
> easily turned out much worse, yet I still feel sick about it. It was
> all my fault. I'm so sorry, girl. Will you ever trust me again? Will I
> trust myself?
>
> Kick me, now. String me up and beat me like a piñata. I deserve it.
>
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