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Close Call on Little Ring Peak! # 8341

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Date: 2006.05.04
Vantage Point: From the south slopes of Little Ring Peak.

Caption: This is the south-southeast face of Little Ring Peak. Our questions regarding the stability of that Easter storm layer were answered for us whilst we were half way up the slope. All hell broke loose! Fred Touche can be seen at the bottom of the slope for scale. Apparently there is a good spring snow gulley used by John Clarke beyond the rib on the right skyline. Our day was ended for us, and we did not get to investigate this.

PhotoDescr: Gravity and the strength of the bonds between snow layers are important in slab avalanches. This is because gravity is the force which is pulling the slab down the mountain. When the force of gravity is greater than the bond between layers the gravity causes the top layer to separate and slide down the mountain.

Hmmm, what can I say? We started a long day not being able to drive nearly as far as we wanted along the Squamish River. Slog, slog . . . .

I think the most unbelievable part of this is that we spread out to ease off on the physics of the whole thing, and Fred ended up on the only snow that didn't let go (obvious middle section, near top of fracture). Somehow this portion held. I was closer to the middle bottom of the large debris on the left. I was able to get out, and Fred stayed on the patch that he was on and watched the show. He then gingerly walked to the debris and made his way down. It helped that the snow was wet and loose (iso-thermal), and while large in scope, the speed of the slide was slowed.

Avalanches are funny business. Lots of opinions and higher thinking go into snow science breakdown, but I think common sense is the superior tool. This was one of those situations that avalanche instructors rave about. South facing slope, high solar, convex('y), questionable layer etc. We knew this, we discussed this, we accepted this. Part of me looks at the shot and says "man, was that stupid". Another part accepts the fact that I've probably skied that slope more than a few times, and probably will in the future. In fact, I bet most of the people reading this have at one time or another skied or climbed a slope almost identical. Anyway, take from it what you will. We get complacent on the coast in May.

I have more than a few friends starting out on traverses in the next few days and weeks. Keep your heads up!

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