Monday, May 7, 2012

Avalanches, Recovery, and Catharsis

A few weeks ago, I avoided becoming a potential avalanche victim because I worked the overnight shift and was just out to "taste" the powder before going to bed.  My partners that day, Jason and Jared, pushed onward and eventually realized the snow was becoming unstable and decided to head home.  Throughout their tour, they found amazing powder on all aspects and knew from the ascent that the new snow on the south faces felt well bonded.  Deciding to ski the South Face of Superior for their exit, they used the usual bag of tricks to evaluate the stability.  A ski cut of the upper face failed to predict even a hint of lurking danger so Jared entered the chute on the skier's left, just below the upper snowfield.  

Both Jason and Jared documented that day and gave their perspectives rather candidly.  When I awoke early after noon, I saw that I had missed a call from Jared and wondered if they were just trying to push my buttons by relating tales of bottomless powder.  That feeling lasted only a moment before I felt an odd concern that something bad had happened.  A quick call to Jason confirmed that premonition and I was off to the hospital to offer support and bring clothes (knowing from past personal and work experience that when one is activated as a trauma, all their clothes are cut off in an effort to evaluate the extent of injuries).  I threw in a t-shirt, scrubs, underwear, shoes, and a set of daisy duke jean shorts just in case Jared was in a joking mood.  

Arriving at the hospital, the mood was somber but the guys were finding healing by replaying the events and taking away valuable lessons. 

Fast forward a couple weeks...

Jason and I are skiing in the Tetons with some ambitious goals ahead.  There is up to a foot of new snow that in places is drifted deeper but seems quite stable by all signs.  Jason is hesitant and at one point remarks, "All I can picture is Jared tomahawking down Superior..."   The lesson seems to have stuck for the moment.  We made the conservative call to descend our ascent route and still had a fantastic day.  Discussing that decision afterwards, Jason and I both feel that the degree of acceptable risk should probably be dialed back from our previously oft repeated, "I guess it feels OK... yeah, we'll be fine."  The trick is doing so without becoming paralyzed in the mountains.  That balance is something I'll be working on over the years.  

So how's Jared recovering?  His doctor told him that he would probably need 3 months of recovery before he'd be back to form.  But what does that mean?  For a guy with his credentials, full form is at a pretty high level.  As it turns out, after 3 weeks, he's back on skis and had a great day with Jason, Chad, and Scott on the SL Twins.  Then yesterday, he called, inquiring about a recovery mission to retrieve a lost La Sportiva Hi5 ski, pole, and googles.  I think the day was to have a second mission and that was to find closure after realizing his mortality.  

Game on.  Let's find Jared's junk show.  At 7:30 this morning, we started up a frozen Superior apron and skinned until the snow ran out.  A hundred feet or so on scree brought us to the middle apron and the start of a debris pile.  Stopping to scan for his gear every so often, Jared suddenly exclaimed, "My Asian fit googles!"  And there they were, sitting on the surface at the mouth of the lower chute.  Next up was his mangled pole whose strap had been ripped off during the violence.  Still missing though was the grand prize of the ski and binding.  Skeptical as I approached the upper chute, I thought we'd have to come back once the debris melted.  Then, to my right I spotted a little green hand, seemingly waving at me from the snow.  And it hit me.  The Hi5!  Going 3/3 on the recovery mission, now it was time to tag the summit and then ski the South Face one last time this year (and surprisingly, my first time this year).  

Choosing a line that seemed to offer more continuous snow with better skiing, we descended the South Ridge for a couple hundred feet and then found corn and butter down the majority of the face.  Taking off skis to down climb through three separate sections, it was still one of the more fun trips down this Wasatch classic.  
Jared was still able to ski 3000 feet of corn mixed with debris with a big Hi5 on his back, a gimp hip, and busted ribs.
(Annoyingly, I forgot my camera but I took this shot on Jared's.  I then stole it from his blog after he added the nice heaven like mist to the corners.  It's ok though because this shot wouldn't have ever been taken if I hadn't insisted that we get his camera out of his bag to shoot it.)

Jared has already put a few pictures and thoughts down and I hope he continues to heal and has found some closure on top of the mess of gear.  As for me, I hope that even though I was only peripherally involved that day, I can assume the lessons they learned and travel more safely and wisely.  It was a tough year and we're almost through it but while standing on the summit of Superior, the mountains continue to inspire and the snow just lingers on...

1 comment:

  1. Hey, great post and complementary photos! Thank you for the nice moments reading that text :)

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