In almost every avalanche course I teach we have a discussion about the use of avalanche airbags. My opinions on this matter have changed over time in light of new information and advancements in technology. Earlier in my avalanche education days I would cite statistics such as 75% of avalanche fatalities on Mount Washington were caused by trauma, not asphyxiation, the mechanism of death that an avalanche air bag is supposed to reduce the chance of in certain situations. Therefore I would conclude, perhaps wrongly, that avalanche airbags did not seem as valuable in our unforgiving terrain. In this article I will present a new argument for the use of avalanche airbags in the East, specifically for the backcountry touring community. First, a bit of background information that may be useful to the uninitiated.
How They Work
Simply put an avalanche airbag backpack has a handle or “trigger” that gets pulled by the wearer when caught in an avalanche which then causes a deployment system, either compressed air or electronic, rapidly fill a large rugged “ballon” that was stored inside the backpack. This “ballon” basically works to keep the wearer closer to the surface of the snow in a moving avalanche via “granular convection“, often referred to as the “Brazilian nut effect”. This video shows the effectiveness quite well.
Here are a few other things I will note that are relevant to this video. First, backcountry snowboarders and split-boards should see the value in an avalanche airbag perhaps at a higher level than skiers. The reason for that is these travelers do not have release-able bindings and therefore are more likely to be pulled under the snow during the type of avalanche motion seen in this video, referred to as “wet flowing” in the snow science community. Second, this avalanche path is a good example of a path with a safe runout. An avalanche airbag deployment is less likely to result in a positive outcome if you have terrain traps below you i.e. rocks, trees, cliffs, gullies, crevasses, creeks, etc.
A Change in Demographic
Before 2019 the main demographic for avalanche fatalities on Mount Washington were either ice climbers or winter hikers (11) and only three skiers. There has been an obvious shift in how people are recreating in the terrain with a noticeable explosion of the backcountry touring population (AT skiers, Split-boarders, Tele). This change in usage increases the chance of a survivable avalanche in a few ways.
First, getting caught in an avalanche while on foot or while skinning low in an avalanche path is often more serious than triggering something from the top. While there’s obviously a fair amount of luck surviving any avalanche the first avalanche involvement of our season resulted in no injuries for the person who triggered the avalanche and was carried the full slide length while the victim who was hit mid-path suffered serious trauma. In January of 2016 while teaching an avalanche course in Tuckerman Ravine I watched 4 people get caught and carried in an avalanche right next to our class. The avalanche also hit a 5th person in the runout resulting in the most serious injuries of the incident. Last year’s well reported Wilson Glade quadruple fatality (Utah) also showed how getting caught in the up track while ascending can have more dire outcomes.
Second, while it is suggested that anyone recreating in avalanche terrain carry the appropriate safety gear (transceiver, probe, shovel, and perhaps an avalanche airbag) this author believes these items are still less likely to be carried by the eastern ice climber or mountaineer. The merits and justifications of this choice are for another topic but I will suggest the fact that the majority of backcountry touring parties are carrying basic avalanche safety gear this user group is more likely to survive an encounter with an avalanche than a group without these items.
A Increase in Acceptable Risk
In a recent survey of backcountry touring groups who travel in avalanche terrain I asked two questions. The first:
While not unexpected the majority responded they would consider touring in avalanche terrain under a “Moderate” danger level. The North American Avalanche Danger Scale describes the likelihood of a human triggered avalanche as “possible” under a Moderate level, and “likely”, under a Considerable level. Almost one in three respondents would consider traveling in avalanche terrain when both natural avalanches are “possible” and human triggered are “likely”.
While some research has shown that the most avalanche fatalities occur during a “Considerable” danger level:
Other research shows that “Moderate” is actually the danger level where most fatalities occur:
Since these stats can be adjusted based on what data sets you are looking at I will just look at the fatalities and involvements I have personal experience with.
At least four of the last 6 fatalities on Mount Washington occurred under a “Moderate” danger level. The majority of reported “near misses” and involvements occur under a “Moderate” danger level. As a region we also see a fair share of incidents when under a “General Advisory” early in the season before the Mount Washington Avalanche Center starts issued daily forecasts.
The second question I asked in the recent survey was:
These results confirmed my suspicion that avalanche airbag usage in the East is still an exception and not common place. Based on the change in demographics, risk acceptance, and improvements in technology I believe we should see this change.
Improvements in Technology
Probably the biggest change an avalanche airbag technology is the growing availability, lower costs, and convenience of electronic airbag systems. Traditionally canister style avalanche airbags were the most common. Having to maintain a canister type system is likely a deterrent for many who might otherwise benefit from owning an avalanche airbag. Air travel with canister systems can be difficult, requiring you to discharge the system and find someplace at your destination that can refill your canister. You’d be less likely to practice deploying your airbag if the system only allowed one deployment. Now there are multiple electronic models that allow for multiple deployments, are easy to fly with, and can be charged anywhere you have an electric outlet. Some notable electronic models now available:
The real reason for my change in opinion on the validity of avalanche airbags in the East is a bit personal. When looking at the last two avalanche fatalities on Mount Washington the case for more common airbag usage is clear to me. There is a very important similarity between the tragic deaths of Nicholas Benedix in 2019 and Ian Forgays in 2021. Both of these backcountry riders were caught and carried in their avalanches, likely with the “wet flowing” motion shown in the previous video, and both ended up buried under the snow without suffering any trauma. Certainly a nearby partner who was not caught in the avalanche and had the right rescue gear and training may have been able to make the “save”, but unfortunately both were alone and unwitnessed avalanches. Take home point for me here is riders who occasionally travel solo in avalanche terrain should certainly consider the added layer of protection an avalanche airbag might provide. On the same day as Nicholas’s avalanche I myself triggered a large avalanche a few drainages away and was lucky to only be buried up to my waist. One of my only thoughts as I saw the snow coming down from above me was I was not wearing my avalanche airbag. Even more recently was a miraculous save in the Adirondacks just a week ago after two skiers were caught, one fully buried and the other just enough to still get out and save his partner. They were the only two in the area and if but a few more inches of snow this would have been a double fatality.
Research shows avalanche airbags save lives, suggesting a deployed avalanche airbag will reduce mortality by 50% . While they should not be considered 100% protection against getting hurt or killed in an avalanche wearing one in avalanche terrain adds another layer of protection from the hazard. While the increase in backcountry travelers wearing avalanche transceivers has noticeably increased in the last 10 years I expect to see an increase in avalanche airbag use in the east over the next ten years, and for good reason. We just recently had our first avalanche transceiver full burial save in the eastern US, and I believe the first avalanche airbag save might not be that far in the future.
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This past Saturday around 1 pm history was being made on Angel Slides in the Adirondack mountains of upstate New York. Two skiers triggered a large avalanche that partially buried one and completely buried the other. As luck would have it one of the skiers was able to free himself from the snow in about 5 minutes. Using their avalanche transceiver they located their partner, buried nearby under 4 to 5 feet of snow. Unconscious and faintly breathing he regained consciousness while his rescuer continued to extract him from the snow. Ultimately they were both uninjured and they made their way back to the trailhead under their own power and reported the incident to a park employee.
And with that the first ever avalanche accident “save” was made in the Eastern US.
I use the word “save” to describe an incident where an avalanche victim is completly buried by an avalanche and recovered alive (and survives). This has never happened in the East, but I knew it was coming. Before 2019 I would often point out to my avalanche course students the interesting fact that no one had ever been buried in an avalanche in the East while wearing an avalanche transceiver. I would suggest that trend would change as more backcountry travelers were carrying the right equipment and it would only be some time before one of us found ourselves in the dark under the snow. Would we have a partner nearby who would be able to get to us in time?
The first person to be fully buried in the East with a transceiver on was Nicholas Benedix on April 11th, 2019. Nicholas survived for over two hours buried in Raymond Cataract on Mount Washington, but ultimately succumbed to hypothermia, a tragic and unique part of the history of avalanche accidents in the East. It would take less than two years before we would have a second person fully buried in an avalanche with a transceiver on. On February 1st, 2021 Ian Forgays was buried by a wind slab he triggered in Ammonoosuc Ravine, also on Mount Washington. Neither of these victims suffered trauma in their avalanches, but like Nicholas, Ian was traveling alone and therefore had no one near him to make the “save”.
With these two recent full burial accidents I’ve been suggesting to my students it is only a matter of time before we have a save. I would have put my money on the first East Coast save occurring on Mount Washington given the terrain and amount of visitation, but this moment in avalanche education goes to Wright Peak, in the Adirondacks.
Angel Slides, Wright Peak, Adirondack Mountains, New York
The Angel Slides are a series of three slides on the eastern flanks of Wright Peak, elevation 4,587 feet. According to The Adirondack Slide Guide: An Aerial View of The High Peaks Region, 2nd Edition by Drew Hass, Tropical Storm Irene (2011) created the far looker’s right slide path which was the path triggered during this accident. According to CalTopo.com the path is about 1,100 feet long, 170 wide, drops 608 feet with an average angle of 31 degrees and a max angle of 43 degrees, and is a North East aspect.
It should be noted that the only avalanche fatality known in the Adirondacks occurred on these slides, specifically the widest of the three, during February 2000, when Toma Vracarich and three friends were caught and carried. According to the Adirondack Almanac, all three of his friends were injured in the slide. He died beneath the snow and the slides were subsequently named the “Angel” slides. He was 27 years old.
Unlike the Presidential Range in the White Mountains of New Hampshire the High Peaks of the Adirondacks do not have an avalanche forecasting center. The New York Department of Environmental Conservation sometimes issues an early season “avalanche warning” but it is basically just an awareness statement with some links to learning about avalanches. Occasionally the National Weather Service issues an avalanche warning for the White Mountains Region. These warnings usually occur during obvious signs of danger like huge storms that dump two to three feet of snow in a short period of time but I haven’t heard if the NWS has ever done that for the Adirondack Region. Regardless these warnings don’t take the place of mid-season monitoring of the snowpack that occurs in a forecasted area like the one covered by the Mount Washington Avalanche Center.
To help with this information gap a couple community minded backcountry enthusiast’s have created the Adirondack Community Avalanche Observations website where backcountry travelers can submit observations made while out recreating. This is a great resource for the Adirondack community and it was just started about a month ago!
Another contributing factor to this accident is the type of avalanche they were dealing with. The followup investigation conducted by members of the Adirondack Community Avalanche Observations Team indicate that this was a Persistent Slab avalanche problem. This type of avalanche problem is not as common in our Maritime climate as it is in our Transitional (Utah) or Continental (Colorado) climates. When you have early season snow that is exposed to prolonged cold temperatures it can become very loose, “faceted”, and basically weak in structure. Then, as winter really arrives and subsequent snow storms bury that “rotten” layer of snow it can lie in waiting for weeks, sometimes months, for a trigger (us) to come and collapse that weak layer. We’ve been hearing this happen in this season’s snowpack in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and New York. It’s the awe inspiring “whumpf” heard when the layer collapses. In a flat field it’s a cool part of snow science to observe. On a slope approaching 30 degrees in steepness it’s a dreaded warning, like the shrill rattle produced by a threatened rattlesnake, it is the mountain telling us it’s about to bite.
History has been made in the East in regards to avalanche incidents. With no one else in the area two skiers survived a near death experience. The second hand account I received of the first skier, Bryan, regaining consciousness while choking on snow and partially, or fully buried just under the surface of the snow, conjured up an image in my head of an angel reaching down and brushing just enough snow away from his face for him to regain awareness, rescue himself, and then go on to rescue his partner. Remarkably and with out injury, these two survived an experience that could have easily gone south. Angel Slides was given its name after the passing of Toma Vracarich there in 2000. Maybe Toma was the one who brushed the snow away from Bryan and gave him a second chance? Or maybe it was just luck. Either way this is a story that could not have had a better ending, and I’m grateful it’s being told.
Disclaimer: All information above was gathered from reports the victims submitted themselves and the report linked below. I have not spoken with either of the victims so there could be errors in my reporting. If I’m able to talk with with them I will update this post with more information.
When using a plaquette style belay device (Black Diamond ATC Guide, Petzl Reverso, DMM Pivot) in Assisted-Braking Mode or Auto-Blocking Mode (to belay a follower directly off the anchor) there are some ways to reduce the amount of effort required to pull slack through the device. This can lead to a more efficient belay as well as save your elbows from over-use injuries like tendinitis (not uncommon in life long climbers and guides).
First make sure you are using an appropriate diameter rope for your device. Skinnier ropes will require less effort to pull slack then thicker diameters but make sure you are staying within the range the manufacture recommends! For reference here are the suggested ranges for some common devices:
The skinnier rope you use the less effort it will take to pull slack through the device. Currently my favorite single rope for multi-pitch ice and alpine rock climbing is the Sterling Fusion Nano IX DryXP, 70m. This rope pulls very smoothly through any of the above devices!
There are many situations in climbing where it makes sense to construct your anchor from the climbing rope you are already attached to versus reaching for a sling or cordelette; most notably when swinging leads or finishing a climb with a tree anchor followed by a walk-off. In recent years the Connecticut Tree Hitch (CTH) has gained popularity among both professional climbing guides and savvy recreational climbers.
The Buntline Hitch is also a suitable option that has a few distinct advantages over the CTH.
The hitch does not require a locking carabiner
The hitch forms a suitable master point for belaying your second (when using a CTH you must tie another bight knot to create a master point).
If tied incorrectly it forms either two half-hitches or a clove-hitch which have a high enough slip strength. The CTH tied incorrectly will catastrophically fail.
It is fast to tie and untie
Credit: Big thanks to Derek DeBruin for sharing this hitch with in the AMGA Professional Facebook Forum and for his continued work disseminating quality information. EDIT: Derek credits Richard Goldstone for teaching him this method.
Disclaimer: Climbing is dangerous. Practice new skills on the ground and seek qualified instruction.
Today Ortovox officially added two new avalanche transceivers to the market, the Diract and the Diract Voice. While a few preproduction samples have been checked out by other avalanche professionals I received a post production model about a week ago and want to share some preliminary opinions and thoughts at this revolutionary avalanche transceiver. A more in-depth review will be published after I’ve had some considerable real world field time with this model. I know a lot of people may be looking for a new avalanche transceiver before the snow really starts to fly and I hope this “first look” report will help you decide if you should consider the Ortovox Diract or Ortovox Diract Voice avalanche transceiver!
After unboxing the initial set up was straight forward. As soon as you open the box instruction on the lid include a QR code directing you to download the Ortovox app for either iOS or Android. I selected English from the nine available languages and register the device through the app while synced to my smartphone via Bluetooth. Registration is a great idea since not only will up be sure to receive any important software update notifications it automatically extends the two year warranty by an additional 3 years giving you 5 years of total protection on your investment! More information and links to the apps along with some video tutorials can be found here: https://ortovox.com/us-en/service/information-user-manuals/avalanche-transceivers/diract-start
After registering the device I was instructed to calibrate the internal electronic compass used to ensure the device is held level in SEARCH mode and to analyze orientation when buried for the “Smart Antenna” technology (more on that later). I chose to do this outside in the yard away from the house and my cell phone to ensure no interference.
Let’s start with the obvious biggest feature of the Ortovox Diract Voice. This is the first ever avalanche transceiver that gives the user verbal feedback during the stressful times of an avalanche rescue. Like others, I wasn’t exactly sure about the name Ortovox chose for this new model, but a quick Google Translation search revealed that “diract” is the Hindi word for “direct”. And that is what this avalanche transceiver attempts to do… direct your actions during the course of an avalanche rescue with important voice prompts. I demonstrate this in this video with some initial hands on practice in a nearby field:
POST PRODUCTION NOTES:
While filming the first couple test runs with my iPhone in AIRPLANE mode the transceiver experienced electronic interference which caused a false signal while outside the range of the transmitting transceiver and caused the transceiver to instruct me to start a fine search while still 18 meters from a second transceiver. Both of these errors were user-error, not software error! Any electronic with a GPS chip, Bluetooth, WiFi, radio transmitter, or microchip, should be more than half a meter away from a transceiver in search mode, or better yet powered off completely! I’ve left these first test runs in the final video as they demonstrate how the voice commands work and I believe that is useful. Twelve more test runs were conducted (6 filmed by the drone) and no other errors were observed.
My overall impression of this novel idea is positive. As an avalanche course instructor with over 100 avalanche courses taught I really do believe voice prompts can help rescuers react appropriately. Reminders like the initial “Run in 50 meter search strips and look out” encourage both urgency and situational awareness. Directional corrections like “run to the left/right” can help keep the searcher on the “flux line” while they are constantly conducting a quality visual search (often a part of rescue new rescuers struggle with). Getting outside of the fine search area the transceiver clearly tells you “You were closer!” When I publish my updated full review (ETA mid-winter) I will cover every voice command that’s possible and how best it fits into the rescue strategy.
There is one voice command I would have liked to have seen integrated. If the transceiver registers a number less than 1 meter during the search I would have loved for it to tell me to “Start probing here!” I have observed for years students will spend too much time on the fine search trying to get the lowest possible number when in reality if they are actually searching for a human sized target (and not a small stuff sack) and have a number under 1 meter they should halt the fine search and start probing. A probe strike is imminent. In that same line of thought it would be great if the transceiver could tell a quality fine search was carried out and if 1.6 meters in the lowest number after the fine search it could also direct the user to start probing.
That said a practiced rescuer should be able to make these transitions without the voice command, so the omission of this one command is no deal breaker!
Internal Lithium Ion Rechargeable Battery
The next biggest innovation in both the Diract and Diract Voice is the use of an internal lithium ion rechargeable battery. I think this is a great choice from a design point and I’m confident other manufacturers may follow suit as there are few disadvantages and many advantages. First of all having an internal rechargeable battery means no more pulling half used alkaline batteries out when they reach 60% and adding them to the draw of “not full batteries” I have in my gear room. This is better for the environment. The next advantage is you do not need to remember to remove your batteries at the end of the winter season. I’ve seen quite a few transceivers ruined with corroded batteries when owners left their batteries in them over the course of a humid summer. With this style battery it is best to not constantly “short charge” they battery, i.e. plugging it in every night to get it back to 100%. The user manual states to not charge until under 80%, and even states “once the battery charge falls below 40%, the device should be charged as soon as possible”.
The technical specifications claim that a full battery will provide a minimum of 200 hours in SEND followed by 1 hour of SEARCH. I will do some extensive testing of this battery over the next month and update this post accordingly by for now I’ll say I’m quite confident in this performance. After 2 hours of SEND and about 30 minutes of SEARCH my battery is still reporting 100%. Depending on how often you tour I imagine you’ll only need to recharge once or twice a season. I will be teaching rescue skills weekly from December through March and will report back detailed battery performance.
As for concerns about not being able to access or self-replace the lithium-ion battery Ortovox has had a third-party verify that this battery is good for at least 450 “cycles” and will still produce enough power to meet the 200 hours of SEND followed by 1 hour of SEARCH performance. A “cycle” is basically each time you charge the battery, which is why “short charging” is discouraged. Ortovox is working on a consumer focused solution for when it does become time to replace the battery, which based on my estimates of heavy use, won’t be needed for 5-7 years, if even then. The truth is with these numbers and proper charging habits the battery may last as long as the widely recommended “upgrade/replace your transceiver” suggestion of ten years. If that holds true that equals about 30-60 AA alkaline batteries from my own use staying out of a landfill!
The software is designed to self test the battery at every start up and will display a percentage, along with a alert if 30% or less, or “empty”. It also checks the health of the battery so if you ever do reach the end of the life of the battery it will display “Battery service necessary” and direct you to the Ortovox website for service/repair.
Finally it should be noted that you can not charge the battery when it is under 0 degrees Celsius. This may concern some users but I feel with proper planning this should never be an issue. My plan is to let my battery deplete for during day trips to within 40-50% capacity then recharge to full (one cycle). If I am heading out on a week long trip somewhere (Iceland this April?) I’ll recharge it to 100% for the trip. If you are spending two months on some amazing expedition I’m sure you can get the transceiver above 0 degrees Celsius in your sleeping bag if you need to recharge it.
Standby Mode and Auto-Revert
The next unique feature of the Ortovox Diract and Diract Voice is the addition of a “Standby” mode. Typically avalanche transceivers have only two modes, SEND/TRANSMIT or SEARCH. In a rescue scenario we teach everyone in the group not caught in the avalanche to switch their transceivers to SEARCH so that rescuers don’t waste time by “finding” people who are not buried in the snow. The issue is in a group rescue scenario you often do not need 5 people searching for a signal on a debris pile. For example if one person is missing and there are 5 rescuers you might only have 1 or 2 people actually searching with their transceivers while the rest of the group spots from a safe location and starts assembling probes and shovels to be ready for the extraction part of the rescue. These rescuers can utilize the standby mode to get their transceiver to stop transmitting, and, especially in the case of the Diract Voice, quiet the scene. We don’t need all the beeping and voice commands confusing the overall scenario. While in Standby mode the transceiver does have a motion sensor that is monitoring your movement. If no movement is detected in 90 seconds a loud alarm and display warning will indicate the unit will revert back to SEND in 30 seconds if 1) no movement is detected (i.e. you were caught and buried by a secondary avalanche), or 2) You press the FLAG button to cancel the revert.
The next thing I’d like to talk about is the shape and layout of the unit. Applicable to both models these transceivers are a slim design that fits comfortably in my hand and in my dedicated transceiver pocket on my ski pants. While I traditionally prefer to pocket carry my transceiver I believe I’ll start using the harness carry more often due to some innovative choices by Ortovox. The first is the decision to move the Recco technology from the transceiver to the carrying system. The second is the harness pocket holds the transceiver perfectly and adjusts with ease.
The layout of the controls is simple but well thought out. I am able to operate all functions on the transceiver with one hand regardless.of using my dominant (right) hand or not. With only two buttons and the SEND/SEARCH switch operation is really intuitive. To test the intuitiveness for a non-trained user I asked my 10 year old son to turn the transceiver on, put the unit into SEARCH mode, return to SEND mode, and power off the device. He accomplished all four tasks in less than two minutes with no further instruction.
Smart Antenna Technology
A feature of all Ortovox transceivers I have long been a fan of is the patented “SMART-ANTENNA-TECHNOLOGY ™. This basically makes locating your signal faster regardless of what orientation the transceiver is buried in by using intelligent position recognition and automatically switching to the best transmission antenna. Ortovox transceivers are the only transceivers that use this technology and I believe it’s an excellent feature.
The LCD display is quite visible in bright daylight and the brightness is adjustable via the free Ortovox app. I’ll be leaving it on the brightest setting while testing the battery performance this winter. The screen has a smart light sensor so when the transceiver is stowed in either a pocket or the carrying case it will shut off. After removing it from the harness a quick press of either of the two buttons will waken it.
Range and “smart” Search Strip Width while in SEARCH
I tested the Ortovox Diract Voice in an open field with a measured distance with the following results. I will update these this winter with other models buried 1.5 meters down in the snowpack. While in SEARCH for an Ortovox 3+ transceiver a signal was always acquired around on average between 30-40 meters with on result of 28 meters when the transmitting transceiver was in a poor coupling orientation. These results support Ortovox’s suggestion of a 50 meter search strip width in this open terrain with no interference. Yet another innovation feature of both the Ortovox Diract and Diract Voice is the unit somehow analyses the surrounding area for interference and adjusts the recommended Search Strip Width to be optimized. For example, in the open field (and even with my cell phone interference) the Search Strip Width was displayed as 50 meters. In my house while testing the Auto Revert function and surrounded by Wifi, electronics, etc the displayed Search Strip Width was reduced to 20 meters.
The Ortovox Diract and Diract Voice transceivers have an intuitive system for helping the user manage the incredibly complex scenario of a multiple burial. The first is the display with indicate multiple signals with little “person” icons on the bottom of the display (up to three). This is another moment where I would have loved if the voice command could have verbally alerted me with something like “Multiple signals detected”. This addition would really help a searcher understand the bigger picture faster and manage their resources appropriately. Once you have finished your fine search and achieved a positive probe strike you can press and hold the flag button to have that signal suppressed, at which time the transceiver will direct you to the next closest burial. From my limited testing and reading of the manual there is not an option to “un-flag” a flagged victim. Should that be needed (and it shouldn’t if you use this feature with the caution taught in rescue courses) you will need to place the transceiver back into SEND then revert to SEARCH to remove all “flagged” targets. <insert info on any verbal instructions during FLAGGING>
This is a big moment in the history of avalanche transceivers. While there are a few great transceiver manufacturers out there I’m not surprised that Ortovox was the first to produce a transceiver that is so different from everything else out there. The benefits of a talking transceiver might vary by the user. Those who consider themselves “experts” in avalanche rescue will likely feel the effects of the voice commands less important as they are used to “listening” to the visual and audio clues of the various transceivers they have used over the years. In my opinion those advanced users might decide to upgrade to the Ortovox Diract (without voice) simply for the solid performance and benefit of the internal battery over transceivers that burn through alkaline batteries. Those who are new to avalanche rescue, or (gasp) rusty on their rescue skills (take an Avalanche Rescue course!), will likely find the voice commands from the Ortovox Diract Voice to be quite beneficial at guiding actions during the stressful moments of an avalanche rescue.
As mentioned this is an initial “first look” type review as I’ve only had this transceiver in my hands for about a week. I will test it throughly this winter while instructing over a dozen avalanche courses and will update my findings and opinions likely by late January. If you were planning on upgrading or buying you first avalanche transceiver this Fall in preparation of the winter I hope this information has helped you decide if the Ortovox Diract or Ortovox Diract Voice is the right transceiver for you, and if it is you can purchase one from these online retailers:
At the end of the day as an avalanche educator I’d be remiss if I didn’t end this review with the classic avalanche educator’s disclaimer. The BEST transceiver in the world is the one you practice with most! When was the last time you practiced avalanche rescue? How about taken an avalanche rescue course? Make avalanche rescue practice part of your seasonal preparation! There are SO many courses out there, if you are looking for one here’s some links to get you started:
Yet another way you could up your Avy Savvy brain is taking IMFGA Guide Mark Smiley’s newest online course “Beyond Level One*”. This is a massive online course designed to be taken over the course of a whole season with 120 episodes and contributions from some of the best avalanche professionals in the industry! I have taken other online courses from Mark and the quality is top-notch! I will be enrolling in this course myself to see what Mark has created and am especially excited about how much of the content I will be able to absorb à la podcast style!
Disclaimer: Traveling in avalanche terrain is dangerous and nothing in this review is intended to be “instruction” or assumed to be accurate. The author is a member of the Ortovox Athlete Team and received this transceiver at no cost as part of that partnership.
*Affiliate links above help support Northeast Alpine Start at no additional cost to you. Purchasing a transceiver or online course through those links earn the author a commission. Thank you.
With the gaining popularity of the Girth Hitch Master Point Anchor option I am making the case for using a closed rappel or “rigging” ring as the master point instead of the commonly used locking carabiner. Some advantages of this choice;
A closed rigging ring can’t be accidentally opened or left unlocked.
Using a rigging ring means you save a locking carabiner in the anchor construction
Adding a rigging ring to your regular kit means you will have one to leave behind should bailing be necessary (they are all cheaper than most locking carabiners)
A rigging ring is “omnidirectional” so you do not need to worry about optimum loading, short axis loading, gate loading, etc.
In most cases a rigging ring is lighter than a locking carabiner
Disadvantages of carrying and using a rigging ring in your kit are almost non-existent. One of the challenges is deciding which rigging ring works best for recreational/guiding in this system. To assist with that I purchased 5 of the more common rappel rings and will share the specifications and considerations for each to help you decide! Let’s start with this weight/strength/price comparison… I added a Petzl Attache Carabiner for comparison reasons.
The lightest and cheapest option is by far a SMC Aluminum Descending Ring. While ultra-light weight I am slightly concerned about the lower strength rating compared to other options. 14kN is over 3,000 lbs, which is a much higher force than the master point of your anchor should ever see. In a response to a REI slack online customer asking about the strength of these SMC stated “If you over tension the slack line you may notice some flex as the units start to elongate around 800 lbs”. So while these are strong “enough” for use as a master point I’d prefer something rated higher so I’m not second guessing myself while setting up a haul system or the dreaded “fall factor 2” type scenario (should never happen!). They are super cheap and light though, and easily fit three or four locking carabiners.
At about double the weight and 2.5 times the strength the SMC Rigging Ring seems like it might be perfect for this application, and it is, for two piece anchors and two person climbing parties. The issue with this ring is once you have a three-piece girth-hitch anchor internal space in the ring is a bit on the tight side to fit three locking carabiners (party of two) and impossible to fit four locking carabiners (party of three, guiding). Here’s a shot of this with a three piece anchor and you can see how tight it is.
It works but I don’t like how the carabiners bind on each other in this situation. So this would only be a good choice for two piece anchors and two person parties. Next up…
A little more weight (38 grams) and a little less strength (25kN) with just 2mm more internal diameter the RNA Revolution Ring, Small works great on this three piece two person anchor. If you don’t often climb in a party of three this is a good choice. This brings us to what is becoming my favorite option…
The RNA Revolution Ring, Large is my best in class for this comparison. While it weighs close to a Petzl Attache Locking Carabiner (56 grams vs Petzl Attache 58 grams) it still has a few advantages as a master point. It has plenty of space for more than 4 locking carabiners so this would be great for recreational and guided parties of 3+. It’s stronger in all directions than most aluminum locking carabiners (25 kN). It can easily accommodate a three or four piece girth hitch, and is easier to handle with gloves on (ice climbing FTW). We will finish with a quick look at the heaviest option…
If you are not very concerned with weight the FIXE Stainless Steel Ring is a beast carrying a 35 kN rating with its 86 grams of weight. It can easily handle three lockers on a three piece anchor but a fourth locker would be pretty tight leaving this an option for two person parties.
Using a rigging ring is common in high angle rescue and industrial work and with the growing use of the Girth Hitch Master Point Anchor method recreational climbers and guides should consider the use of closed rings to create their master points for the advantages stated at the beginning of this post. No one anchor solution is appropriate for all situations and you should certainly practice this on the ground and seek qualified instruction and mentorship before trusting your life to any advice in this post. That said I think this method works quite well when appropriate and I expect it will be one of my common builds when multi-pitch climbing whether it be rock or ice (though I think this will really shine this winter while ice climbing).
After purchasing and testing these rings I let Rock N Rescue know their RNA Revolution Ring, Large was my “best in class” for this purpose and then they offered my readers a 10% discount on any purchases from their website with coupon code “AlpineStart10“. If you decide to add one of these to your kits you can save a little money on the purchase and at they the same time support the content I create here (this discount code will also earn me 10% of the purchase).
See you in the mountains,
Northeast Alpine Start
Disclaimer: Some links above are affiliate links. Making a purchase after visiting one of those links sends a small commission my way and keeps this blog going. Thank you!
I’ve been using the Girth Hitch Master Point (GHMP) Anchor System for a little over a year now having learned it from the great educational social media feeds of Dale Remsberg and Cody Bradford. Recent testing on the method was conducted by Derek DeBruin and John Sohl the Petzl facility in Salt Lake City and they published these results.
“The girth hitch is a viable solution for the master point for anchor rigging, provided that;
1) Approximately 5cm of slip is within the climbing party’s risk tolerance
2) The girth hitch is cinched snugly by hand and body weight prior to use. This applies to a variety of rigging materials, such as HMPE or nylon slings or cord, as well as material conditions, whether new or used, dry or wet.” – Derek DeBruin
There’s quite a few places this system could be well applied. It is primarily a solution for multi-pitch climbing. This isn’t a great option for constructing anchors that will be used for top-rope climbing. On a multi-pitch route with bolted belay stations I might even consider keeping a sling rigged with this system (much like how I keep a pre-tied mini-quad on my harness). Even if the bolts at the next station are not exactly the same distance apart you only need to loosen the hitch a bit to properly adjust it. On a multi-pitch route with traditional gear anchors a double-length Dyneema sling is a light & fast option for rigging this system. Multi-pitch ice climbing is where I see perhaps the greatest benefit as rigging this with gloves on will often be achievable with just an alpine-draw and good ice.
Here’s a video I created showing the method along with some suggestions, namely utilizing a full strength closed rappel ring as a master point instead of a locking carabiner, which adds security and saves a locking carabiner for other uses.
Because this is a material efficient and proven redundant glove friendly system I plan on keeping it in my growing “tool kit” of options. I still carry one mini-quad with me when I prefer independent master points (more comfortable for a party of three) and use it often as a glove friendly redundant rappel extension. The advantages over tying a more traditional old school pre-equalized cordelette anchor are great enough that I see less and less reason for ever taking my cordelette off the back of my harness. I still carry it for self-rescue purposes but newer anchor methods like the GHMP and mini-quad seem to solve most anchor problems more effectively. I’m stopping by REI today to pick up one a SMC Rigging Ring which is almost half the weight of the stainless steel one I used in the video. You should consider adding this to your tool kit!
I’m running two giveaways at the moment. You can enter to win a SOL Emergency Bivvy Sack before the end of the month in the raffle at the bottom of this review of SOL survival products! You can also enter to win a camming device of your choice* by competing in an anchor building contest that ends at the end of October… rules for that contest are at this Instagram post.
See you in the mountains,
Northeast Alpine Start
Disclaimer: Climbing is dangerous, you could die following any advice from this post. Seek qualified instruction and mentorship. Affiliate links above support the content created at Northeast Alpine Start.
*cam will be selected by the winner from any in-stock cam at International Mountain Equipment in North Conway, NH. Free shipping within the US.
I’m excited to announce I’m offering half day skills clinics again from now through October! In addition to previous offerings I have added a “Improved Sport Climbing at Rumney, NH” clinic with details below! Dates still open will be listed below. If you see a clinic you would like to attend and the date is sill available message me through the contact form at the bottom. Once I confirm the date is still available you will be invoiced from Northeast Mountaineering and we will lock the date down!
1 person* $175 2 person* $250 3 person $330 4 person $400
10am – 2pm
Improved Sport Climbing, Rumney NH
This is a custom 4 hour curriculum designed for the gym climber who is transitioning to lead climbing outside or has already been doing some outdoor sport leading but could polish their skills. A general list of topics covered; Crag Selection, Rope Management, The Partner Check (more than just a belay check), Quickdraw Orientation, Clipping Technique, Proper Rope Positioning, Avoiding Back-Clipping, Avoiding Z-Clipping, Lead Belayer Skills, Safer Falling, Ground Anchors, Top-Rope Anchors, Cleaning Sport Anchors, Lowering vs. Rappelling, Clear Communication.
For those who are lead climbing or ready to take the sharp end you will be able to lead multiple routes within your ability. The focus will be on systems and not pushing your on-sight level.
Top-Rope Climbing at Square Ledge
If you have never rock climbed before you can’t pick a better place to try it than Square Ledge in Pinkham Notch. A short 25 minute hike brings us to this 140 tall cliff with amazing views of Mount Washington and it is just covered in good hand and foot holds. There are climbs here that anyone can do! A great choice to see if you’ll like outdoor rock climbing, and the foliage is really starting to show up there!
Guided Multi-Pitch Climb, Upper Refuse, Cathedral
This three pitch 5.6 climb on Cathedral Ledge is an excellent introduction to multi-pitch traditional climbing and happens to offer an incredible view of Mount Washington Valley. You should have some prior outdoor top-roping experience for this clinic. *only available for 1 person or 2 person groups
Self Rescue and Multi-pitch Efficiency
This skills based program will help intermediate and experienced sport and trad climbers acquire the skills necessary to perform a self-rescue and improve your overall efficiency on multi-pitch climbs. The curriculum includes improvised hauling systems, belay escapes, smooth transition techniques, and rope ascension. A solid foundation in basic belaying, rappelling, and lead climbing will help you make the most of this program.
Interested? Just fill out this form and include your billing address, phone number, the date(s) and which program you would like to book and I will get back to you as soon as possible to confirm the date is still available and Northeast Mountaineering will invoice you!
I’ve been sent a few of the new models from Adventure Medical Kits to review and will be sharing some thoughts on these models the next few weeks. The first one I am covering is the MOLLE Bag Trauma Kit 1.0. Reviewing a first aid kit is a bit of a challenge as a big part of my role as a climbing guide is to avoid and prevent injury before it occurs. However with over 16 years of guiding and volunteer rescue experience I have some opinions of what should be in a first aid kit, so I hope to share some of that experience with you if you are in need of a first aid kit. Let’s start with a pretty solid disclaimer:
The absolute best thing you can do to prepare yourself for a medical emergency in the wilderness is take an actual Wilderness First Aid Course. No first aid kit, book, or self-study, can better prepare you for handling an injury or illness in the mountains than a quality course taught by professionals on the subject. I highly recommend the amazing instructors and staff at the renowned SOLO Schools in Conway NH. They offer courses all over the country so please consider finding one that you can make it so you will be better prepared for the unexpected!
Now for the details of this kit, let’s start with the manufacturer basics and an inventory of what is included:
MOLLE BAG TRAUMA KIT 1.0 Be ready for anything when you’re in the field with the AMK Molle Bag Trauma Kit 1.0, designed to work with your tactical modular bag system and to equip you with the supplies you need to venture 1 – 2 days away from your base. The 2-foot QuikClot dressing included stops life-threatening bleeding fast, while the bandages, dressings, and medications enable you to address other wounds, bleeding, and fractures or sprains, while keeping the patient comfortable as you make your way back to camp or await rescue.
Stop Bleeding Fast Control bleeding with QuikClot® hemostatic gauze, which acts on contact to stop bleeding five times faster. The gauze is impregnated with kaolin, a mineral that accelerates your body’s natural clotting process.
Wilderness & Travel Medicine: A Comprehensive Guide Know how to provide life-saving medical care. Written by wilderness medicine expert Eric A. Weiss, MD, this book includes over 50 improvised techniques and 100 illustrations for treating outdoor injuries and illnesses.
Manage Pain and Illness A wide array of medications to treat pain, inflammation, and common allergies.
Metal Buttoned Straps With integrated metal buttoned straps, this kit easily attaches to your favorite gear for easy access.
1 – Wilderness & Travel Medicine: A Comprehensive Guide
1 – QKCLT Z-Fold Gauze 2 Ft
2 – Trauma Pad, 5” x 9”, 1 ea.
3 – Adhesive Bandage, Fabric, Knuckle
5 – Adhesive Bandage, Fabric, 1″” x 3″”
2 – Sterile Gauze Dressing, 4″” x 4″”
2 – Sterile Gauze Dressing, 2″” x 2″”
1 – Sterile Non-Adherent Dressing, 3″” x 4″”
1 – Cloth Tape, 1/2″” x 10 Yards
2 – Bandage, Butterfly Closure
2 – Latex-Free Glove
14 – Moleskin, Pre-Cut/Shaped
1 – Bandage, Elastic, Cohesive Self Adhering, 2″”
1 – Splinter/Tick Remover Forceps
3 – Safety Pin
1 – EMT Shears, 4″”
Here’s a short video where I open the kit up and go through the contents with some comments:
As mentioned it can be difficult to review a piece of outdoor gear that you hope to not use, and are less likely to use with proper preparation and planning. That said a first aid kit should be part of every outdoor enthusiasts “kit”, and this one is well designed for military and hunting/fishing use. The ballistic nylon is coated and the bag itself feels quite robust and weather resistent. It’s a good baseline in your emergency preparedness plan but there are a couple items I would add. The most obvious for me is a SAM Splint… since the description specifically mentions the contents “address… fractures or sprains” I think a SAM Splint would have been a great addition. Granted, those who have gone through a quality Wilderness First Aid course will learn multiple ways to implement splinting material, and you can easily add one yourself for around $15 from Amazon.
The other addition I’d like to see in most first aid kits is a disposable CPR mask. Granted, you need training to use a CPR mask but these disposable masks cost less that $1 each and I think they belong in every first aid and attached to every set of car keys in the country. If you would like to become certified in CPR you can easily find a course from the Red Cross here.
One of the best things included in this kit is the book, “Wilderness & Travel Medicine: A Comprehensive Guide” by Eric A. Weiss, MD. This updated book is over 200 pages long and is in a great format. I especially like the “Weiss Advice” insets and “When to Worry” side bars… This is a great book to brush up on your skills after a Wilderness First Aid course or to pre-study before you take your course!
Some other opinions around these details:
Size (listed above)… this is a big kit for most hikers/climbers/skiers… this is well suited for military/hunting/fishing or as part of your vehicle/home emergency preparedness plan.
Weight– Less than a pound and can be even lighter if you leave the book at home.
Group Size– Listed as “1 person” this is where I feel AMK is underselling the kit. This is definitely a “group sized” first aid kit in my opinion, suitable for 3-4 people for a few days.
Duration– Same as above, listed as 1-2 days I think this kit is suitable for up to week long trips (especially if you supplement it a little bit with personal first aid items).
This first aid kit is specifically designed to attach to “MOLLE” type packs making it great for those who already use these style of packs (mostly military/law enforcement and some hunting/fishing enthusiasts). It is probably not the right choice for ultra-light hikers, climbers, trail runners, etc (no worries I have a couple other models to review soon more geared to that user-group). There is plenty of extra room in the ballistic pouch to add your own additional items (mine would be SAM Splint, EpiPen, extra headlamp, a couple glow sticks, and a bottle of iodine). If you are already a MOLLE user or looking for a solid kit to add to the “go bag” this is a good place to start!
Purchase: You can find the Adventure Medical Kit’s MOLLE Bag Trauma Kit 1.0 at here at Cabela’s.
A media sample was provided for review. Affiliate links above support the content created here at no additional cost to you. Thank you.
I’ve partnered with the Appalachian Mountain Club for years to teach my own custom 8 hour Wilderness Navigation course and one of the three scheduled courses are sold out but there are some spots available for the June 19th and Sept 25th courses. You can see more details and reserve you spot at one of these two links:
I also can travel outside my local area to offer this curriculum to high school and college outing clubs. Just send me an inquiry at nealpinestart at gmail dot com (or use the contact form on my “about page”) for details.