Avalanche Rescue Course

This past weekend I lead the first avalanche course of the season for Northeast Mountaineering, the relatively new AIARE Avalanche Rescue Course. This one day course is a excellent part of the new AIARE curriculum.

Ortovox Avalanche Beacons
Ortovox Avalanche Beacons- photo by @photocait

Course Description

AIARE Avalanche Rescue is a one-day stand alone course that is intended to be retaken on a regular basis in order to keep abreast of best practices in rescue techniques and gear. New participants will learn the basics of companion rescue, while returning participants will expand their skill set with advanced topics and realistic scenario practice to help improve their skills.

Each participant will have the opportunity to receive professional coaching on their rescue skills, and will receive a rescue card acknowledging the completion date.

AIARE Avalanche Rescue is a prerequisite for the AIARE 2 and Pro 1 courses. AIARE recommends that all backcountry travelers keep their skills current by taking an Avalanche Rescue course and receiving a rescue card at least every other year.

Who Should Take this Course

The Avalanche Rescue Course is a one-day course aimed both at new and experienced recreational backcountry travelers and aspiring avalanche professionals.

Student Learning Outcomes

At the end of the Avalanche Rescue course the student should be able to:

  • Describe what to do if they or a member of their party is caught in an avalanche.
  • Identify and be able to use gear necessary for avalanche rescue.
  • Set up a realistic scenario in order to practice an avalanche rescue response.
  • Improve their response skills and times during and after the course with feedback from instructors and peers.
  • Develop a plan for continuing practice.

All students will have the opportunity to get feedback from an instructor on their rescue skills and timed practice in a realistic scenario.

Students who have previously taken an AIARE 1 or an Avalanche Rescue Course will find value in having a professional help them set up realistic scenarios, practice skills in a realistic setting, receive feedback from an instructor, keep up with current best practices, and have an opportunity to practice advanced rescue skills.

Prerequisites

Students must be able to travel in the snow, and bring appropriate equipment for traveling on snow to class. There are no other prerequisites.

COURSE DETAILS

Length: 1 Day [8 Hours]
Guide-to-Client: 2:12
Price: $150 per person includes one night lodging!*

*As space permits. Requires additional online reservation at The Bunkhouse.

2018-2019 DATES

January 18
March 21

We only have two dates on the calendar so they will likely fill up soon! Please contact me directly with any questions or help booking the date at nealpinestart@gmail.com.

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start



AIARE 1 Avalanche Course on the Summit of Mount Washington!

Yesterday we concluded the first ever American Institute of Avalanche Research and Education Course on the summit of Mount Washington! The idea of holding an AIARE 1 Course in partnership with the Mount Washington Observatory has been brewing in my mind for years, and it finally turned into a reality!

Early in the morning this past Friday 8 participants met at Eastern Mountain Sports in North Conway to meet fellow AIARE Instructor Keith Moon and I to prepare for our 3 day adventure. After organizing our gear we made our way to the base of the Mount Washington Auto Road where Director of Education for the MWOBS, Michelle Cruz, welcomed the group and gave a short orientation.

Michelle welcomes and briefs the group
Michelle welcomes and briefs the group

Long time snow-cat operator and charismatic local Slim Bryant meets the group and gives them some last minute information about the snow-cat operating procedures.

099

During our ascent EMS Schools Guide Keith Moon took advantage of the improving visibility to point out various landmarks and explain some of the reasons Mount Washington has such interesting topography, weather, and flora.

Conversations about this unique trip made the first part of the ascent go by fast!
Conversations about this unique trip made the first part of the ascent go by fast!

Five miles up the road deep snow drifts required quite a bit of plowing so Slim suggested we take advantage of the warm comfortable weather and stretch our legs while he assaulted the drifts with a lot of back & forth plowing.

Walking beats motion sickness!
Walking beats motion sickness!
Great weather!
Great weather!

We arrived at the summit just before 11am and started class after a quick safety tour and lunch. Class was held in the conference room until a 6pm social hour followed by a delicious turkey dinner prepared by the Observatory volunteers, John & Gates.

Thank you John & Gates!
Thank you John & Gates!

The next morning the Higher Summits forecast called for sustained winds over 70, with gusts up to 110mph (it actually hit 118mph). Despite being “house-bound” the extra time to cover topics & info in greater detail was welcome, as the group stayed engaged and inquisitive through-out the demanding classroom day. I think the highlight for many was when we stepped out onto the observation deck after lunch to see what all the hype was about:

iPhone video uploaded to PC “upside down”. Will need to find a fix before I embed it. 😦

That evening we enjoyed a tour of the Weather Room from the very accommodating and informative Education Specialist Kaitlyn O’Brian. Despite having attended this tour in one form or another a dozen times over the last 10 years I still had questions and Kaitlyn was quick to answer and increase my understanding of what makes Mt. Washington such a remarkable place!

Weather Room tour after dinner on Day 2
Weather Room tour after dinner on Day 2

After the tour we all suited up and climbed the observation tower to visit the parapet, technically 30+ feet above the summit of Mount Washington, participants reveled in the opportunity to climb up and hold on while they felt the incoming high pressure system from Canada challenge their grip (Winds were 60-70mph at this time, down from 90mph during our Observation Deck venture)

(Asking participants for a photo or video from this time as I was busy using participants camera’s to catch anything with mine)

The next morning volunteers John & Gates treated us to a hearty breakfast of ham, eggs, and hashed potatoes before we packed our gear and met in the conference room for a trip planning session.

Gather info, form an opinion, converse, make a plan, execute!
Gather info, form an opinion, converse, make a plan, execute!

We settled on a descent of the East Snowfields followed by a long traverse over to the Gulf of Slides.

My Trip Plan
My Trip Plan

Around 0930 we bid farewell and thanks to the summit crew and volunteers who had been so accommodating to us during our stay and ventured out into 60+ mph northwest winds. The short distance we needed to travel to make it to the more sheltered East Snowfields will definitely be a memorable moment (especially for those who had snowboards in our group). Once we dropped 200 feet onto the East Snowfields though conditions were quite appealing.

Pavan ready to put some turns in near the top of the East Snowfields
Pavan ready to put some turns in near the top of the East Snowfields
The group discusses some terrain options
The group discusses some terrain options
Looking back up the East Snowfields with Allyson & Tod taking a quick break. Slope info is captured thanks to Theodolite iPhone App!
Looking back up the East Snowfields with Allyson & Tod taking a quick break. Slope info is captured thanks to Theodolite iPhone App!

At the bottom of the East Snowfields we intersected with the Lionshead Trail and switched back to touring mode to make our way towards Boot Spur & Gulf of Slides.

Long contouring traverse (2 of these words are not snowboarders favorite things)
Long contouring traverse (2 of these words are not snowboarders favorite things)
Brendan crosses above Tuckerman Ravine
Brendan crosses above Tuckerman Ravine
Patrick is all smiles!
Patrick is all smiles!

We got a great view looking back at our home for the last couple days… see all the ants climbing up Lobster Claw Gully?

Nice view of the summit cone I don't often experience
Nice view of the summit cone I don’t often experience
A zoomed in shot of Lobster Claw Gully
A zoomed in shot of Lobster Claw Gully

While we crossed Bigelow Lawn the views on all sides were amazing. I especially liked looking over at Franconia Ridge:

Franconia Ridge and Mount Lafeyette
Franconia Ridge and Mount Lafeyette

Visibility was over 120 miles as we could make out Mount Mansfield in Vermont! A nice wind-roll above Gulf of Slides offered a quick photo op for the Swanson father & son team!

Bluebird
Bluebird
#familyadventure!
#familyadventure!

We dropped into the snowfields of Gulf of Slides and had some great turns before stopping to learn a bit more about snow-pack observations.

After checking how deep the recent rain & warmth had penetrated we practiced layer ID, Hand Hardness, and Compression Tests, then traversed our way into the Main GoS gully. A fun run down brought us to a busy Pinkham Notch parking lot, and we gathered at a picnic table to debrief our experience and figure out how to move forward with our new found knowledge.

Ultimately this course was a huge success and a great wrap up to an amazing winter.

To the 8 participants in this first of its kind AIARE course… Thank you!  Your contributions through-out the course were much appreciated, and we look forward to implementing changes for next season based on your forthcoming feedback!

To the gracious staff of the Mount Washington Observatory… THANK YOU! Your support allowed us to provide one of the most experiential and educational experiences in avalanche education I have ever been a part of. We could not have done it without your help and are incredibly grateful!

And to my regular readers, thank you for following this blog. I plan to fill the next few “quiet” weeks with quite a bit gear reviews of extensively tested gear from this season. Over the next couple weeks there will be detailed reviews on;

Ortovox Avalanche Beacons (3 different models)

Black Diamond Snow Saws

BCA Beacons (2 models)

EMS & Black Diamond higher-end clothing

And much more… so… if you’ve read this far why not subscribe? It’s right up there at the top right… or like NEAlpineStart on Facebook.

To winter 2014/15, thank you! That was awesome. To Spring/Summer/Fall rock climbing season…. LET’S DO THIS!

-NEAlpineStart

AIARE 2 Avalanche Course

Yesterday wrapped up the 2nd AIARE 2 Avalanche Course of the season. Six Eastern Mountain Sports Climbing Guides, 3 from North Conway, 2 from The Gunks, and 1 from our Lake Placid location spent the last four days furthering their understanding of the avalanche phenomenon by improving their weather and snow-pack observation skills along with their rescue skills.

After reviewing AIARE 1 information we spend the rest of our first day upgrading our rescue skills with focuses on deep burials, multiple burials, close proximity burials, and rescue leadership. The deep burial scenario required a full effort from everyone as our “debris” had set up like concrete and our target was a life size stuffed Gore-tex full suit!

Digging through 2 meters of concrete
Digging through 2 meters of concrete
It took another 20 minutes of hard work to excavate the victim after reaching the "airway".
It took another 20 minutes of hard work to excavate the victim after reaching the “airway”.
One of our multiple burial scenarios unfolding...
One of our multiple burial scenarios unfolding…

Searching in Parallel, Micro-strip Search, Pro’s and Con’s of Marking, and Triage were all topics of that afternoon.

The next day was a heavy classroom day with lots of discussion on Mountain Weather, Online Resources, Metamorphism, and recording observations at the national standard in accordance with the “SWAG”.

We spent the 3rd morning covering the “how’s and why’s” of doing a Full Profile.

Mike Lackman was shadowing the course and offers up some advice during grain identification
Mike Lackman was shadowing the course and offers up some advice during grain identification

Despite increasing Spring like weather the snow pack was not iso-thermal, and a very distinct layer of 3-4mm advanced facets about 50cm down made for some impressive CT & ECT scores. (CT12 & 18, Q2 and ECTP 14)

My Full Profile
My Full Profile

From there we went on a short tour up to just above tree-line via the Cog.

Stopping for Chicken Fingers and a quick Weather Observation at Waumbek Tank
Stopping for Chicken Fingers and a quick Weather Observation at Waumbek Tank
Mike searches for the deeper faceted layer in a small pocket just to the right of Jacob's Ladder
Mike searches for the deeper faceted layer in a small pocket just to the right of Jacob’s Ladder
Gaining our high point with the incoming warm front right on our heels
Gaining our high point with the incoming warm front right on our heels

After some poking around in the snow and previewing terrain in the Ammonoosuc Ravine we descending the Cog in fairly good conditions. Right before the base the snow that had started falling around noon turned to rain and we wrapped up our day back at the Highland Center.

For the last day of the course we met at Pinkham Notch and planned a tour into Tuckerman Ravine. We zipped up to Hermit lake in short order and had a quick birthday celebration for Ryan before updating our travel plans.

Good skiing that requires very heads up attention!
Good skiing that requires very heads up attention!

We skinned up a very stable Little Headwall and gathered at the floor of the ravine to make a plan. Our climbers headed up into Lobster Claw and our skiers moved across and up into Left Gully.

Dustin and crew crossing the run out and starting the boot pack up climbers right side of Left Gully.
Dustin and crew crossing the run out and starting the boot pack up climbers right side of Left Gully.

With lots of probing and hand-shears we worked our way up below the ice fall to the left of Left Gully and after a brief group discussion decided we could push higher up to the “choke” of the gully.

We could see our other group just to the right of the mouth of Lobster Claw making observations
We could see our other group just to the right of the mouth of Lobster Claw making observations
Looking down the run I use the "Theodolite" iPhone App to capture some slope info
Looking down the run I use the “Theodolite” iPhone App to capture some slope info (Location/Altitude not reported as phone was on Airplane mode to conserve battery; i.e. No GPS Data)
Looking up into the start zone I capture incline and aspect (180 math needed)
Looking up into the start zone I capture incline and aspect (180 math needed)

Just below the choke we get some fairly positive hand shear results but the slab that is failing is quite thin, only about 20-25 cms or so. Two of our group wish to push a bit higher, which seemed reasonable, so the rest of us de-skinned and spotted their last 100 foot climb to just above the choke. From here we all descended, one-at-a-time at first, then with good spacing down below. Turns were pretty soft in most spots with occasional sections of hard scoured surface. The flat light made it a bit tricky to really let it rip.

Pretty decent turns and quite a few groups were appreciated the boot pack we had put in. It was a bit disconcerting to see so many without backpacks on... Where is your shovel & probe?
Pretty decent turns and quite a few groups were appreciated the boot pack we had put in. It was a bit disconcerting to see so many without backpacks on… Where is your shovel & probe? It is still winter up there.

We gathered at the floor then descended Little Headwall to the Cutler River. The Upper Cutler was great. One of our group had skied the Lower Cutler (below the bridge) a week prior and the majority vote was to continue down it. It was the first I had skied below the bridge so with a smidgen of hesitation I followed the group down. I can’t say it was great skiing, a bit to heavy mashed potatoes made for a few of those “must turn now” moments. One actively collapsing snow bridge with quite a bit of water right at the end made me glad to be exiting out along the Huntington Ravine trail to cut back over to the John Sherburne Ski Trail. I would suggest bailing at the bridge for the rest of the season… unless you are into that type of stuff!

Our run out...
Our run out…

The rest of the Sherbi skied great though the warm snow was a bit slow as we got to the bottom. No complaints though, all it all a great run!

Back at the parking lot we spent almost an hour and a half debriefing the day and the course in general. Feedback on the course was solicited and shared, and an honest look at what’s next was provided by recent AIARE 3 Graduate Keith Moon. Many of our guides are on tracks for AMGA certifications that will require an AIARE 3 Certificate, so links & suggestions for future learning were provided.

This was a really fun course for me. Getting to work each day with many co-workers who I don’t often cross paths with was a great boon. I feel like I know each of them quite a bit better. Their feedback will definitely help the AIARE 2 courses I lead next year improve. And despite a bit of rain the weather through out the course was fantastic. While I have the rest of the weekend off I’ll be heading back up the hill on Monday, and again on Friday. Then a short vacation before our first ever Mount Washington Observatory AIARE 1 Course!

Then, and only then, will I let myself start focusing on the upcoming rock season. Winter ain’t over till it’s over!

Spring is here (Not Really)

The equinox has come and gone and other than a bit more daylight to play in I haven’t noticed much of a difference! Yesterday was one of the coldest days I’ve had this season as we concluded another AIARE 1 Avalanche Course but first lets talk about how awesome the ice climbing conditions are!

Last Thursday, March 19th, I took former AIARE 1 student Kurt out for a day of Private Ice Climbing instruction. Kurt had a couple seasons under his belt (or harness) but wanted to get a jump start on his skill set. We headed out to Frankenstein and covered quite a bit of ground and information in a very fun filled day!

We started with a very big & blue Standard Route (Grade 3, 350 feet).

Standard Route at Frankenstein Cliffs
Standard Route at Frankenstein Cliffs

Despite it being a little bit of a PITA stopping in the cave I choose to do so as I think every first timer should see this cool feature. Experienced climbers who have seen it can greatly increase communication by skipping this feature and combining pitch 1 & 2 in a long 190 foot pitch.

Being first on route we see other climbers queuing up for a busy day
Being first on route we see other climbers queuing up for a busy day
Wrapping up pitch 2 of Standard
Wrapping up pitch 2 of Standard

We topped out around 11:30 and made our way back down to the tracks for some lunch, then headed over to the Amphitheater. There Bob’s Delight, (Grade 3+ 100 feet) was still in great shape, though a little soft. After I led the route I lowered off and Kurt took a top-rope lap on it so we could focus on efficiency & technique.

Bob's Delight
Bob’s Delight

One more run up it to clean the anchor and I grabbed a shot of Kurt finishing the route.

Bluebird day!
Bluebird day!

We had just enough time to squeeze in one more route so we hopped over to Cave Route, and finished on that 75 foot Grade 3. Definitely a fun day out I look forward to climbing with Kurt again soon!

The next day began a full AIARE 1 Avalanche Course that ended yesterday. As is becoming custom this winter we had perfect conditions for the course, despite yesterday’s field day being quite arctic we still learned a lot and enjoyed some fresh powder in the Cutler River!

Making some snow pack observations below Hillmans Highway
Making some snow pack observations below Hillmans Highway
Debriefing our Tour Day
Debriefing our Tour Day
My field notes from the day
My field notes from the day

Despite air temps far below 0 and even colder wind chills we had a really good day up there. Today I’ve spent catching up on errands while preparing for an AIARE 2 Course that starts tomorrow.

While the calendar may say Spring I am certainly still in a winter mindset!

Washington, Willard, Washington, Cathedral, and nights thinking about avalanches…

It’s been a fun filled 4 days with two ascents of Mount Washington, a multi-pitch ice climbing day at Willard, and a half-day of ice climbing with the excellent kids of Brooks School from North Andover, MA at the North End of Cathedral. Winter is in full swing and I have a day off tomorrow to attend to the less exciting things in life like laundry & dump runs but I’m looking forward to some multi-pitch ice on Thursday and a booked avalanche course for Sat-Sun-Mon.

Lately every day brings another couple inches of snow to Washington and we have an excellent outdoor classroom to run a course right now. Given the latest headline news of a couple young US Ski Team hopefuls (one quite local)  losing their lives in an avalanche last week in Austria and another recent fatality in Silverton, CO I’ve been thinking a lot about the White Mountain Avalanche Fund set up by the US Forest Service and how I might be able to liaison between EMS Schools and this fund to get some potential “at-risk” high-school students into an AIARE 1 course next winter. Juniors & Seniors at high-schools with strong ski teams are the most likely to be entering avalanche terrain soon after High School and establishing some solid decision making skills at this critical age could hopefully help prevent some of these tragedy’s in the future.

EMS Schools Management is behind the idea so my next step is to find point of contacts at regional high-schools with strong ski programs. Kennett & Fryeburg Acadamy are most local, but the abundance of private high-schools with great ski programs in NH is quite long, and it will take some research to make sure the right people are aware of this educational, potentially life saving, opportunity. My goal right now is to have at-least 1 AIARE Course next winter comprised of 12 high-school students most likely to ski in avalanche terrain in the years following their graduations.

So far this year we have had 4 in country avalanche fatalities, plus the 2 out of county, compared to 5 in country this time last year. The more sobering statistic is we had 35 fatalities last season… there is a lot of winter left! If anyone reading this has the names or email addresses of High School Ski Program Directors in NH/ME/VT please let me know, this recent tragedy can be turned into a catalyst of preventive education if we can connect the right people to the right resources…

See you in the mountains,

NEAlpineStart

P.S. Contest running until 1/31/15 for two brand new ice screws. Simple to enter. Like North East Alpine Start on Facebook for 1 entry, follow/subscribe to this blog for a second entry (link is top right).  Winner announced on 2/2/15.

AIARE 1 Avalanche Course 12/19-12/21

Yesterday concluded our first AIARE 1 Avalanche Course of the season and conditions were great for such an early season course! Two EMS Schools New Paltz, NY guides and one of our North Conway guides joined 8 other aspirant back-country travelers to learn about decision making and risk management in avalanche terrain.

Beacon Range Check at the AMC Highland Center
Examining some Surface Hoar while on our Observational Outing
Do you know how this is formed and why it is important in relation to avalanche safety?
Team Orange conducts a trip planning session in the pack room of Pinkham Notch Visitor Center the morning of the tour day
Team Black & Blue checks the updated avalanche bulletin
Successfully skinning up from Hermit Lake into Tuckerman Ravine
The skier group converses at the first aid cache before entering consequential terrain to make sure they are all still on the same page and to update their observations
Team Orange is high up in the Sluice below the cliff band, you may need to zoom in to spot them
Team Black & Blue spreads out while crossing the lower center bowl
Team Orange visible just to the left of Right Gully while we make our way over towards The Chute
All smiles during our run down the Sherburne Ski Trail at the end of the day
My field notes from Day 3...
My field notes from Day 3… I wish I had better handwriting skillz

What a treat it was to be able to skin all the way into the bowl so early in the season. The Sherbi was in pretty “fast” conditions and is definitely, as I noted in my book, in need of some love. Unfortunately Santa must have thought skiers where a pretty naughty bunch this year as he’s having his friend Mother Nature deliver us a hefty dose of our least favorite precipitation, rain. Personally I would prefer coal but what can you do. Let’s hope to bring in the New Year with some copious amounts of new snow!

To the 11 engaged participants of this first avalanche course of the season, thank you for making this a fun and productive 3 days. See you in the mountains!