May 13, 2011

Lesson learned in Limber Pine

These are the two couloirs I planned to ski this morning. Limber Pine is on the right (Green). This picture was taken back in March.

This morning I took a scary fall, and I came out of it fine, but it easily could have been a lot worse. I screwed up, but I take full accountability for what happened, and considering what happened on the Pfeifferhorn earlier this week, I think its important to get the message out that just because its mid May, that doesn't mean everything is safe to ski right now.

I had the day off from work, and my plan was to link up two of the major LCC south-facing couloirs (pictured above), Limber Pine and Little Pine. The idea was to climb Limber Pine first, ski it, then climb Little Pine, ski it, then cross the street and head up White Pine canyon. It was an ambitious plan that would require over 10,000 feet of climbing. I started off ~5:50am from the White Pine trailhead, and within 20 minutes I already knew that my day wasn't going to go as planned. The snow didn't get a good freeze overnight, and as I started to make my way up the Limber Pine Couloir, it was obvious that the snow under the top layer had not consolidated yet. It was in the process of becoming isothermal, but wasn't there yet. I reached a "choke" point where some rocks and trees were sticking out, and it got steep and icy at this point. I thought to myself "If Andrea was with me, I'd be turning around right now... there's no way I'd let her go up this." And stupidly, I kept going up. Mistake #1 - don't be an idiot when Andrea isn't around!

In the next 10-15 minutes, the sun began to hit the snow, and instantly it turned to mush. I tried to gain the ridge to the left, but sunk into thigh deep snow, only about 20 feet from the ridge, but I couldn't go anywhere. I knew at this point I had to turn around, and hoped it wasn't too late...

I put my skis on, and when I went to tighten my boots, the primary strap on the left boot wouldn't tighten. 99.999% of the time, I wear 4-buckle Garmont Mega-Ride boots. I love those boots and they have never let me down. Today I decided to take my Scarpa F1s (to save 11 ounces per foot). They are great on the UP, but on a 40 degree no-fall-zone slope, they don't cut it. Mistake #2 - Don't take gear you haven't used a lot into a committing ski zone.

I made about 10 turns, but the snow wasn't supportable enough to make jump turns, and I was basically skiing on one boot. So I threw my skis back on my pack and decided I would downclimb. I descended about a hundred feet and then the snow totally dropped out underneath me. I fell face first, forward, into a hard icy runnel of snow and started to slide for life. Survival instincts kicked in, and I tried to plunge my whippets into the snow and self-arrest... they both ripped out of my hands... now I was moving very fast towards a small patch of trees and rocks (again, HEAD FIRST)... I was not in control at all... the next thing I know, I smashed my shoulder into one tree, and grabbed onto another tree with my right hand and managed to hold on and stop my slide. It was extremely scary, and happened so fast that I'm not even sure how I managed to stop myself.

I ended up being able to get my crampons on, retrieve my whippets, and downclimb the icy section, then ski the lower half of the couloir. But I was definitely shaken up by the fall, and decided to just call it a day (at 9am) when I got back to my jeep. I went down to Dimple Dell Park and had a great trail run to clear my head.

This morning I was humbled. We've had a great year of backcountry skiing... about 50 days and no incidents of note before today... I made a mistake and nearly paid the price. Lesson learned. This one will stick with me.

And the snowpack needs more time to consolidate.

Morning light on the Coalpit Headwall

On a spine above the Limber Pine couloir

Looking down from the section where I re-grouped after I fell. I crashed into these trees and managed to hold on and self-arrest

The tree that I grabbed and stopped myself with

Despite things not going like I planned... the views were still pretty good

The lower half of Limber Pine

Looking back up... I climbed the chute to the left (not the one filled w/ avalanche debris). It doesn't look like it goes continually to the top, but it does.

Some scrapes like this were the worst of my injuries, luckily


  1. Jeez Louise, be careful there Sonny Bono

  2. Sonny Bono wasn't skiing this type or terrain! The tree actually saved me! And luckily we have a different dentist... haha.

  3. Glad you made it out of that one ok. Definitely sounds like a scary ride!

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