Déjà vu all over again

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Location Lat/Lon: 40.29220°N / 105.68°W
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: May 6, 2007
Activities Activities: Mountaineering
Seasons Season: Spring

Trip Report

In less than two years I've watched Nelson take two rides in avalanches. This one had less serious results than the last, but was still a pretty scary experience. Here's how the day unfolded...

Another Sunday, another snow climb in The Park...

South Side Couloirs on Otis PeakMore serious couloirs along the way.
This time we selected an obscure couloir on the south side of Otis Peak. Gillett had described our chosen route as a descent option for rock climbs on The Flower Tower so we knew we couldn't claim it as a first ascent, but we thought it possible that nobody had set out to climb the couloir as a spring snow climb. Therefore we decided we could take the liberty of naming our climb if successful. Fabio nominated the name "Flour Power Couloir" and it stuck.

Fabio, Nelson, Jeff, Dan and I met at the Glacier Gorge Trailhead at 5:30am. The weather was much nicer than advertised... it was going to be a bluebird day!

Dan expresses gratitude...Dan thanks his rock.
We cruised up the trail to The Loch and passed it on its southern shore. Fabio commented that there was a lot less snow than when he was here the previous weekend - it's melting fast!

Route finding past The Loch was a little trickier and our meandering path involved periodic postholing, but we eventually made it up to the meadow with the weather station below The Gash. I'd never really paid attention, but there were lots of interesting looking couloirs separating the cool-looking towers on the South Side of Otis. All looked to provide very interesting climbing possibilities, though most looked more challenging than we were prepared for today (we didn't bring ice tools, pro, or harnesses). We headed up the valley toward the steep headwall below Andrews Glacier, admiring the couloirs and their mixed lines along the way, until we finally spotted one that looked doable with our snow climbing kit.

We made our way up the apron until we found a nice rock for switching into crampons, donning helmets, and pulling out our ice axes. The snow was a mix of conditions - some 6" deep fresh powder, some very hard snow, and a mixture of both.

Where we wereWhere we were.
After getting kitted up we set off into the couloir. It looked really cool with some cruxy rock-step sections and very narrow chimney sections. We soon approached the first cruxy section and Fabio led the way up a gully on the right side of the couloir that consisted of a mixture of ice, rock, and snow. Dan and Jeff proceeded to follow.

Nelson and I had no tools and the ice didn't look very attractive to me. I spied an exit off to my left that would get me out back into snow after an awkward scrambly move or two. I made these moves and got out into the snow. I relayed to Nelson that my way would go, and it would probably be better than the ice Fabio had gone up.

Then the avalanche.

The next few moments are a bit of a blur, and I can't quite remember the exact sequence, but I either saw the snow coming down the couloir first, or I heard Dan's shout of "heads up", and then looked up to see it. It looked like a big cloud of spin drift coming down the couloir and I had time to ask Dan, "Is that an avalanche?" To which Dan and Fabio both shouted "AVALANCHE!!!!!!!" and I knew for sure. Time seemed to pass in slow motion and I had time to think to myself, "Maybe if I can whip out my video camera fast enough I can catch some of this on film." It only took a split second for myself to reply, "No dumbass! Plant your axe, brace yourself, and hold on for dear life!"

That's what I did, and a moment later I was showered with snow.

[img:291258:alignright:small:Nelson is okay.]A few seconds after that I relaxed and took a quick peek around. I was fine - I had just been showered with excess snow while the main body of the slide had passed to my right and down the gully I had just been in. I heard shouting and confirmed that Fabio, Jeff, and Dan were okay. But what of Nelson? I shouted, "NEEELSOOOOOOOON?!?!?!"

A second later I heard a faint reply... but the reply didn't come from where I knew Nelson was last. Instead it came from 50' down the slope. I looked down to see Nelson pulling himself out of the debris. It was déjà vu all over again.

"Nelson are you okay?!?"

"Yeah - I'm okay. I'm heading down."

"Yeah, so are we."

[img:291350:alignleft:small:Dan thanks his rock.]But before I retreated I had to walk up to where Fabio and Dan were to get a better idea of what had happened. Fabio had been in the lead and had taken the avalanche full in the face. Luckily he'd had time to plant both his axes and prepare to hold on. As the avalanche poured against him he'd felt the pressure building and wasn't sure how long he'd be able to hold. Fortunately the avalanche subsided before he had to find out the limit of his strength.

Jeff and Dan had both really lucked out. They both found big boulders to hunker down behind and had the amazing experience of watching the avalanche fly over the top of their heads. They reported being amazed by the sound - like a herd of horses as the snow rushed all around them. I don't recall hearing anything - perhaps because the avalanche didn't pass right over my head!

[img:291247:alignright:small:There one minute...][img:291249:alignright:small:...gone the next]Nelson (once again) took the brunt of the avalanche. He was still down at the base of the rock/ice crux gully (having not yet been able to follow me out to the left) when the avalanche hit. He did not have as much warning as the rest of us, and didn't have the luxury of a bomber ice axe belay. When the avalanche came down the couloir it was still relatively spread out when it hit Fabio, but got funneled down the rock gully and hit Nelson head-on in a concentrated blast. Nelson was able to hold on through an initial wave but then got ripped off his stance as the force mounted. He somersaulted backwards with the flow but was amazingly able to keep control of his ice axe and use it to right himself and get oriented on his stomach to self arrest. Thankfully the avalanche had come to a stop at that point and hadn't dashed him against the rocks in the apron below the couloir. He came to a rest on top of the debris - not buried underneath it.

Once we'd all collected ourselves we beat a hasty retreat down out of the couloir and out of harm's way. Nelson was the only one to suffer minor injuries - a pulled hamstring and a lacerated hand. A bandage helped stop the bleeding hand and a few ibuprofens would help staunch the inevitable soreness.

[img:291392:alignleft:small:Where we were.]We thanked our lucky stars that it hadn't been worse. Really the whole situation could have gone much, much worse. If the avalanche had happened 5 minutes earlier we all would have been in the tight rocky/ice gully (not just Nelson) and we probably all would have been swept away. We could have severally injured each other by crashing into each other bouncing around in the slide, and we all could have been buried. Also, the slide had been a very minor one in the grand scheme of things. A much larger one would have obviously done a lot more damage.

After reflecting on our good fortune we headed to Ed's Cantina for the traditional post climb fish burrito and margarita. None of us had the stomach (or the lack of sense) to climb anything else and we wanted to get Nelson down to the car before the effects of his injuries got any worse.

As Fabio commented as we parted ways after lunch, "You learn something every trip to the mountains." Some times the lessons are more forceful, painful, obvious than others.

By the way, please don't tell our wives. The official story that we told them was: "Snow conditions weren't very good so we backed off and came home." Which of course is all true, we just choose not to elaborate on the snow condition indicators.

Dan on the other hand is milking this for all it's worth. Word on the Colorado College campus is that he barely survived a monstrous slide and heroically dug all his friends (who surely would have perished without him) out single handedly.



Post a Comment
Viewing: 1-20 of 27

Kiefer - May 7, 2007 4:09 pm - Voted 10/10


Holy fuc*ing shit! Thank-God Nelson's Ok. To have the snow funnel like that and then get hit while its moving the fastest...Dam. Glad to hear you're OK, man. If it hit Fabio the way it did, sounds like part of a cornice came down, probably not the whole thing though.
I bet those Margeritas at Ed's went down fast.


Nelson - May 10, 2007 1:01 am - Voted 10/10

Re: II#@%&!

Thanks skasgaard. Doing OK except for a mighty impressive bruise that now covers much of my left hamstring. Yeah I had a marg at Ed's then went down to Fort Collins and had another at the Rio!


Kane - May 7, 2007 5:47 pm - Voted 10/10


I'm not sure what quite to say here. First, I'm glad everyone is ok. Especially Nelson; that guy already has been through enough of a beating through the years. Second, I'm thankfull ya'll can learn from this experience. It still freaks me out when friends get caught up in shit like this. I know a few of you well enough that these obscure routes which have funnel-lanche potential might scare ya'll off in the future. Or at least, are takin on later in the season. Going forward, I'm sure ya'll will continue to bust out time-tested routes. Lord knows there's enough of them in the Park for ya'll to choose from. Replace snow with rockfall and we might be singing a differnt song here.

I have a question: These obscure routes ya'll are taking on; are they obscure for a reason?


Andy - May 7, 2007 5:56 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Well...

Does this mean you want off the email list? ;-)

We're slow learners.

But yeah - you're right. This sort of thing needs to wait for a couple more weeks. There were some clues that things weren't great even before the avalanche. Next time we need to heed them sooner.


Kane - May 7, 2007 6:11 pm - Voted 10/10

Re: Well...

I hope you read my edited response. I wrote the original too fast and furious and realized that I'm not here to lecture...like I know, cuz I don't. Hell NO I don't want off ya'lls e-mail list. I find ya'lls brainstorming to be quite entertaining. Maybe I'll be the one that chirps in "some of you have family." At that point I'm sure I'll be removed from the e-mail list. Glad you are ok.


Chris - May 8, 2007 1:08 am - Voted 10/10

Re: Well...

Glad I stayed in bed for this one... and glad you guys are all ok! Nelson...you gotta quit beating your body up like that, you won't get the security deposit back on it!

Kane, we'll get out for an "old timid risk-adverse guys" day one of these days :-) Actually, I figured I'd get booted from the email list for lecturing them earlier, but apparently they still like me ok (or haven't gotten around to it yet) :-)

Andy, at least we shouldn't have any avy issues in the Grand Canyon this weekend. Great account of the day's events... see you Thursday morning.


Nelson - May 9, 2007 11:00 am - Voted 10/10

Re: Well...

Thanks Kane and Chris. As Andy notes we are slow learners, but are now certified members of the timid risk-adverse club. We were probably minutes away from turning around. Those were significant minutes as it turned out, so we were not quite timid enough.

The black and blue bruising on my left leg is quite impressive right now, so they have clamped down on my security deposit.

Have a great run in the Canyon. See you around.


Gareth - May 7, 2007 6:09 pm - Voted 10/10

What to say?

First, I glad that everyone is okay!!!

Second, and I hate to say this: Be careful guys. I want you all to be around when I move out to CO!


jwproulx - May 7, 2007 7:58 pm - Hasn't voted


Glad you're all okay!

I had a similar experience a week ago while on Dead Dog a bit too late in the morning. The conditions still seemed reasonably stable (snow just beginning to soften up; no rollers, ...). We thought we were being cautious -- we were ready to retreat at the first sign of instability. That sign turned out to be an avalanche. Luckily it was in the next gulley over. We bailed pronto. Lesson learned.

JJ - May 8, 2007 12:26 pm - Hasn't voted


I was wondering if this was anyone off of SP. I read about the incident on the CAIC website. Glad to hear all you guys are OK.


foxylady - May 8, 2007 10:39 pm - Voted 10/10

ah ha!

One of the wives found out!!!!!! I'm selling all his mountaineering stuff on Ebay as we speak! :)


Andy - May 8, 2007 10:57 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: ah ha!

Ahhhhh crap! ;-)

One of these days you and Jeff will have to come rock climbing with my wife and I.


Alpinist - May 10, 2007 1:30 pm - Voted 10/10

Note to self

Don't climb with Nelson... Nice report! Glad everyone is ok.


Nelson - May 11, 2007 2:58 pm - Voted 10/10

Re: Note to self

Good advice. I wouldn't climb with that guy either.


Alpinist - May 11, 2007 4:27 pm - Voted 10/10

Re: Note to self

Be careful Nelson. People are going to start calling you "Mr Avalanche"...


Gareth - May 12, 2007 12:30 am - Voted 10/10

Re: Note to self

More like "Mr. Avalanche Magnet" ;-)


Nelson - May 13, 2007 10:34 am - Voted 10/10

Re: Note to self

> People are going to start calling you "Mr Avalanche"...

That would be a compliment compared to a number of other names I can think of!

Dan Dalton

Dan Dalton - May 13, 2007 12:40 am - Voted 10/10

Great report...

well written as always. Oh, and the milking it to attract the ladies at Colorado College hasn't been working out as well as planned! Oh well, it sure makes a good story! When are we gonna get out and climb? Let's get out to Eldo sometime...


Aaron Dyer

Aaron Dyer - May 15, 2007 12:24 pm - Hasn't voted

Remind me

Remind me not to go snow climbng with you guys! I don't need anymore luck like. I remember you guys pretty well because we were on Mount Toll about a week after that happened to first time. Congrats on making it out alive.


1mvertical - May 15, 2007 1:00 pm - Voted 10/10

Glad all ended well

Thanks for sharing the story.

Viewing: 1-20 of 27

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