Big Four Avy Watching

Nealbob and the Mountain

Took an easy trip to the base of Big Four Mountain this weekend with ol’ friend and fellow blogger Nealbob from http://www.nealbobwalks.com/ to spy some spring avalanches careen down Big Four’s impossibly steep slopes.

ROAD CLOSED

With the current gate closure at Deer Creek, the hike began on the snow covered Mountain Loop Highway.

A little over a mile and a half of easy walking on snow was punctuated by the stark contrast of great mountain vistas and vile heaps of decomposing (dog?) feces along the path. 

In little time we arrived at the Ice Caves Picnic area parking lot before embarking on the pleasant woodland walking of the Ice Caves Trail. 

Path through the timber

Luckily there were no serious blow downs or other obstacles along the grade, but snow was continuous from the Stilliguamish River crossing onward. 

We arrived to discover we had the entire basin to ourselves. 

Throughout the morning, periodic rivulets of snow tumbled down until a real doozy broke loose around 10am. 

… and it was quite the show!

A light stream of powder soon became a torrent of white doom as it rained down into the broad avalanche fan for several minutes. The air echoed with the brilliant chaos that a few tons of cascading snow tends to create. 

Avalanche fans in the west basin

HEADIN’ OUT

Late morning steady drizzle signaled our time of departure. Just before the last glimpses of the avalanche basin were lost behind our steps however, another hefty heap of spring melt was liberated from the 6161-foot tall block of rock. The distant chorus of muffled impacts resounded through the conifers. 

Apparently the sound carried all the way to the trailhead as both a pair of hikers and a pair of Forest Rangers we passed on the way out asked if we’d been witness to the spectacle. 

“Yeah man, we were there…”

“Uh, what do you supposed snapped these trees?”

THE SHORT VERSION

  • Snow covering much of trail
  • Gate closed at Deer Creek, requires an extra 1.5mi+ walk to trailhead
  • Lots of dog poop
  • Approx 6.5mi RT
  • Extreme avalanche danger

Road closed to vehicles at Deer Creek, snow currently covering most of the road to trailhead. Much of the trail is also snow covered with the exception of bridges and boardwalks.

A hard packed footpath of snow exists most of the way to the avalanche zone. Traction devices advised. Waterproof footwear highly recommended. 

Travel into avalanche area NOT recommended.

CONSIDERATIONS

  • Avalanches kill. Keep a safe distance or don’t go at all.  
  • Please bag AND pack out your dog poop.
  • Road closure keeps the crowds down for the moment. Good time to take advantage of this very popular hike.

A WORD ABOUT THE ICE CAVES

Many lives have been tragically cut short due to the inherent natural hazards at the Ice Caves area. 

Avalanches, falling ice or other debris, collapsing ice caves and many other hazards exist at all times of the year, but are especially heightened during certain seasonal conditions.  

Know before you go. Stay safe, stay out of the avalanche area. 

      All in all about 6.5mi round trip

      *Disclaimer: The activities and actions described on this website are for entertainment purposes only. 

      HAPPY TRAILS!

      AIARE 1

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      Upward and onward!

      A couple of weeks ago I took an AIARE (American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education) course via The Mountaineers, and taught by the good people at BC Adventure Guides.

      We spent a couple lecture days in Tacoma going over the materials, watching videos and getting a handle on avalanches in general.

      Questions were asked and answered, coffee was consumed and one guy had the wrong classroom.

      The following weekend we met for the field portion at Snoqualmie Pass.

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      Witchcraft, clearly.

      DAY ONE (DAY THREE OF CLASS)

      Checked NWAC before leaving the house.

      We marched up around Silver Fir Lodge to become acquainted with our avalanche beacons and to delve into companion rescue.

      It didn’t take long to realize just how screwed you are if you are buried without a beacon.

      In very little time at all we went from barely knowing how to turn the things on to locating buried beacons in the snow as a team.

      If we had to find the same beacons using only probes….we’d still be looking.

      Life and death right there. Seriously.

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      “And on the first day he dugeth a test pit and saw that it was good”

      DAY TWO (DAY FOUR OF CLASS)

      Checked NWAC before leaving (there is a theme here)

      Today was about putting everything we learned together into a mini tour of Mt.Hyak.

      We dug a couple pits and made many field observations along the way.

      Whichwaysthewinda’blowin’? Howhardisshea’howlin’? Howmuchsnosa’snowin’?

      With the NW slope of Mt.Catherine as our backdrop we focused on snowpack observations and field tests.

      Our Rutschblock Test was particularly amusing and insightful.

      Skiers curiously eyeballed us as they occasioned by, some even asked about our findings

      Oh that reminds me, our “avalanche victims” deserve a round of applause as well…Daytime Emmys for everybody!

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      Through the woods

      As we traveled back to the parking lot some ideas started congealing in my brain:

      Reluctant to part with the money for a beacon…?

      Experiencing firsthand the difference an avalanche beacon makes when trying to locate an avalanche victim is stunning.

      If you don’t want to buy one, you could always rent one instead. BCAdventures offered rentals, as well as a list of retailers that rented beacons as well.

      Remember: Money… you can’t take it with you!

      “This is some serious s#!t buddy!”

      Winter time travel in the mountains is inherently dangerous and many of our familiar summer routes bear grave avalanche risk in the winter months.

      Sadly, some kill year after year.

      Any loaded slope of sufficient grade can slide and various terrain features can exacerbate that risk.

      Knowing how to choose terrain is probably the single greatest thing you can do to save your life.

      I probably could have learned this stuff on my own…

      Yeah I suppose you could, in theory.

      I knew a lot of things going into this class, but I left it with more than I probably would have ever learned by myself.

      Also, there is no substitute for learning from an experienced guide that can answer all of your questions… well, about avalanches anyway.

      Would you take this course again in hindsight?

      Absolutely.

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      Der Rutschblock

      Do you know avalanche terrain?

      Maybe you are missing out on deeper backcountry because you are too cautious?

      Maybe you’ve had one foot in the grave for years without ever even knowing it?

      Do you know?

      I highly suggest taking an AIARE 1 course in your area if you ever intend to travel in avalanche terrain. (aka teh intir mowntens)

      If you don’t, you’ll be happy the person who digs you out did.

      If you get dug out…

      Happy Trails!