Mt. Yale – Silver Creek Bowl Avalanche

Posted on May 18, 2010

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Silver Creek Bowl, looking awfully inviting. Photo: Collin

OK, first off, you should know that despite what happened, Collin is alive and healthy with a bruised shin and he’ll probably be skiing with his tail between his legs for a while. I can’t really describe what he went through, but I’ll tell you the events leading up to what happened.

Secondly, we were both fully equipped with beacons, shovels, probes, and avy level 1 certifications. I also practice rescues throughout the season at BCA Beacon Parks and was wearing an Avalung. Collin will be the first to admit he was a little powder hungry and didn’t read the signs, and he paid a minimal price for what happened. We both learned a lot about what not to do next time we’re faced with similar conditions, and hope to never make the same mistakes.

OK, begin TR:

I drove up to the Horn Fork Basin trailhead early on Saturday with a crew for a failed attempt at Mt. Columbia. We turned around after hiking about 4 miles and 3,000 feet of vertical, a lot of which was bootpacked/postholed, and then camped at the Silver Creek trailhead just down the road. Collin showed up early and ready to go Sunday morning to attempt Mt. Yale, the only Collegiate Peak I had not yet summited. The rest of the crew was a little too tired from the day before to get moving, so he and I set out at about 7AM.

We made quick work of the first 2,000 feet of vert on the mostly-dry trail, then alternated between skinning and hiking for the middle 1,000 vert, and then ascended the East Ridge out of the Silver Creek basin a little too early. This lead to some interesting bushwhacking, and then some bootpacking on everything from Class 4 rock to waist-deep snow.

Collin boot packing the first section of the ridge

Me coming up some rock. Photo: Collin

Because we were off-route and had to negotiate some tricky rock sections, we ended up behind schedule by about three hours when we finally made the summit. The views, as reported by Gerry Roach, were spectacular for sure, and I was about to count almost 20 fourteeners from the top.

Harvard and Columbia, noticed the huge avalanche damage in the southwest gully of Columbia?

Me, happy to be finished with that longer-than-necessary hike. Photo: Collin

Summit shot!

Looking good!

This is where things went wrong. I was nervous about the bowl directly in front of us because I spied a convex rollover and some windloading. But, it looked like the rollover smoothed out further to the left. I told Collin the best line would be to drop in, cut hard left, and then ski out of the bowl. But then I realized that I had been sucking wind and moving super slow all day, and Collin had broken trail most of the way, so I said, “wait, you broke trail most of the way, where are my manners? Why don’t you go first?” He was stoked. I described the line he should take, and he dropped in.

Collin, enjoying his first deep turn

Collin, enjoying his fifth deep turn

He then disappeared from my view. I remember thinking, “hopefully the next time I see him, he won’t be riding in an avalanche.”

Rats.

Collin came back into my view about ten feel from where the crown had broke, riding on top of a fairly large windslab slide. I said the standard “oh shit, oh shit,” as I watched him go for the ride of his life. I lost sight of him after he traveled about 300 feet, and honestly thought I was about to perform my first real avalanche rescue. Luckily, when it all settled, he was able to stand up and was only buried shin deep.

That little black dot is Collin

I took that picture after verbally communicating with him. He said his leg was banged up but was otherwise OK. I noticed he was stuck in position, and there was a lot of hang fire, so I traversed hard right and skied a rock-rib down to him. By that time he had dug himself out, and only had pain in his right shin.

Looking back up from where Collin stopped. That high point in the crown is where he had dropped in, and pretty much was carried from there all the way to where the picture was taken.

After a breather, some water, and making sure he was OK, we hightailed it out of there, and I actually got some pretty good shots of us skiing out, albeit we were both running high on adrenaline after what happened.

Collin skiing out next to his “glitch”

Looking back up at the glitch

The section of the ridge that sucked time away from us

Collin skiing the lower section into the Silver Creek drainage, notice my figure 11s?

When all was said and done, we ended up with an 11 hour day in the mountains, about 5,000 vertical, 10 miles traveled, some pretty decent turns for May 16th, and one gigantic learning experience for the both of us.

I highly recommend reading Collin’s take on what happened on his blog, Colorado Backcountry Skiing. He wrote an awesome TR.

I’ll be in the San Juans this next weekend. Also, I’m a little embarrassed to have one, but you might check out my micro-twitter-blog to see what else I have been up to that isn’t worthy of it’s own blog posts.

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