Two to five inches of fresh snow overnight, a powder day in the midst. But what about the high winds overnight gusting to 60mph and the weight of the new snow? A perfect recipe for wind slabs and an added stress to the existing snowpack. Frank Bowman and I had been in contact over the week and had planned on skiing a great local line West facing line that we knew is in fat. I have not dug a pit in the past few weeks and I haven't seen any signs of instability either. I know the deep persistent slab still lurks although low probability but still high consequence. Still, a perfect recipe for overconfidence. I am glad that today happened as it made me remember that we are still in a transitioning snowpack.
I still like to live by the thought process of "you never know until you get out there and look at it yourself". And I also like to remind myself to ALWAYS listen to the mountain. There were a few things today leading up to the bail and from the start I had a weird feeling about the day. First off, I get off of work at 7am and my co-worker asks me if I am ever afraid of getting caught in an avalanche and dying. Ha, that's not a great question to ask before I got out on a tour but I kinda just brushed it off and told her that of course I do and that safety is always my number one concern. Then, I get home, get ready, and then wait for Frank to come pick me up. I pull up Facebook and the first 5 or 6 posts in a row are about avalanches from various people. Hmmm, then I start to wonder. Is this a sign or something? Next, not a huge deal, but Frank was over an hour behind, and he was tired. That kid is never tired, ha. Again, not a huge deal, but things just started adding up.
So we drive up to our TH and start skinning up into the bowl towards our intended line. The visibility wasn't really too good and it was still snowing lightly. As we got above treeline a bit of vertigo sets in although the snow was feeling pretty good as we made our way further back and closer to our route. There was 2-5in of fresh snow but it seemed to have bonded fairly well to the old surface. We make our way up the apron, constantly talking things over and assessing our situation. We get about 1/3 the way up from the bottom and I get a whompf. Never a good feeling. You feel like a sitting duck and don't even want to move. I had just measured the slope at the 35-36 range so we were absolutely on avy prone slope. Given the circumstances; all the weird signs I had earlier, Frank not feeling it, and the mountain telling us to go home, we made the easy decision to turn around and save it for another day.
Up a little ways further is where I got the whumpf and cracking. At first I thought it was only the new storm snow but upon closer inspection the crack seemed to go through the snowpack. We didn't even want to dig a pit at that point. Sometimes all it takes is a bad feeling and a little sign from the mountains to tell you to go home.
I am glad that today happened as it kind of put me back into check in realizing that we are still in a transitioning snowpack and that we really still need to be on our toes. I don't believe that any decision we made going into the trip were bad. West facing, leeward, the start of a melt/freeze cycle stabilizing the pack, ect.. I would absolutely go for it 10 out of 10 times in this situation, but as always you still have to be very cautious and to not push it. I personally am going to back off a bit from what I had in my head of lines to start skiing. The time will come. Patience is a virtue.