AIARE L1 Fieldtrip (Jan 11-12, 2014)

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aiare_coverConditions: Day hikes/field trip
Gear: snowshoes, beacon/probe/shovel
Map: USGS Shuksan Arm
Area: Mt Baker/Artist Point
Stats: unknown

I'm finally starting to feel like I'm getting back up to speed after my big knee "event" in 2010. I'm feeling stronger and more confident. Part of getting my confidence level back up is getting more educated. I've been travelling in the backcountry more years than I have fingers on my hands...shame on me for waiting this long to get more educated on avalanches...

This all started late last changes...trip partners move on...people get married...there is just a new "routine" to getting out on trips on weekends. I rejoined the Mountaineers and went to a seminar and AIARE training was mentioned. I thought about taking this class last year but it just didn't seem the right least not then. This year...I was all for it. I got home from the meeting, logged on to the Mtneers site and registered for the class...

The class was a short series of three evening classroom sessions which was capped off with a 2 day field trip up at Mt Baker. There was some email chatter the week before the fieldtrip to get carpooling arranged. The plan...head up to the Mtneers Lodge at Mt Baker Friday evening (it's a long drive even from north of Seattle) and spend the night. Good decision...a storm front was moving in bringing what turned out to be the first significant snow dump (long overdue) of the season.

Day 1: Saturday morning we were up, packed, breakfast in the lodge (yum), and then after a short introduction, it was time to head out into the weather. Right at the end of the upper parking lot there was an NWAC avy rating sign up. I'd never seen one placed there before. It was a good reminder about why all of us were up there taking the class. Temps were cold...right below freezing, winds were averaging around 20mpg and gusts were getting up to 60 & sometimes 70mpg (24hr snowfall by 4pm was 7" at 4200'). It was hard to stay warm when we weren't moving. We spent the first day practicing with the beacons and probes, looking for terrain traps, talking about how as groups we should always be assessing conditions and using the DMF (Decision Making Framework). Day 1 was good practice. With the weather though the group decided to head back to the lodge a bit early. There was some follow up discussion, dinner, and then some trip planning for what our small group wanted to do for day 2. Our plan...head up to Austin Pass and if time/weather permitted, go further on to Artist Point.

Day 2: The morning of day 2 was similar to the previous day. The exception being that our group needed to go through our trip plan with our groups three volunteer instructors. I should mention that I am really impressed with the level of commitment of all the AIARE instructors. They volunteer there time and this is a huge commitment. They deserve a big thanks. After the review of our trip plan we suited up again and headed back out into the cold. The weather wasn't quite as bad as the previous day, winds around 20mpg with gusts to about 40mph, temps in the mid-20's, 24hr snowfall by 4pm of about 5" (at 4200'). The day was spent digging its, looking at the snow layers, talking about conditions. The fun part was more beacon practice. This day we practiced multiple burials. Working with multiple signals really does add a significant amount of complexity to the situation. We practiced some shoveling too which was easy with the non-avalanche compacted snow. I can't imagine trying to dig someone out with hard packed avalanche compacted snow to dig into. The "hike" up to Austin Pass was broken up with all these field exercises. Visibility was poor though and those beautiful views towards Table Mtn and beyond that you see on bluebird days eluded us a second day. With the slightly better weather we spent a full day in the field getting back to the Mtneers lodge around 4pm. I had dinner chores I'd signed up for. It a fun way to contribute to the temporary community that exists up at the lodge on weekends. I couldn't help but think of my last stay at the lodge many years ago. Deirdre and I had gone up there ages ago for the weekend and stayed at the lodge. During that stay we made friends with a couple from New Zealand (Brig and Butch) who were living in Seattle at the time. That was good fortune and Brig and Butch have become good friends even though they have since moved back to new Zealand. So...yes, the lodge does hold good memories for me. So back to AIARE...we returned to the lodge and capped off the weekends with a debrief. was time to dig out the cars. Holy cow! Most of the cars were buried under 2 feet of snow requiring quite the time and effort to dig them out. I had carpooled up to the lodge for the weekend...we finally got the car repacked with all our gear and then began the slow drive down the mountain...along with several hundred other cars. It was slow going... We detoured to Sedro Woolley for dinner and then it was back to Marysville where we started, getting back to my car and the short bit of driving to get home.

A great weekend!
AIARE L1 Fieldtrip Slideshow

(click on map to view a larger version)

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Copyright Janet M. Putz
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