So what is the best approach? How do we get out and enjoy the challenge while making sure we have every chance of coming back home with smiles and tired legs? Thankfully some very clever people have put a lot of thought into this and have come up with a process for us to use to stay safer in the hills in winter time. It's called Be Avalanche Aware.
- If we see boot tracks going where we want to go we are much more likely to go carry on even if we see things that suggest we should not go there.
- If we are in a group of people and it was your idea to do a certain route you are unlikely to change plan, even if you see things that make you question your route choice, so that you don't face the embarrassment of getting it wrong.
- In a group of men and women, men are proven to make riskier decisions.
- If you have driven a couple of hundred miles to get somewhere, the effort and commitment of getting there make the avalanche risk more acceptible (but no less risky).
- With just a few climbing days each winter we can convince ourselves that the risk is not so great because we won't get another chance to go climbing until next year.
- When we are cold and wet on the descent we are much more likely to chioose a riskier way down that saves time going back to the car.
It says we should make most of our decisions before we set foot on the mountain by looking at the SAIS Avalanche Forecast and Mountain Weather Forecast. We should check out the avalanche hazard and where it is first and see what the weather will be like. Next up we should think about who we are climbing with and our own ability, experience, skill and equipment. Lastly we should start to look at routes that fit the conditions and ourselves.
When we walk in we should look for signs that the avalanche forecast and weather forecast were accurate (and if not we should be prepared to alter our plans) and that we are feeling as fit as expected. What we see should be no surprise because we spent a lot of time planning the day in advance.
Lastly, when we get to a crucial decision point during the day, we should already be 95% decided on what we will do and all we have to do is a last check that it's all going as planned.
Happy Christmas from the team at Abacus Mountain Guides.