Saturday, April 22, 2023
Saturday, April 22, 2023
Salt Lake » Lone Peak
Location Name or Route
Early this morning I triggered a deep wind slab off the NE face of Lone Peak. In hindsight it is incredibly obvious that we had no business being there, but I will list out thoughts and details below.
Back in February my partner and I planned a linkup connecting Alpine to BCC. We discussed logistics and had the details ironed out, however we never ended up completing it. Fast forward to last weekend- I saw a favorable forecast with lower temps and reached out to my partner. We decided that this would be our last chance of the season to complete this objective, so we planned accordingly. At this time forecasts predicted 1-2" of snow at upper elevations with moderate winds. We decided that this wouldn't be too large of a factor but we would need to be heads up for wind slabs as always.
Over the course of the week, the forecast was upgraded to predict strong NW winds and up to 14" of snow at 10,000. We discussed this at length and decided to make a game time decision- if more than 6" of snow or sustained winds over 30 were reported by 1930 4/21, we would bail. Come yesterday evening winds of 30mph and 5" of snow were reported. Despite this being very close to the cutoff we has discussed, we decided to continue ahead.
We began from Alpine this morning and summitted Lone Peak at 0530. It was dark, very windy and a cloud sat on the upper ~700 feet of the mountain limiting visibility to less than 10 feet. We immediately bailed on the NE couloir and skied down the ridge a few hundred feet to escape the high gusts. At this point we decided to ski a small chute that drops into upper bells so we could continue with the rest of our linkup. We planned to ski this chute relatively close to one another given the low visibility. I skied first and found what looked to be a meager island on the skiers right side of the chute. I gave the okay for my partner to ski skiers left then make his way over to me. As he got within 5 feet of me, a wind slab broke 3-4' deep at his feet and carried me. I was immediately knocked off my feet but was able to arrest after 50-75 feet. We skied the path down and decided to bail.
I think that the largest error I made was feeling "safe" after bailing on our objective, NE Lone. We decided that it was inherently too risky, however what we ended up skiing was really no different. While it didn't have the exposed entrance and exit, it was the same aspect, elevation and certainly steep enough to avalanche.
The wind slab that failed was not apparent. It is not surprising that one had developed, however I did not expect it to connect so deep given the low storm totals. This was another error. I grossly underestimated wind loading potential.
The last contributing downfall was my objective-oriented decision making. I knew that this was likely the last opportunity for this goal this season and it affected my decision making. I let plans supersede safe decisions.
Given the combination of darkness, poor visibility, high winds + new snow, the right decision was to ski back to the car and get breakfast. I was incredibly humbled, and am grateful to be physically uninjured.