Small slab release at the top of the Koven Couloir
As Brian Harder and I approached the top of the Koven Couloir and the Koven Col today, the snow changed dramatically. A small slab had formed on the looker’s left. A cornice blocked easy access directly above.
Randosteve…”Man…it sure is getting slabby up here”
Brain literally punched his way through the snowpack, battling to gain more vertical, as I moved 1-2′ square blocks out of the trough he was creating.
Randosteve…”Man…there sure are some funky layers right here. It’s getting kinda sketchy.”
Not one minute later, a 12-18′ slab broke off and I quickly found myself going for a ride in the wrong direction at the very top of the Koven Couloir…not a good place to be. I immediately went into survival mode and dug my crampons into the snow and managed to stop myself after only about moving about 10′, as the rest of the slab thundered down the couloir. Got my heart beating a bit. Afraid to continue in the same direction, we traversed right and tunneled thought the cornice to gain access to the col.
Anyway, this PSA is in reference to the parking at Lupine Meadows…passed on for the rangers. Thanks!
Wow…glad you boys are alright. Sounds like you faired well, but got the heart racing. Keep safe out there, still a lot of skiing to be had this season.
As someone who considers himself a friend of yours and has skied with you on numerous occasions, I want you to know that I question your level of acceptable risk. There were telltale signs of funky conditions out there today. You were lucky today, but it was just that- luck. No amount of skill will allow you to escape from an avalanche if the mountain decides otherwise.
I know that you spend a considerable amount of time assessing the conditions and all that. But it seems as though your comfort level is getting to the point that you are facing death if something goes wrong. Are you really comfortable with that? As your friend, I am not.
Thank you for your concern. It is greatly appreciated.
Today’s event was no doubt scary. The consequences of tumbling down the Koven from the top are severe. In my defense…the snow conditions changed extremely rapidly within only about 15 vertical feet of climbing…and I noticed the increase in danger quickly.
Those top 100ft of the Koven are steeeeep! Glad you stuck to the hillside vs going for the ride.
I guess the monday morning quarterbacking is inevitable on this one, regardless of it’s intentions. The key point is that no one was there besides Steve and I. I have no intention of defending our being there but I thought a little more detail would help others understand how two experienced mountaineers would find themselves suddenly exposed to such danger. As “the friend” stated, it was just plain luck that we didn’t take the ride.
Conditions were mostly hard all the way up through the body of the couloir. We were early, topping out at 9am. The last 100 ft of the route had a tougue of wind drifted snow in the gut. At first it was well bonded and consolidated. Then, with only 20ft to go, I was barely able to make progress with the snow turning to sugar under my feet. The picture you see above is tilted and belies the 55 degree pitch we were on. The slab cracked right above us a couple of feet below the crest when I was literally an arm’s reach from the top. Fortunately, the now low density of the slab caused it to break up around us and allowed Steve to get his spikes set quickly. The image for me as I watched him swim for a moment was very similar to Andrew M’s scare in the movie Steep, just shorter.
Some might suggest that stopping earlier and putting on skis and descending or even down climbing would have been the prudent choice. Frankly, given the steepness and position, it was never an option to me. Interestingly, the idea of taking my skis off and spiking down occured to me on the descent as I more scared then than during the event in question. Scratchy, 50+ degrees with funky runnels had me shamelessly side slipping at times. Certainly, we all have different comfort zones, some seemingly more foolish than others. That is what keeps blogs like this one provocative.
“No amount of skill will allow you to escape from an avalanche if the mountain decides otherwise.”
Very true, but that applies anytime and anywhere you go in the mountains. Some of the best climbers and skiers in the world (and JH) have died on moderate terrain. In Steve’s defense and to his credit, I think he probably learned something from this experience and won’t make the same mistake in the future, which is not to say he won’t make other ones. And, perhaps by posting information like this, other people will learn and avoid similar mistakes.
Good to hear you’re both ok!
Spring in the tetons has been real tough this year trying to gauge when to go or turn back. Either super warm or super cloudy/stormy. Glad you were able to make it out alright.
Just wanted to let you know I enjoy reading your blog almost every day. I appreciate it that you are willing to share all of your experiences (even ones such as these that may lead to criticism) on your blog so we can learn from your successes and for lack of a better work mistakes.
Stay safe and keep up the skiing.
Thanks for the good comments everybody!
Did a Cascade to Paintbrush tour today. Saw lots of slides. HEAT WAVE!!!!!
[…] line and onto some punchy wind-slab. Not wanting to push things too much, and since I have already surfed a releasing slab not too far from this location in the past, not to mention all the signs of avalanches on similar […]