mountain safety reminder - 02-06-20

In the last few weeks, I’ve witnessed several close calls in the mountains. Also recently having taking an avalanche safety course I’ve had responsibility in the mountains on the mind. Here I share some resources to make your next trip safety and a story of warning.

Last week I spent my days ski touring out of a hütte in Scoul Switzerland with friends. After returning to the hut one evening and we noticed a few members of the group missing. Turned one of the guys and two girls had gone to a different hut and drank for most of the day, in itself not a sin but it was late the lift was closed and they were not back yet. Eventually, we were able to get a hold of two of them and figured out they had descended to a Sent and needed to catch the bus back to Scuol, along with arranging with the resort a way to get back to the hut. The scary part was that they had managed to lose the youngest girl during this adventure. From them we were able to discern her last location on the mountain and that she was heavily intoxicated. Seeing how it had already been a few hours since the sun went down this elevated the situation into an emergency.

It was my turn to cook and this whole situation was evolving in German so I was on the sidelines helping by sure everyone was well fed. We got our first big break when a cell call finally got through. Right away it was clear by this time was not a good state. Wearily over the phone, she described herself as lost without piste or lift in sight, struggling to hike through the woods back to our hut. Listening to her voice over the phone was a sobering experience, all I could think was don’t let this be her last conversation. She communicated she was close to the hut so we imminently got out the headlamps and sent the fittest guys out to do a perimeter search.

While they were out searching we referenced our maps and it became increasingly clear it was not possible giving the time frame from where she was last seen that she was anywhere near the hütte. As the night dragged on it was only getting colder and without as much as a safety blanket chances of surviving the night were looking grim. I’m thankful that by this time the group’s options were all the same and mountain rescue was contacted.

Within minuets, while the call 112 call was still going on, we could hear the helicopter in the air. All the information she had given, like she was on edge of the treeline, and what ideas the group had on her location was communicated to rescue personnel. To this day I’m not sure how they found her but God I’m glad they did. She was flown to a local hospital where she met with the other two and returned that night to the hütte via snow cat.

snow cat bringing members back to hut after dark

snow cat bringing members back to hut after dark

What would have happened if she had gone down the backside of the resort or not had cell coverage to help communicate her location I leave up to you. I share this story to bring into light that when we are staying up in the mountains the beautiful darkness and cold can be deadly and needs respect. It is not just about drinking responsibility it is about considering the consequences every time you adventure in the mountains.

This also goes from seemingly safe adventures such as a snowshoe hike from lift accessible terrain a short way out of bounds. Besides, basic planning to make sure you are equipped properly (sunblock, medkit, emergency blanket.. lvs gear??) you should be aware when you are entering avalanche terrain. Are the slopes or connected terrain over 30 deg? That’s avalanche terrian! If I could share one tip with my friends its check the avalanche report before going out and if it is four plus don’t go. If it is three think twice and know which aspects are most dangerous. Here are some sites and apps that make this task easy:

Stay safe out there for many adventures to come.

tags: [alpinism] [skiing]