Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Bowman Fork Avalanche

The thunderous roar of a jet sounded in the distance, a pause and continued then eerily silent . An unknown direction played even more so upon the falling snow. It caught my undivided attention. The sound reverberated across the trees I stood under.

I readjusted my bindings again. Kicked down once or twice to ensure the tails were secure. Behind me my prints being covered. The tracks in front of me were quickly disappearing under the maze of falling snow. My attention crept into excitement. AVALANCHE!!!

I looked up into the sky. I couldn't. Snow fell into my eyes. I looked around again. I know this path. I know this track. Summer, winter, night. Now, storm. Visibility, less then a foot ball field wide. May be these tracks aren't yesterdays.

I punched my jacket, shaking the snow off my beanie. My camel pack line began to freeze. I pushed out into the storm again from the safety of the fir.

Marching into the bend. I could see the other side of the side canyon I was in. I could see my turn around point ahead. Just beyond the grove of aspens I saw the slide. Fresh, fresh like the snow I kicked down the slope I traversed. Except this zone is of no mans land of scoured hillside and up churned brush floating frozen in peril. A riptide caught locked in time.

I hollered out. I cried out another greeting. Three times I yelled. Three times I waited. I encroached slowly. Always cautious of the slope I was on. Wooded no long meant holding.

In the ravine a head 5 yards wide by hundreds of yards long, the slide I heard. I honestly dared not approach fearing I'd set a slide off where I stood. This slope isn't the most stable either. I grabbed a few clicks with film. The visibility improved slightly. Where I stood 3 feet above the ground - the trees told me so.

The tracks I noticed went up. Up. I know that up. It goes to a knoll may be a quarter mile away. Tracks? Now covered with snow. I ponder and still ponder were these from last night or were they fresh. Did this person go around on the trail on up to the summit or kick left & go to the knoll.

I would not venture further. I'll let my conscious play on. The safety of one. The safety of ME. The zone into the slide, steep, barren, near empty. The zone of thunder a few hundred yards away. The zone between me an there a gap in eternity. It can stay that way 'til summer or until I venture out this way again.

I sucked on my camel pack - nothing. I felt the crunch of ice in the bite valve. I remembered the pack temp minus eight Celsius aka minus butt crack cold. No wonder I didn't have any clear juice. I kicked steeped around. I retraced my approach for the pictures.

I felt the snow upon my face. My tracks covered already. Will my conscious play? The tracks of skis go up not across. They go up, I repeated. No one goes across during winter alone. Alone that is me.

I continued on. Around the bend, the down hill began. I paused to shake of the tails. The clouds began to break. The snow now just coming off the trees. I was alone. I alone witness this avalanche. Wow.

What can I say? This I can say, had I not paused under a big tree to ponder the storm, to ponder the trek a head, to put on the tails. I can say - this journal would not be written.

No, it would be.

My turn around in winter for Bowman Fork is just before the slide zone. I see the evidence there all the time of a path of scour and rage, of mountain & vegetation fighting gravity & snow. I know better. Better to call short then to not call in.

What I heard didn't sound like a freight train like many say an avalanche sound like. It's more like a big turbine. This local slides & slides often though not often reported. If you hike Bowman Fork be careful as you approach the upper sections. You know the area. You've seen the debris in the summer. Cut high to the knoll or traverse one at a time.


If you are reading & wondering what I mean by tails on the snowshoes. MSR brand of snowshoes are designed to accommodate extensions known as tails. These tails come in 4,6, & 8 inches. They attach to the back of the snowshoe to provided additional float in deep snow. Float is the ability to stay on top of the snow.

Photos to be added later

No comments: