Are worth the weight.
We use lightweight gear to move easily and efficiently in the mountains. It is easy to fall into a heuristic trap and believe that “anything extra will make me slow”, losing sight of “easy and efficient”.
After half a season of touring with radios, I am certain that they make us faster and safer. Remember that time you lost your partner in the woods and you each spent twenty minutes looking for each other? What about the time that you lost sight of your partner around a dogleg on an uncertain route; is it safe to follow, or is she coming back up? What about that time you skied first, you had something important to say, and the rest of the party couldn’t hear you?
Doug Krause calls radios “an effective means of communication” (n.b. the linked podcast discusses what radios can’t do). He’s right.
What can you do with a radio that you can’t do without? You can ski longer pitches at once. You can stop in safer locations, out of earshot and sight. You can tell your partners when you just ate it in deep snow and it will take you five minutes to find your gear. You can communicate with a partner who got too far ahead of you on the ascent. At a ski area, anywhere in the world (check local laws), you can stay connected to your party.
BCA’s BC-Link radio is the current Cadillac of backcountry radios, but simple FRS/GMRS walkie-talkies will get you started for less than the cost of a lift ticket. Try ’em with your partner this winter, and see if it changes how you ski.
We skied this Thanksgiving, as we did last year, in Canada. It snows there, you see, and it does so earlier there than it does here in the states.
Holy moly, did it ever snow this year. It snowed enough to open Whistler early, and then it snowed a lot more.
We got up there Friday morning, and found ourselves waiting in impressive lift lines. More than an hour after entering our first line, we got to ski. It was clear that the snow was drier and deeper than we’d thought; two lifts later, it was much deeper than we thought, and the hunt was on.
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One of my favorite pieces our high-school director selected for our symphonic band was ‘Whatsoever Things‘, composed by Mark Camphouse. It has everything a young trumpet player could love: drama, risk, depth, wide dynamic range, beautiful brass chorales, and, critically, soaring solos.
While the score shaped my musical life, what’s mattered more in adult life has been the title. Whatsoever Things are the first two words of a biblical passage, Phillipians 4:8. Though I’m not religious, it has stuck with me since.
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
In both science and personal life, I generally shorten it in my mind to, “Whatsoever things are true, … think on these things.”, but the full passage has more to say. It is a dogged pursuit of things that are true that seems to guide my work, even when it comes at a cost.
Tonight, too many times this year, ‘whatsoever things’ resonates.
Ever wonder exactly when an NWAC weather forecast will come out? Us too, especially this week when we’re trying to plan a group weekend trip in the face of a tricky, if not poor, weather situation.
Right now, in this low-snow year, NWAC aims to get forecasts out by 8 am. Here’s how they’ve done so far!
The ‘Avalanche Pocket Guide’ is perhaps most appropriate as an in-field reference to introductory avalanche texts for skiers in their first 50-100 days or 1-3 years (whichever comes last) travelling in avalanche terrain. Long-time backcountry travelers may like it for completeness, or when teaching, but won’t consult it at every decision point during the day. Check one out in person (or in the photos), to decide it’s useful for you.
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For all the attention that global warming gets as an environmental hazard, there lurks one far greater. War.
Humans are getting good at playing the long game. We’re managing fisheries, curating wilderness, creating fantastic supply chains that extract fantastic yields from good cropland and deliver it to people. A substantial war would change all of that. If the short-term becomes more important than the long term, careful conservation and eco-friendly practices will be discarded by necessity. Without access to modern clean technologies, people will be forced to turn to dirtier and unsustainable ways of getting by. What would you do if no food arrived at the grocery store, and you had no access to electric power?
A nuclear exchange would be worse, and is far from improbable.
The human invention of technology has graced us with many gifts; we must use our powers well, for our own sake.
I guess it’s still serious-time. Digging through old writing today, this resurfaced, the story of a day when only luck separated us from tragedy.
The scariest events I’ve seen or experienced on snowy mountains have been on shallow-angle knife-hard snow in early season. This was the scariest. Please learn from it.
We were placing practice beacons for a backcountry ski/avalanche course last Saturday, when I heard a quiet ‘pop’. Susan looked up and said, “My shovel broke.” “What?” “Look, it broke!”
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An essay I’ve long needed to write, but didn’t know how, until last week.
“It”: thoughts for a new mountaineer
Thank you, Franklin.