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Thread: Where are the risks?

  1. #1
    Senior Member Hillwalker's Avatar
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    Where are the risks?

    While doing my usual winter planning for the upcoming summer in the Spanish Pyrenees (low cost hiking and travel), I was taking a YouTube look at one of the summits on my summer bucket list (Bisaurin from the Lizera Hut) and watched a winter day hike on the same peak. As I watched the video I was struck by the risky (IMHO) stuff I saw. As a little exercise on an armchair hike lets see what others on this site could come up with a list of the risks observed. Of course on my summer hike there will be considerably less snow since it will likely be in September.

    Winter hike: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vZc2wetq6B8
    Summer, same route: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D8HZYLjWAZU

    Enjoy, Tom

  2. #2
    Senior Member nartreb's Avatar
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    It's impossible to judge avalanche conditions from a video, but I didn't see anything alarming. These guys had perfect weather, plenty of daylight, and stayed on route. In fact they were following the footsteps of other parties who'd preceded them that same day.

    Initial climb look like it might be a potential avalanche zone. Video doesn't show them digging a pit or consulting an avalanche report, but you wouldn't expect it to show that. Wide angle lens doesn't help in guessing the slope. Looked like they're going directly up from the hut, in which case, avy danger can't be that bad, or the hut wouldn't last many years.

    Up on the ridge there were some cornices. They might have been safer a bit further back from those, but it's a trade-off, the slope gets steeper below the crest.

    Very often, roping up on these kinds of routes doesn't improve anyone's safety. If you're roping up without solid anchors, that's mostly a suicide pact. If you're taking the time to build anchors every half-rope-length, you're slowing down enough that it can increase your risks.

    edit after watching summer version: I'd rather do that final traverse on good snow than in summer. I hate loose rocks.
    Last edited by nartreb; 01-05-2017 at 03:13 PM.

  3. #3
    Senior Member weatherman's Avatar
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    Snow looks wicked stable on that route, likely late in the season, warm, mushy down low, harder up high. The cornices had probably been about where they were, in the shape they were in, for weeks. I hate risk and I'd do that route, based on the video. Course my skiing ability is nowhere near theirs either...
    --would rather be hiking than typing.

  4. #4
    Senior Member sierra's Avatar
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    Seems to me, it would be straight foward to know the Avalanche danger given the slopes exposure. It looked solid to me. I would be more concerned with the Cornices in bad weather and straying to close to them in bad visibility. Is it common there to carry wands? If there where visibility issues, I'd be inclined to wand some of the route, where cornices seem to be the worst, if I was in low visibility. Does look like nice climbing though.

  5. #5
    Senior Member Hillwalker's Avatar
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    Interesting comments. Looking at the apparent snow conditions in the video it looked like the skiers depicted were in corn type conditions. But then, nobody was in tee shirts so it mustn't have been too warm. Also, the snow seemed to be quite tracked up both by foot and by ski. My guess that we were looking at spring conditions with stable snow. As far as the proximity of the Lizera hut to the snow slopes, it is about 2 miles distant. There are 7 refuges within about 7 miles, 1 manned (Lizera), and 6 unmanned. The part that gave me chills was when the couple was slowly making their way across the last very steep snow slopes along the cornices and were above a significant drop off and all I could think of was how a self arrest would take too much distance to save oneself. And even if successful in arresting, how difficult it would be to gain the ridge again. I did enjoy the video and am looking forward to remembering this video when I am standing there next summer. I really enjoy being able to have Google Earth, Mapsource (Spain) and Wikiloc maps all up simultaneously to preview my Pyrenean hiking during these long Maine winter evenings.

  6. #6
    Senior Member TJsName's Avatar
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    Sunburn and snow blindness?
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  7. #7
    Senior Member hikerbrian's Avatar
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    Risk. Boy, there's a lot packed into that term. Here are my disjointed thoughts:

    1. The route doesn't look too bad to me. It's hard to ascertain the real angle and slide potential from the GoPro and my clicking through the video instead of watching the full 25 min. But avy danger looked minimal (probably a lot of freeze-thaw cycles) and the slope didn't look THAT steep to me. Likelihood of a fall seemed pretty minimal. I thought the person relentlessly self-belaying across that one cornice section was wasting time because s/he was slightly gripped (with fear). But again, hard to tell from the GoPro. Perfect weather, and a very fast exit possible if needed.

    [Begin a bunch of only tangentially related thoughts]
    2. People take SERIOUS RISKS all the time in the mountains. Years ago I thought climbing Washington solo in winter was unquestionably dangerous and probably reckless. Then I moved to CA for 5 years, made friends with a bunch of people working through various climbing and mountaineering objectives, spent a lot of time on SummitPost and CascadeClimbers, and read about and saw people doing things that had been unimaginable to me. All of that risk became normalized, and I did a few climbs myself that were quite scary for me (coming down Rainier, roped up on a steep section of Winthrop Glacier just above a massive crevasse, for example. And some really dicy sections of Cassaval Ridge on Shasta. And some stuff in the North Cascades. And some rock routes in Yosemite on trad gear that were near my lead limit). That scariness started to feel normal. I kept living through these experiences, so (I thought) no big deal. Then people I knew started having serious accidents and dying. And then I started reading more accident reports from routes I had been on. In broad strokes, my mental state over the years changed from, "Holy s***, all those climbs are sooooo scary!" Followed by "Meh, that's all totally doable, no biggie." To (now): "You know, that really is risky, and that's just not for me."

    3. People do big, hard routes with razor thin safety margins all the time, and some of them die. That is the truth. Quantifying risk is a flawed process once you get into 'no fall' territory. That's because it's really hard to predict if/when you'll fall if you're doing something challenging. You really could fall at any time once you're at a sufficient level of challenge, and you really will die if you do. And that happens all the time, and it's really a bummer when it does.

    4. I don't take a lot of risks these days. Anything where 1 mistake = death is just too risky for me. That limits me and I'm ok with it. There's still a lot of adventure to be had. You are the best judge of what is too risky. Don't rely on anyone else's assessment.
    Sure. Why not.

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