As the avalanche thundered down the ravine, it swept over both of us. We scrabbled with every ounce of effort in our soul to move through it as its started to carry us down the mountain. We both managed to avoid the bulk of it and finally, the rolling snow came to a stop.
The avalanche had completely covered my machine, encasing it in cement like snow.
Rene turned to me and said, “We need two sleds to get out of here tonight or we are not getting out.” Once again we scrambled up the ravine to start digging Rene’s sled out.
￼The entire left bank of the valley had let go. We dug frantically for the next 10 minutes with fear of the right side of the valley letting go and burying us both.
At this point there were two of us in the ravine and one snow machine. We decided Rene would have to ride down to try to get Jason’s up and I would have to walk out. The only way out of the ravine was to climb the almost vertical bank that had yet to avalanche…
As Rene rode down to the bottom of the ravine, I was alone in the dark at the bottom of an avalanche terrain trap, in the middle of a blizzard. Three naturally occurring avalanches had just let go in the last 30 minutes and I would now have to climb vertically through 4 feet of snow up the wall of the ravine that could avalanche at any time.
Words cannot express the terror I was feeling as I summoned every ounce of energy I had to put one foot in front of another, and get up that slope, alive.
If an avalanche was to let go above me, I would not see it until it hit me. If it hit me, it would carry me down to the bottom of the terrain trap and bury me.
I was wearing an avalanche beacon and an avalanche backpack that deploys a big balloon on your back that is supposed to prevent you from getting buried too deep. In the day time, with people around this greatly increases your chance of survival. At night, during a blizzard, with no-one knowing you are buried, this handy equipment’s effectiveness drops to almost zero.
It took me 5 minutes to climb my way up the wall of the ravine as fast as I could, with legs trembling with exhaustion and lungs grasping for every molecule of air they could inhale. At the top, sitting there cold was young Blair. He had not seen or heard from us in several hours and sure enough he was camped out right on the face of a steep hill that could avalanche at any time.
As I crested out of the ravine I started yelling at Blair, “Blair!! Start The sled!!!” At least with the sled running we would have some light and as I finished my walk towards him I could watch the hill and if an avalanche was coming, it would come into my sight a few hundred feet away.
I told Blair, “Get on the sled. We need to move off the face of this hill to a safer place.”
The hill was so steep that I was unable to ride with both of us on the machine. I said to Blair, ”Get off. I’m going to ride up more and I want you to follow the track as fast as you can.”
I rode up a few hundred meters to a cluster of trees. Keep in mind we were still on the face of the hill and the slope was still more than 33 degrees. I parked the Polaris pointing up the hill and kept the engine running with the headlight shining above so I could
￼see if any avalanches were on their way. This also light up the mountain so Rene and Jason would know where we were now parked.
Blair and I waited for almost 2 hours while Rene tried to get Jason up and out of the ravine. Young Blair was cold and scared. He wasn’t really talking and what he tried to say wasn’t really making sense. I started doing squats to keep warm and get blood flowing. I didn’t want young Blair to freeze so I told him to just breath and move around.
Our Walkie Talkies had died, so all communication with Rene was cut off. Every now and then I heard his sled followed by long periods of silence.
During the silence I couldn’t be sure if they were stuck or buried alive in an avalanche.
In my pocket there was an SOS device that could call a helicopter and search and rescue. I also had a satellite phone that wasn’t working because of the snowstorm.
Here is the kicker – A helicopter would not come until it was daylight and the weather was safe to fly. And second – the only search and rescue person with the skills to get to us was Rene and we had not heard from him in awhile.
On my SOS device there is a button that sends out an email with NON-Emergency pre- typed message I assigned to it. When I press that button, it sends a message to a dear friend and it says, “All is well on the mountain today.”
Obviously, things were not well on the mountain.
Along with sending the email, the device would also send out our exact GPS coordinates. Because avalanches were sneaking out of the dark I thought to myself, “If Rene and Jason are buried and an avalanche comes without notice and wipes out Blair and I, at least the coordinates of our cold dead bodies will be known.”
It was not long after this gloomy thought that the sound of a Turbo Polaris came ripping up the ravine and stopped. Minutes later, Rene came flying up and out of the ravine on his XM. Because I had kept the Polaris running he could see the headlight, knowing exactly where we were.
Rene pulled up and said, “We have two sleds to get out of here and we have two big hills to climb, my low fuel light has been on for over an hour. Jason is walking up and will be here shortly…”
The two hills we had to climb were challenging hills in good conditions. It was now dumped with almost two feet of fresh snow, it was dark and we were still in the middle
of a blizzard. Here, the avalanche hazard was considered “Extreme.”
The only way up the mountain was for Rene to pack us a trail. He took off into the night by himself with no avalanche back pack on. For the next two hours he proceeded to pack down a trail. It took him several attempts just to make it to the top of each mountain. Many times getting stuck by himself on the face of a mountain that could avalanche at any given time.
Every avalanche we had encountered on that evening had happened naturally. (A natural avalanche happens with no human contact, the snow piles up on the slope of 33 degrees or steeper and slides all by itself with no force from humans.)
Rene was now off alone slicing into these hills with a 500lb snowmobile and a 200 lb rider. 700lbs exponentially increases the odds of avalanche. To date, this is probably the most heroic act I have ever witnessed.