Spring is here. The everlasting spring winter of the Arctic. White mountains dressed in sunshine are calling everyone to come out and play.
With the exception of a few runs down the trees of Ramfjord and Tamok, I have mainly skied runs below 30° this winter. One reason for that is a heavy work load, which has made nightly (and therefore mellow) escapes the main course. Another is a persistent weak layer combined with a few polar lows which has given us a truck load of snow but also kept the avalanche level at 3 for weeks at the time. For me, that high avalanche danger and those polar lows have been a bliss. I’ve needed time to prepare for my fight against the ghosts within.
During the past week, the snow pack has stabilized enough to push the avalanche forecast down to 2. The weak layer is still there, but it is now deeply buried except on ridges below 800 m.a.s.l. At places, the wind has also buried fresh snow, thereby calling for cautiousness on lee aspects. But in most places, the snow is stable. It is high time to start fighting the demons.
Linnea, Kjersti, Kenneth and I set out to climb Sørfjelltinden, 1468 m.a.s.l., a mountain which is mostly very mellow but that also offers a few segments with terrain traps and exposure. It was a perfect setting for me to practice on making evaluations and separating my irrational fears from my rational ones.
I wish I could say that I felt calm and steady the whole day through, but I think that a better description is that I felt electrified. As I climbed the (in my view) relatively steep section up to the flat and wide ridge, I used half of my energy to evaluate the terrain around me and half of it to control my head. To separate rational from irrational fears – Yes, this mountain side can slide and if it does, I am fried. So yes, exposure is high, but what are the chances that it will slide? Can I see any obvious signs of instability? No. How about the current avalanche problems? The snow pack on the steep section is relatively shallow. A shallow snow pack means a higher risk of triggering a weak layer. On the other side, the persistent weak layer is mainly present below 800 m.a.s.l. while the steep section is above that level. So relatively low risk for avi problem 1. How about avi problem 2? I’m definitely walking on a wind slab, but the slab is rock solid at most places. Conclusion: relatively low risk of avalanche problem 2.
So now. Breath. Move forward. Focus on the rational evaluation of current conditions. Breath. Move forward.
Our plan A for the descent went down a bowl created by an old glacier on the north side of the mountain. A perfect terrain trap. Time for round two in my fight against the demons.
Yes, if it slides, I am fried, but will it slide? Observation 1: no apparent hang fire in terms of cornices, so low risk of a natural avalanche. Observation 2: less snow than expected deposited by the wind, so a lower than expected risk of triggering the wind slab on top of the new snow. Observation 3: relatively deep snow, so a relatively low risk of remotely triggering a slide on the steep mountain sides on the walls of the bowl. Is it a Go? It is a Go. Breath. And go.