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Backcountry Punk: Part 3. Exposed & Embarassed

A fictitious story about how things can go wrong in the backcountry.

Read on for a few tips here & there.

No one is impervious to accidental injury, illness or mechanical failure but if we put others at risk to come & help us because we haven’t thought our trip through in its entirety then we can do better as bc enthusiasts.

Johnny arrived back at Guthega in the dark and stumbled like a moth toward the lodge lights being peppered by the blizzarding snow. The lodge members informed the local authorities of the recent events & rewarmed a hypothermic Johnny by the fire with warm drinks & lodge leftovers.

During the early stages of the long night the tightly huddled duo strengthened their resolve with hope of certain rescue. As the cold painful hours passed slowly by, the two new friends had accepted help wasn’t arriving until conditions weakened.

A ski mounted party deployed early the next morning & despite the trying weather were able to locate the missing persons by late morning. Too hypothermic to ski out the otherwise uninjured ski tourers who were lucky to have survived the night were eventually evacuated by helicopter.

After learning that one of the rescuers broke through a snow bridge & dislocated their shoulder the embarassed & dejected ski tourers hung their heads in an apologetic gesture.

There are many unreported scenarios not unlike this where people narrowly escape the clutches of the Backcountry. I have bumped into countless skiers over the years wandering aimlessly in the clouds unable to orient themselves. Putting others at risk because of avoidable circumstances is unacceptable!

This crew eventually made some good decisions more so through survival instinct. Read on for some better decisions & considerations they could have made.

  • Start on tours closer to the trail head or lift serviced terrain & build on your journeys as your skills grow.

  • Always leave trip intentions with a responsible person, police or National Parks

  • Know your group & it’s capabilities, beware of embarking on a journey with someone you have never met before?

  • Match your trip intentions to your group, their equipment & current conditions: journey was too arduous, rigs quite heavy, boots too stiff, conditions unsuitable

  • Always stay together, never split up

  • Always keep your group within earshot & don’t leave site of each other

  • Be well rested

  • Modify intentions to suit the weakest member: the group should have all turned back at Twynam saddle

  • Always have a contingency plan

  • Leave yourself a buffer, scale your intentions back to give you a safety margin: trip too highly geared for this group

  • Know what the weather is doing & act accordingly

  • Make sure everyone has a map & compass including the skills to use them

  • Each person should have enough gear to be self sufficient in case of an emergency regardless of your proximity to help

  • Have a suitably sized daypack with all the necessary gear that you can lash your skis to & free your hands.

  • Don’t think there is a 24/7 dedicated SAR team ready for immediate deployment.

  • Don’t let a pre organised journey pressure you into leaving in unsuitable conditions

  • Never be pressured into an uncomfortable situation, always speak up!

Trip Intentions & Personal Locating Beacons

One of the best things you can do as a backcountry skier to increase your chances of rescue is to leave detailed information of your trip intentions with a responsible person. This information will greatly help Search & Rescue parties in locating & rescuing missing persons. This can be any one reliable including local authorities such as the police or the National Parks & Wildlife Service NSW or Parks Victoria. In NSW a trip intention form can be obtained online or filled out at the NPWS Visitors Centre in Jindabyne.

  • Number of members in party, names, ages, phone numbers, next of kin

  • Gear & equipment

  • Scheduled Activity Time Frame: start & end dates, departure & arrival times

  • Proposed Activity & Route Details: intended route, overnight campsite (give grid references & dates), contingency routes, how many of your group has previously completed this route

  • Vehicle details: registration numbers, type of vehicles, where left

  • Detailed list of participants equipment

  • Details of each individual: name, phone number, age

  • Medical Conditions: Condition, medication required

PLB Hire

Further to this a Personal Locating Beacon can be hired for free for an agreed period from the NPWS Visitors Centre in Jindabyne. A deposit of $400 is required in the form of a credit card swipe which is destroyed when the PLB is returned with its seals intact.

Activate PLB’s only in an emergency, this does not include tiredness or discomfort. Penalties apply for deliberate misuse.

BTW, I love punk.

Happy trails!

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1 Comment

Adam Jetson
Adam Jetson
Oct 18, 2021

Very good cautionary story.

I always approach the mountains with humility and self discipline and an awareness of my ignorance.

I have learned some things from experience in the mountains and my deep desire for adventure continues.

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