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Hot Topic (More than 30 Replies) Above the snowline in the South Island (Read 42411 times)
wobblyboot
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Re: Above the snowline in the South Island
Reply #15 - Aug 17th, 2009 at 8:34pm
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if you are hunting or climbing by yourself then it's a waste of time carrying a transceiver, unless you want someone to find your bod.
after a drive up the mt cook road i would not go near any of the creeks off the road at the mo, fracture lines and seriously loaded cornices everywhere.
  

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Re: Above the snowline in the South Island
Reply #16 - Aug 18th, 2009 at 1:24pm
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when I go snowboarding I take my transceiver. When I go hunting I don't.
The main reason is, as wobblyboot pointed out, it's not going to help you unless your mates have transceivers (+ shovel & probe) too. None of my hunting mates have avi rescue gear. It does give me the shits hunting in country knowing I wouldn't be skiing it without gear  Undecided
then again while hunting I'm not exactly hucking myself off cliffs and ripping across big, open, exposed faces.
We always try to pick the most conservative routs and if snowpack stability looks dodgy it's home time.
Its surprising more hunters don't run into grief. I bet we don't hear the half of what happens out there, close calls etc.


  
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Re: Above the snowline in the South Island
Reply #17 - Aug 19th, 2009 at 7:39pm
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my biggest fear with avalanches is getting buried and having some bugger come along and poke me in the eye with his probe,  be a pain in the ass wouldnt it,
  

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Re: Above the snowline in the South Island
Reply #18 - Aug 19th, 2009 at 7:50pm
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wobblyboot wrote on Aug 19th, 2009 at 7:39pm:
my biggest fear with avalanches is getting buried and having some bugger come along and poke me in the eye with his probe,  be a pain in the ass wouldnt it,


no it would be a pain in the eye  Grin

It seems that hunters above or near the snowline are faced with a special set of circumstance. Often alone or hunting apart, there is not much point in wearing a rescue beacon.

Beacons need two persons to function ,, one on the victim and the other in the hands of an observer /rescue-er who can reach the victim quickly, locate him , and free him.


« Last Edit: Jul 11th, 2011 at 3:20pm by headcase »  

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Re: Above the snowline in the South Island
Reply #19 - Aug 20th, 2009 at 5:26pm
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I am very surprised more hunters have not being killed in the NZ mountains. I think most hunters do not understand the danger and have alot of luck on there side. Big thing to remember is that a Avo can carry on pass the snow line!!!
If we are hunting in the in or above snow line everyone in the party has a trans, shovel and prode and more importantly knows how to use it.
  
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Re: Above the snowline in the South Island
Reply #20 - Aug 24th, 2009 at 8:13pm
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here's a site I find useful, http://www.softrock.co.nz/mg/index.php?page=2 if you are heading into the scrub then this and headcase's stuff are useful reference's
remember
old and cunning will always triumph over youth and skill
  

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Re: Above the snowline in the South Island
Reply #21 - Aug 25th, 2009 at 7:13pm
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headcase wrote on Aug 19th, 2009 at 7:50pm:
wobblyboot wrote on Aug 19th, 2009 at 7:39pm:
my biggest fear with avalanches is getting buried and having some bugger come along and poke me in the eye with his probe,  be a pain in the ass wouldnt it,


no it would be a pain in the eye  Grin




Imagine if you were face down - it could be a real pain in the brown eye! Cheesy
  
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Re: Above the snowline in the South Island
Reply #22 - Aug 26th, 2009 at 7:30am
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You do not have to be above the snowline to get taken out, for instance if you are cruising up to Huxley Forks check out the damage to the beech forest on the true right, those trees have been blown over uphill by the windfrom  an avo coming offthe faces above you. The snow debris may not have reached where you are, if the avo wind can do this to trees, then what chance do you stand. You will be having a blast, thats for sure! there are numerous other areas like this.
  

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Re: Above the snowline in the South Island
Reply #23 - Aug 26th, 2009 at 9:15am
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wobblyboot wrote on Aug 26th, 2009 at 7:30am:
You do not have to be above the snowline to get taken out, for instance if you are cruising up to Huxley Forks check out the damage to the beech forest on the true right, those trees have been blown over uphill by the windfrom  an avo coming offthe faces above you. The snow debris may not have reached where you are, if the avo wind can do this to trees, then what chance do you stand. You will be having a blast, thats for sure! there are numerous other areas like this.


fully agree. Looking for sign of areas below the tree line that have been blown over by avalanche is good policy.. Its useually pretty obvious, the paths that are regularly given a beating..
  

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Re: Above the snowline in the South Island
Reply #24 - Aug 26th, 2009 at 11:53pm
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wobblyboot wrote on Aug 24th, 2009 at 8:13pm:
here's a site I find useful, http://www.softrock.co.nz/mg/index.php?page=2 if you are heading into the scrub then this and headcase's stuff are useful reference's
remember
old and cunning will always triumph over youth and skill


Thats a good read WB, lots of info there and good analysis.  Smiley
  

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Re: Above the snowline in the South Island
Reply #25 - Sep 9th, 2009 at 9:16pm
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A lot has happened to the snow in the last couple of weeks. Overall the snow pack has stabilised and quietened down. Springtime is here. Warmer temperatures have started to turn the snowpack into a typical spring "isotherm" snowpack, and several melt/freeze cycles have stabilized the upper "layers". Strictly speaking an isothermal tending snowpack loses its individual layers and become a homogenous mass of snow from the top to the bottom. The surface softens and melts, generally during the day and freezes overnight forming that hard crust that we can walk on before lunch. The hardness and depth of crust depends of course on the weather in general. Many  factors such as clear or cloudy days and nights, overall temperatures, wind, angle of slope to the sun, and aspect of the slope, all combined, dictate just how much of a crust forms. As the crust melts and refreezes, so the total depth of snow warms and approaches zero degrees. The overall depth of snow lessens and the free water content of the snow increases. All this water in the snow tends to lubricate things, and afternoons and evenings in spring are usually the time when wet snow avalanches take place. That’s assuming the crust has melted during the morning as it mostly does in Springtime.

A crust of any kind is a good indication of a snowpack that is gaining stability, and a thick crust is a good indication of a slope that is safe to walk into, at least until that crust softens and melts.

Naturally hard crusts on steep slope make walking easier, but only with the right gear. Crampons and ice axe country. If you don’t have them, and don’t know how to use them safely, stick to the flattish stuff.

This will all seem pretty obvious to those that spend a lot of time in snow, but my comments are aimed at those that until now haven’t as yet had the opportunity to spent time in snow country , but plan to.


« Last Edit: Jul 11th, 2011 at 3:24pm by headcase »  

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Re: Above the snowline in the South Island
Reply #26 - Sep 18th, 2009 at 8:45am
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The snowpack has moved into typical "spring conditions' as can be expected at this time of year. Keep your eye out for cold clear nights, producing a good solid crust to walk over in the mornings, but which can soften quickly and leave you up to your thighs in soft wet snow after lunch.

High cloud covered skies in the night will hinder the snow pack freezing overnight, if at all, and produce soft conditions and a high wet snow avalanche hazard early in the day.  

The tragic death of a young climber/skier last weekend demonstrates the variety of alpine hazards that can face the unwary in snow and ice. The build up of wind driven snow and avalanche debris in creeks is now softening, and the surface layers are losing stability. The possibility of falling through the surface into a creek, whilst crossing snow bridges is now very real. Crossing any creek on a snow bridge require extreme caution, especially in steep gullies, where small hidden waterfalls may exist.. The result can be serious, finding oneself several meters below the surface standing or lying in a running creek is not recommended.  Wink
« Last Edit: Jul 11th, 2011 at 3:26pm by headcase »  

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Re: Above the snowline in the South Island
Reply #27 - Sep 28th, 2009 at 6:48pm
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Spring is the time of strong sun and melting snow. The greatest influences on the behaviour of the snow pack at this time are solar radiation, air temperature, wind,cloud cover and water.  The whole snow-pack slowly becomes isotherm, (the same temperature from bottom to top)  and goes through many melt freeze cycles until the snow disappears either in the form of running water, or water vapour, in a process called sublimation. This refers to water molecules passing from ice to water vapour without undergoing the melting process. Sublimation is an important process in the total energy balance of the snowpack, and plays a defining roll throughout the winter on the ever-changing snowpack stability.  
In Spring small snowfalls and storm cycles are followed by periods of fine and warmer weather. The snowpack is undergoing strong overall changes from layers that contain various individual types of snow crystals, bonding into a single homogeneous layer.  The avalanche hazard varies  daily, generally in 24 hour cycles, between night and day/ colder and warmer.

Wet snow avalanches
Wet slides occur when warm temperatures melt the surface snow layers and begin to saturate them with water. The water weakens the bonds between layers and avalanches often occur.  Wet avalanches move more slowly than dry avalanches but they can still be dangerous:
•      If temperatures have been above freezing for extended periods then wet avalanches will most likely occur
•      If you are sinking into wet snow up to your ankles or deeper , the snow is wet and prone to avalanche
•      If you squeeze a hand full of snow and it makes your glove wet or if water literally drips out of the snow, the snow may be prone to avalanche


The photo above shows typical spring conditions after a light snowfall. The first fine day brings strong warming of the new snow on sunny slopes. The new snow although not deep around the tops has started with a point form slide out of the rocky areas, widening as it rolls down over the open slopes and finally being channelled into a gully near the bottom. Although it started out only a few centimetres deep, this spring slide has amassed a depth of several meters in depth at the bottom. These kinds of slides are typically slow moving compared to dry slab avalanches /powder avalanche.

Below a close up of point formed damp/wet snow avalanche starting under a bluff. This is typical. Often started by a single stone falling from the cliff as the day and snow warms, or a single grain of snow which has “rolled” and started a chain effect.

Other wet snow avalanches fail on a plane or layer  and have a slab shape appearance  at the top,



Typical wet snow av. debris.  

Rainfall itself into spring snow is the super lub and will bring down everything that is ready to move and plenty that is not. It combines all the elements to produce wet snow avalanches. Water, added warmth, weight.

Spring time also brings good walking conditions if the surface is hard,  and generally safe conditions to travel as far as avalanche hazard is concerned. That is until the snow surface has softened to the point where one is starting to fall through it. At this time of day, it’s easier and safer to seek routes that take one onto open and snow free ridges. Don’t forget that not only do you have to be able to climb safely, but one must also be able to find the way home safely, so pick you routes that offer you a safe homeward journey in the evening. Late afternoons and evenings are the time in the spring when wet snow avalanches and glide cracks opening further and totally failing, are most common.


Walking over a lightly softened spring crust.

Glide cracks.
It’s common in spring to see wide cracks opening up in the snowpack on steep slopes or slopes that are convex near the top. The spring snow has a lot of water in it and the whole depth of snow may slowly start to slide, especially over grassy areas or surfaces  such as smooth rock.  These ground cacks open slowly over a period of days or even weeks, during spring melt/freeze cycles, which are normally night and day cycles.
The pic below illustrates well how a crack can be quite safe to move around during the morning or anytime the surface is still solid enough to carry your weight without sinking through for more than a few centimetres. This crack may have been open for several days of longer.


On a previous day someone has walked over it leaving footprints, and at some point there has been some wind which has blown a small amount of new or wind scoured snow into the crack.  Over a period of weeks the cracks can open up to several meters or tens of meters width, and still be perfectly safe to move around, as long as the surface is hard as you approach them. These Chamois certainly have no worries about the snowpack and are enjoying some of the spring growth behind the crack which the strong spring sun will be encouraging.

Occasionally the snow at base of the slope on which the crack is opening up, will fail, and the whole slope will come down. This only occurs if there is a huge amount of free water in the snow, usually running and lubricating the surface below the snowpack. If you can’t easily walk on the snow surface and it’s rotten to the point where you sink though to below your ankles, in extreme cases thighs, then it’s time to pick a safer route.


Above a failed Glide Crack, the thin layer of dirty white snow over grass or rock indicates that the snow has only recently failed. The strong solar radiation onto the grassy area would have otherwise melted the thin layer of remaining snow. The long shadows on the snow cast by the trees indicate the photo was made early morning or toward evening.  

Other Hazards.

Frozen surface layers.
The hard surface layer encountered mornings or during colder periods in spring brings other hazards.  Steep slopes can only be negotiated with a degree of safety on skis, if you are an experienced skier, but preferably with crampons and ice axe.  In even more extreme weather cycles the surface can become as slick as a mirror, as pictured below.  Rainfall or miniscule water particles blown onto the surface at around freezing point have produced a hard polished surface and under these conditions anyone venturing onto any slope without appropriate gear is risking life and limb. Often the slope may appear innocuous because it has a good run out at the bottom, but any rocks pocking out through the surface will become deadly as one slides over them at high speed.  The speeds attained during an uncontrollable slide are frightening and more than often fatal.

If you are a hunter come across something like the above,and wish to negotiate it safely, the only way is to seek another gentle(very) route around the hazard to a lower level where surface contitions may be different.


White out
Not confined to the spring, white out is a hazard that can be encountered anytime anywhere, but is particularly disorientating in a contrast free snowscape. Don’t climb into a white out if you are not very very familiar with the area.  Even then, one can become quickly disorientated.  Staying below thick cloud, mist and fog in a contrast rich environment is recommended. In the pic below there are actually five persons standing only about 20 m from the camera.



A contrast rich environment offers some visibility and waypoints to follow a route. However small scale hazards such as sharp changes in the terrain or small creeks may remain totally invisible even at very close range.  General direction can only be guessed at over longer distances and a slow change of bearing is inevitable unless one has an intimate knowledge of the way points.


Disorientation sets in rapidly if  there is no horizon and no points of reference, such as trees, rock faces, streams etc. The risk of wandering into dangerous terrain is very high, and often deadly. Even a small  fall into a creek bed can have serious consequences.

Below the snowline the visibility is better, but large scale disorientation is likely unless you are familiar and at home in the terrain.

Whiteouts due to snowfall will also make assessment of the avalanche risk more difficult in that one cannot see what is above and may in fact hide visable sign of strong winds and snow transport along the tops.. Some valleys are in in total wind-shade and all appears calm. Often the only indication of snow transport above you is the sounds of the storm roaring through the cliffs and bluff systems above.

A bracing experience. Smiley
Happy hunting.
« Last Edit: Jun 17th, 2014 at 6:17pm by headcase »  

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Re: Above the snowline in the South Island
Reply #28 - Jun 11th, 2010 at 5:14pm
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Lots of great information in this thread Headcase. Thanks for taking the time to post it.  Cool Cool
  

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Re: Above the snowline in the South Island
Reply #29 - Jun 11th, 2010 at 7:53pm
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Holy smokes,never knew that much about snow.

Reason no. 67 why I dont hunt South Island tops.
  
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