Backcountry Skiing News Roundup — 8,000 Meters and Hunter Orange

Post by blogger | August 7, 2008      

Sad news about mass carnage up on K2 in the Himalaya. Sounds like climbers up there got too dependent on fixed ropes. An ice avalanche came down and took out the lines. Several climbers were killed outright, while a bunch of others got stranded above the missing ropes like storm wrecked sailors clinging to the hull of an overturned boat. More deaths happened when the marooned climbers tried to downclimb without the fixed lines.

Extensive use of fixed ropes on peaks such as K2 is controversial in the opinion of some mountaineers. At worst it is considered cheating. Ethical arguments aside, fixed lines are most certainly a crutch — and an unreliable on at that. You depend on someone else to climb the mountain, leave a rope, and have that rope be there when you need it despite things like wind and avalanches. As always, when reports like this filter back from the 8,000 meter peaks, the scene up there appears a bit insane if you read between the lines.

In better 8,000 meter news, check out this ski descent by Luis Stitzinger of the Diamir face on Nanga Parbat. The peak has been previously skied, but apparently never by this direct a line. Not only that, but note the round trip time of 24 hours 23 minutes. I’m unclear on if this is a ski descent from the exact summit, but the line is beautiful no matter what.

Interesting that Stitzinger was using Dynafit bindings instead of Diamir — Fritschi should have paid him a king’s ransom in sponsorship cash to use the Diamir binding on the Diamir face. Talk about a marketing hook! But then, when you’re climbing and skiing an 8,000 meter peak in a day (ho hum), you might need the lightest weight gear you can get.

Since we’re setting you up with end of week stuff to goof off with at work, lets include Fredrik Ericsson’s ski of Dhaulagiri last year. He didn’t make it from the summit, but by starting 150 meters below the apex he still got in a good run — 3,000 vertical meters of glisse. You can watch a nice movie of the descent here.

(If your day is going slow, for more 8,000 meter dreams check out last year’s Gasherbraum fun.)

Fascination with skiing 8,000 meter peaks arguably began in 1970 with Yuichiro Miura, when he brought skis to Mount Everest and skied a short section of the peak. His descent included ludicrous use of a parachute and a scary fall, but associated hype was powerful (including movies and books).

I’ve met a few people who know Miura and they say he’s a pretty cool guy who simply has a penchant for unusual adventures. I don’t doubt this, though for me as an alpinist his 1970s Everest stunt seemed totally out there.

At any rate, Miura is now making adventure by doing Everest climbs at an advanced age. If you check out his expedition website you can watch video of his 1970s Everest parachute assisted ski fall. Still rad. Perhaps the seminal event in the sport of cliff hucking?

In other news, up in the PNW some kids out hunting shot and killed a woman by mistake. Every hunter’s worst nightmare, and I’m sad for everyone involved.

Lesson, if you’re out in the woods during hunting season, wear some hunter orange. If you don’t wear the glow, at first glance a hunter may have to do a double take to figure out if he’s seeing an animal or human. Worse, if visibility is bad or you’re partly visible because of vegetation or terrain, said hunter may be glassing you or even looking at you through his rifle scope for way too long, trying figure out your species. Do you really want that?

One of the most clownish things you see during hunting season is people hiking with surveyors tape decorated dogs, while they themselves wear no orange whatsoever. When have you even heard of an elk or deer hunter shooting a dog by mistake? Furthermore, what’s the logic of protecting your dog and not yourself!? Reminds me of those vacation families you see up at the ski resorts, with all the kids wearing helmets while the parents dodder around without. (Though while snowplowing at 5 mph you probably need to worry more about your knees than your skull — I must admit.)

(Please note, above is written as general editorial, and in no way blames the victim for this terrible accident. The point is that hunters make mistakes, and you don’t want them making one on you, so wear the orange even if you don’t carry a weapon.)

Jake Burton of snowboarding fame is always popping up here and there in the backcountry webosphere. In this recent article from New Zealand he mentions backcountry — I’d love to see him out there someday and make a few turns with the guy.

Mileage gauge.
I doubt our Scan Gauge will read like this in our glorified mini-van, but you get the idea. It shows you what’s going on. Check it out.

We’ve installed a Scan Gauge in the Versa, so that’ll give me the feedback I need to determine if drafting semi tractors is worth the danger.

As for WildSnow news, we’re headed out to Utah today for a visit to the Temple of Gear otherwise known as the Outdoor Retailer Show. Tomorrow we’ll be meeting with many of our website supporters, as well as trolling for new sacraments. So I’ll file reports on that as time permits.

I’m driving our little Nissan Versa gas sipper out there. Once on I-80 I’ll try some hypermiling and see if we can beat Prius at their own game, since we don’t have to haul the weight of a battery pack.

I highly recommend a Scan Gauge for almost any vehicle if you’re serious about improving your driving skills. It’s a small LCD that plugs into your diagnostic port and gives essential feedback such as your real-time mpg and all sorts of other info from your transportation appliance’s central computer.


Please Enjoy A Few Suggested WildSnow Posts


12 Responses to “Backcountry Skiing News Roundup — 8,000 Meters and Hunter Orange”

  1. Mike Marolt August 7th, 2008 11:12 am

    Re: Mura, interesting in that he actually climbed to 8,000 meters as a warm up before his ski / fall. So he is actually the first to ski from 8K, something no one gives him credit for. Also, people wonder why he assumed the “egg position” and used a parachute. He was a speed skier and thought the limited atmosphere that high would allow for the speed record. So he was on a speed trip more than just skiing. The chute was more a stopping mechanism for limited run out than a safety net. But in the end, thank god he had it; the snag on that serac is in my mind forever. But Mura was actually on his national team and I remember my father telling me he was one of the most incredible skiers and athletes he ever met. Super talented and beyond strong. Also fast…..when he didn’t fall. His latest is off the chart. Kudos to Mura as not many people know about his whole deal.


  2. Doug August 7th, 2008 11:39 am

    A quick comment on the PNW hunting fatality, as I live up here and have been following the story. I think your advice to wear orange is prudent and I will be doing that more often. But hunters need to think about this incident as well. First, the shooter was 14 years old (and his only “supervision” was a 16 year old). Second, they were hunting on a very popular hiking trail. Common sense would dictate that with so many people around, the hunter would need to be 100% certain of his target before unleashing lethal force. That didn’t happen, and I think the hunter’s parents deserve some blame for turning a child loose with a firearm who was not ready to make smart decisions.

  3. AJ August 7th, 2008 3:15 pm

    Hi Lou,

    According to the Austrian website Luis Stitzinger started his descent about 1.000 ft from the exact summit. An impressive effort nonetheless.

  4. Lou August 7th, 2008 7:17 pm

    Hi AJ,
    Yeah, I’ve been at altitude a few times, on Denali and in S.A., I can’t imagine what it’s like to climb and ski near the summit of an 8,000 meter peak. It’s pretty out there, but I respect it, that’s for sure.

  5. Lou August 7th, 2008 7:28 pm

    Doug, I’d agree, kids that age should be with a competent adult unless they’re really mature and level headed. But people in the backcountry during hunting season should at least wear clothing that’s not the same general tones as animal fur. Who wants a hunter even having to think about what you are for any amount of time?

    I remember in hunter safety class they had some stats for accidental hunter shootings before and after they started making everyone wear the orange. The difference was amazing.

  6. Greg August 8th, 2008 6:35 am

    I agree, not wearing bright orange while hiking in hunting season is foolish. What I don’t understand is where you heard that the victim was wearing bear-colored clothing, Lou? It’s not mentioned anywhere in the article you link (although possibly in another, non-linked article?), and she may well have been wearing orange.

    You say in your editorial, “Worse, if visibility is bad or you’re partly visible because of vegetation or terrain, said hunter may be glassing you or even looking at you through his rifle scope for way too long, trying figure out your species.” Really, this should read, “Worse, if visibility is bad or you’re partly visible because of vegetation or terrain, said hunter SHOULD NOT DISCHARGE HIS WEAPON.”

    I remember an incident a few years ago in the Adirondacks where a hunter missed a shot on a ridge line and the bullet traveled over a mile where it killed somebody driving his car on I-87. Of course this hunter couldn’t see anybody in his firing line, but poor judgment in taking that particular shot resulted in tragedy. I guess my point is it doesn’t matter if you think nobody is in your firing line….if you pull the trigger and somebody dies, it’s your fault, not the victim’s.

  7. Lou August 8th, 2008 6:52 am

    Greg, I wrote about the clothing color in a comment in reply to another comment, in a general sense, and in no way meant to imply the woman was wearing bear colored clothing.

    As for her wearing hunter orange, in none of the news reports did it say she was, and very few hikers wear it, so I assume she was not. If she was, than all that much sadder as far as the boys terrible mistake.

  8. Joel August 9th, 2008 6:21 pm

    Re: hunting accident
    There’s simply no excuse for firing a rifle at a target when the shooter isn’t certain what the target is. It’s that simple.

  9. Lou August 9th, 2008 8:50 pm

    Joel, I’d agree. But can’t the mind can play tricks and a person can be “certain” about something that’s not what they think it is? Thus, my point about wearing the orange if you’re sharing land with hunters.

  10. Randonnee August 10th, 2008 4:02 pm

    Unfortunate and tragic, of course. Another point that I would like to emphasize is that it is unlawful to fire a weapon across a road or trail. I would hope that hunters will take this responsibility very seriously, aside from being certain of the target and the background. I hunt, and also ski, bike and hike, and often while off-trail. I always try to be vigilant and think ahead of the hunters out there- if I get shot, fault-finding will not change anything.

    It is interesting to see some self-righteous responses in various forums from some hikers and etc. That hunter, when following the Law, has an equal right to be on that Public land as any other recreationist. Good judgement and following the Law must apply to all. For example, when a backcountry skier once cut in above me when I was using caution, skiing one-at-a-time for avalanche hazard, my rescue dog being held up top, that skier endangered my life, but fortunately there was no deadly result. On popular climbs groups often endanger others by setting off rockfall or even avalanches. I often see unskilled and ignorant drivers on mountain roads creating hazard for others. Horse riders have asked me to go another direction so as not to spook their horse, and I am expected to take my mountain bike off trail for the horse rider’s safety; this is something that I may not enjoy, but I do it for the safety of the horse riders, who equally have the right to use the Public Land.

    The point is, we all should abide by the Law, and we should consider others and the effects of our actions on others. The idea that one is morally superior because one is a hiker or whatever, compared to a hunter or other type of legitimate recreationist is elitist and specious thought.

  11. Chris August 12th, 2008 11:13 am

    About the hunter situation, I too am from Seattle, and I go backpacking/climbing/skiing almost every weekend throughout the year. I do not know the hunting seasons, they are not posted, I am not a hunter, and till now have believed that hunters do their thing far away from where i am (on trails often with other people). it’s tragic and i can’t help but think how this 14 year old kid feels as well as the family of the hiker, but come on, this CAN be avoided, with a mature and responsible shot, aiming far away from trails, roads, and climbing routes.

  12. Chris August 12th, 2008 2:15 pm

    Update on the situation.

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