A Family Adventure

Tyson, Emilie & Isaac

10th Mountain Day 4 – cross country skiing

February 26, 2020
Emilie Phillips

This is the fourth day of our week long 2020 Ski Trip to Colorado 10th Mountain Division Hut.

Wednesday was absolutely gorgeous and we finally got out to enjoy it. Our plan for the day was to do a small cross country ski tour in the morning, come back to the cabin for lunch, and then see if we wanted to go out again in the afternoon.

Some tracks on the road

We took the morning slow. When we did head out, it was a sunny 0F which actually felt warm enough to strip off our thick jackets. Not far from the cabin, there is a snowmobile road. I think you can drive up the dirt road in summer. A few snowmobiles had ridden over it since Monday’s snow storm, but, unlike the east coast where that would have made for hard nasty skiing, here the crushed snow was still soft and powdery. We followed the road diagonally upward through open evergreen forest towards the ridge. We cought a few views of the surrounding mountains. When the road reached the ridge, it turned back south and leveled off. Once above the cabin, we picked what we thought was a representative open slope to dig an avalanche test pit.

Tyson and Emilie in the pit

Looking back afterward, I don’t know if digging the test pit was the right thing to do. We learned a bunch. But over the following days, we never climbed above tree line where we would have needed the information. We just never acclimatized to the altitude. Had we skipped digging the pit, we could have used our energy to explore a little farther that day.

Meanwhile, Isaac dug his own hole. With a little adult help, he dug down until his eyes were even with the surface. After digging our pit, we enjoyed a gentle ski down through large evergreens to the cabin. We spent the afternoon on rowdy games of team solitaire and dominos.

Tyson stacked dominos

By writing this post well afterwards, I learned that I need to keep better notes in my avalanche observation notebook. My records are illegible and incomplete. I found more details in my draft post written on the plane flight home than in the official pit observations.

Pit details

From top to bottom

  • 30 cm of fresh powder. That layer broke at 3 taps from the elbow in extended column test. Very dirty. Could cause a point release avalanche, though snow fell at less than 1″ per hour previous day.
  • 55 cm of increasingly hard slab. 4 finger to pencil
  • 65 cm of 1 finger, 4 finger and fist that crumbled to ball bearings.

We couldn’t get the weak bottom layer to react to column test until we removed half the overlaying slab. It crumbled when stood on directly. For the past month, the Colorado avalanche forecasts had harped on the persistent weak layer at the bottom. The potentially reactive top layer was the one surprise.

We checked the archives when we got back to civilization. The official analysis (pdf) matched ours pretty well.


GPS Track