Saturday February 16th: Day One
We made our way to McCall, ID and up to the trail head. The conditions could not have been more amazing. It was sunny and warm and the snow was soft. I put my skins on my split board skis for the first time ever, strapped in, and awkwardly made my way down the trail. With a pack half the size of myself, and my first time skinning/touring I felt pretty goofy hobbling down the trail with contraptions on my feet. After a while, with some help from the trip facilitators and other patrons on the trip, I started to feel more comfortable on my new gear.
I was the slowest by far, but the weather was way too beautiful for me to be anything but happy to be outside. Going at my own pace worked for me and the group waited and took water breaks often to make sure I wasn’t left behind. It was sunny and warm and I had some good endorphins from skinning up the hill to the hut. I felt bad for holding everyone up and kept apologizing for being so slow, but the whole group was so supportive and basically told me to shut up and not worry about they were happy to be there.
It was hard work and I was tired by the time we made it to the hut, but feeling pretty good about myself for conquering my first time touring. The hut had an incredible view of Payette Lake and the mountains, a wood burning stove, a sauna that we took advantage of later, and an outhouse. I was excited to get to our hut and settle in, but when I started unpacking I realized one of my creative gluten free sandwich concoctions that had pickles in it, had leaked pickle juice all over my sleeping bag, my one other shirt, and the rest of the bag. Another lesson learned in plan ahead and prepare. I was lucky we were staying in a yurt so that some woodland creature wasn’t enticed by my pickle juice sleeping bag to come get a tasty snack.
After hanging my stuff up to dry off, stretching, and having a quick snack we headed outside for some avalanche training. For those interested in going in the back country it is absolutely essential that all members of the group have some avalanche knowledge. For anyone interested in getting certified check out AIARE for upcoming classes or events.
For those who are curious what avalanche training entails here is a basic play by play: We turn our beacons from transmit to search and walk in the direction of the space where the “victim” was last seen, traversing back and forth until we get a signal. You then use the distance on your beacon as a signal of which direction to travel and the distance between you and the victim.
As soon as you find your lowest signal you start your pinpoint search. A pinpoint search beings at your lowest signal, goes left until the number on your beacon jumps a significant amount then you make a line in the snow, signifying the left side of your focus box. You then go right from your lowest point until the number on your beacon jumps up and make a line, then do the same above and below your lowest signal and make the lines to create a full focus box. This part is to be methodical and not be rushed because it is so easy to make a box in the wrong place and waste a lot of precious time.
Once you make your focus box, find the lowest signal and probe at that point and then in a circular motion out from that point until you probe your victim. Leave the probe in place and then dig. Communication and teamwork are essential to the timely extraction of an avalanche victim, and I was glad that we were able to practice, just in case.
After a couple hours of avalanche work, we headed inside to make dinner and hang out in the hut. The first evening we made some delicious Italian noodles with chopped onions, peppers, sauce, and spices. We ended the night with some hot tea, a warm fire, and great conversation. Then we headed to bed in our toasty warm hut to get some sleep for our upcoming day.