With support from a FMC Training Grant, the Canterbury University Tramping Club (CUTC) gains essential, hands-on knowledge in avalanche safety and response.
By Lewis MacDonald
During the first week of September, a group of six from the Canterbury University Tramping Club (CUTC) attended an Avalanche Awareness, Grade One course. This involved an evening theory session, followed by a day walking about the slopes of Mt Hutt. The CUTC organised this course for regular trip leaders who were keen to start looking at trips that head deeper into the mountains during winter and spring.
After all converging on Methven and setting up camp, we filled ourselves up at the local fish and chip shop before heading to meet our instructor and cracking into a theory lecture. Lots of weather systems were analysed and useful websites like avalanche.net were explained to us. We were told what makes certain slopes more or less dangerous than others and shown many examples of potentially hazardous terrain, as well as areas considered safer. We were taught situation assessing strategies for both avoiding avalanches and during rescue. After the lecture, we were all keen for a big sleep to let all the fresh knowledge sink in.
After a cold night camping, we were up and raring to go – Mt Hutt standing proud at the end of the road. Once up the mountain, we met with our instructor again and went over the plan for the day. We kitted up with avvy gear and headed out to do a bit of terrain assessment and transceiver searching practice. Learning about how the transceivers interact with each other and how to deal with their quirks was insightful and we all quickly got the knack of how to use them. We did some probing practice, both in partner rescue and with a group probe line. Some digging practice took up the remaining time before lunch, with our instructor showing us how to dig most efficiently.
After lunch we put our crampons on and went for a walk towards the south face. We implemented safe practice by crossing potential avalanche paths one at a time and planned routes which would allow us to minimise time on or below risk areas (some imagination was required for this). We looked at the snow that the latest storm had deposited and how the wind had made certain aspects load far more heavily while others had been stripped. Finally to cap the day off, our instructor explained how he conducts pit tests and how we could do one ourselves to see if the snow may fail as a cohesive slab.
We had a fantastic day! Thank you to our instructor, Connor from Alpine Guides, who made learning important safety skills also a fun day out. A few of us quickly put the skills we learned into practice setting out to climb some snowy peaks in the upper Ashburton two days later.
Also, a massive thank you to FMC for providing our funding. Many of us would not have learnt these skills without the financial help.