The Great Cairn Hut


Great Cairn Mountaineering Trip

July 24-31, 1999

Safety Summary

Trip Safety Summary

Safety is something I usually give a great deal of thought to both prior to and following these organized trips. This was not a trip with a group of regular partners of known backgrounds and skills. I emphasized throughout the planning process that I was not guiding, nor was anyone else. I think this was very clear. However, I do think that anyone organizing such a trip needs to give some concern to safety. And having to rescue somebody, or in a worst case bring them out in a bag, isn't much fun whether or not you've done everything you could to see that people were prepared.

This group consisted of safety conscious mountaineers. Skill levels varied significantly but each participant had some significant level of training and/or experience prior to coming on this trip. Three had taken a class just on crevasse extrication/rescue as part of their preparation for this trip, although one had left early and missed some of the material which can become important when traveling as a party of only two. (Not attending that class was Linda, for whom it was not practical. Had it been practical I believe she would have also done it.)

The weather increased our safety margin in two ways. There was a good bit of snow through spring right into July and snow climbing conditions were not great. The snow was mostly still soft in the surface layers, making for tiring travel. So one effect was that many things we would have like to do were not in very good condition. Also, some of the days of our trip being overcast or mildly stormy. So we were limited in what we could do, an unfortunate method of increasing the safety margin. The second factor was that all the snow had bridged crevasses pretty well. When we crossed the Gothics Glacier there was almost no sign of crevasses, even around the ridge of Sentinel. I feel like it was better filled in than it had been in March when we accessed it one day from Fairy Meadows.

On the trip from Great Cairn to Fairy Meadows we traveled as a group. This was a good thing since differences in various skills were apparent. Some people were more confident on snow of various angles than others. When we rappelled out of Azimuth Notch at least two people rigged their rappel device up incorrectly. Because of the orientation of the climber in relation to the anchor and rappel this was an easy mistake to make. But the less experienced were checked and corrected by the more experienced. (Even the more experienced need double checking sometimes as well - it is a good practice.)

While there were not many rock routes some of us did attempt Little Blackfriar one day. While we did not have any real safety lapses this outing did highlight one of the concerns that can arise in this type of range - how to move quickly and efficiently over exposed 4th class rock. Many routes in the Selkirks require this, and there is a trade off between roped security and travel efficiency. The route description for Mt Sir Donald (NW Arete) highlights this. On one hand it states that parties belaying too much of the arete will not complete the route and/or face a bivy. On the other hand it states that unroped falls have resulted in fatalities on that popular route. Each climber and/or party needs to figure out how they want to handle this trade-off. We didn't finish the route for various reasons anyway, but there were different attitudes towards this matter.

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