I Screwed Up – Looking Back on the Y-Not Couloir

I screwed up. This past week I have been trying to figure out if I got unlucky or made a mistake when I was hit by an avalanche and knocked off a 40′ cliff and then dragged 250′ down a tight rocky chute.

Up the Y down the Y-Not. PC: Andrew McLean

Today, it was pointed out to me that just two weeks prior to my incident, a party in the same couloir had nearly the exact same experience. They were able to take shelter and wait out the danger and descend later in the day. To quote the other party for their account on the Utah Avalanche Center website, “My partner and I got pinned down in the ynot by wet sluffing today”, “we made a pretty incredible miscalculation. We’re very lucky that no one was seriously hurt or worse.” I try to read all avalanche reports posted on the UAC and as many observations as I can. I had gotten lazy over the past few weeks.

Grey descending the Y-Not. This is what bad decisions look like sometimes

One way I have tried to “make myself feel better” is by justifying our decisions that day by seeing how many other people made the same decision. There were 6-10 people ahead of us on our ascent up the Y couloir. Back at the parking lot there was a solo person who was planning to go up and ski the Y-Not couloir and it was pointed out to me on social media that the Y-Not couloir was skied by another party right after us on the same day as the incident. I tried to tell myself this meant that my choice wasn’t that bad. However, really it just means that a bunch of people all made the same bad choice.

Bruised hip

It has also been hard to tease apart bad luck from the decision making process. Many people told me in person and on social media that, “you got unlucky”, or “when you expose yourself to as much time in the backcountry as I do, something is bound to happen”, or “not much to learn, you just got unlucky.” I do think I got very unlucky last week. I got hit by the avalanche in the worst possible location in the whole couloir. However, I was standing at the worst possible location in the couloir during a dangerous time. I set myself up for failure. What was the chance that I got hit by an avalanche right where I was standing? 1 in 100? 1 in 1000? 1 in 10,000? Honestly when it comes to making decisions in avalanche terrain none of those are acceptable odds. 1 in 100,000 is the edge of too dangerous when we are constantly exposing ourselves to danger.

Grey demonstrating the correct way down the cliff

So did I get unlucky last week? Yes. Did I make poor decisions that made the unlucky outcome to high? Yes. Did a lot of other people also make poor decisions on the same day in the same line? Yes. Did I also get insanely lucky and come out unscathed? Yes, and to not look back and figure out where I went wrong, would only set me up to make more bad decisions in the future.
My hope in posting this is that people can learn from my mistakes. Not only learn from the specific mistake of not reading the avalanche reports and not assuming north facing lines have no exposure to warming of snow above them, but also to learn how to look back at a decision and evaluate it and the importance of talking publicly about a poor decision from a place of vulnerability and being okay with that.

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