Backcountry Rescue: The Value of a Probe

 Avalanche rescue is nothing if not about limited time. Much emphasis is put on the holy trinity of avalanche essentials: beacon, probe and shovel. And while the probe is necessary for several other backcountry chores—feeling layers, measuring snowpit data and tests, marking caches, anchoring tents—its primary application of pinpointing buried avalanche victims depends on speed and dependability, a crucial element in the three-tool protocol.

With the advancement of beacon technology and shovel mechanics, it’s only natural that probes should be concurrent in their evolution. G3 has developed a single pull rapid deployment mechanism with a serious commitment to immediacy. Constructed with high strength piping and aluminum ferrules, G3 probes are tough enough for repeated penetration through dense avalanche debris without weighing you down. For even lighter weight, G3 offers a carbon probe option.

In a real time scenario, tool management is key when exhuming a friend from an avalanche. For the purposes of this post, let’s assume we’ve all taken a level 1 avalanche course, and we’re going through the motions of companion rescue in the backcountry.

Once the avalanche has stopped, we’ve decided the scene is safe to go after our friend. We’ve got the last point seen, and we’re beginning our search. Beacons are drawn and put to receive. Our shovel and probe should be assembled, or able to retrieve at a moment’s notice. (Another serious consideration is when to get out of our skis. On the primary search, it’s essential to not overshoot prescribed search strip widths.) Once we’ve got a signal, move with purpose, following the beacon’s cues toward the buried party.

At the pinpoint search, when our distance reading is below three meters, we have our probe ready to plunge into the debris. Once we’ve located the lowest distance reading—following the grid pattern—probe until we get a strike, and then leave it there. Shoveling is a tiresome and hectic process, so accuracy is essential when digging out our partner. The probe provides potential rescuers an important focal point from which to dig, as time is not on our side, and extraneous digging helps no one.

From the downhill side of the probe strike—1.5 times the length of the burial depth—start digging uphill toward the probe. When we make contact and know the orientation of our friend’s body, direct shoveling toward their airway and focus all efforts to make sure it’s clear.

The Take Home Message is this: while no avalanche is the same, real or in practice, shovels and beacons do much of the work during a rescue. The probe’s value is providing invaluable accuracy and efficiency when speed, focus and tenacity are a matter of life and death.

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