Your Cart

Your cart is currently empty.

Continue Shopping

A Close Encounter with an Avalanche: What Every BackPacker Should Know

A Close Encounter with an Avalanche: What Every BackPacker Should Know

Skilled outdoorsman Piotr Ma walks you through a close encounter with an Avalanche in the High Tatra Mountains in Poland. Read on to hear about this frightening encounter, lessons learned, and life saving tips on how to prepare for a hike in the mountains.

"I could almost smell an avalanche in the air"


It was not the easiest day in the mountains. I started early, the weather was really bad. Low clouds and falling snow. It was snowing heavily for the last 48hrs. I joined a small group (for safety) going in a similar direction as me. We were plowing through a fresh 25” of snow. My plan was to reach a famous Zawrat saddle in High Tatra Mountains, not an easy target on that day. Was that even possible yesterday? I could almost smell an avalanche in the air. When I reached so-called Frozen Lake I knew I was right.


A serious avalanche hit there about 30 min earlier. It hit a team of climbers, who were training ice climbing on a small icefall (it’s a very famous spot for this). The coach was a member of the Mountain Rescue Team and he almost managed to avoid getting into the avalanche (he used the ice slope as cover) and he got one climber out of the snow quickly. Two other climbers were hit on the wall, but luckily for them the avalanche didn’t take them down from the pitch. When I reached the place - everyone was safe. The avalanche thickness was 150-190cm of snow (68-76 inches) so it was quite serious. The rescue team guy saved at least two lives on that day, as he convinced a team of 2 people to return and not go to Zawrat saddle just about 10 min before the avalanche hit the place! If they’d gone - it would have be game over for them.


The avalanche swiped all the backpacks and skis off the climbers (incl. wallets, documents, keys, etc.) so they started to search for their belongings with avalanche probes. Of course it was a last stop for me, so I joined them and within an hour two backpacks (out of four) and some skis were recovered. 

Looking back, it was actually a good training, and also an eye-opening experience. I had never walked through a really fresh avalanche field…it’s almost impossible to move through it! You make two steps and boom, you're deep in snow to your hips and can’t move. It’s a terrifying thing. A bit later, two rescue guys on touring skis joined as well and they checked the upper part of the avalanche field with Pieps looking for active beacons - thankfully no signals. Anyway, after another hour I had to start my return, and night hits early in January. The climbers were staying in a hut about 2hrs from the place and I had a 4-5 hour walk to get to my place. I returned at night.


1. It's much safer to be with a team.

2. Always tell someone where you are going.
3. ALWAYS carry full avalanche rescue kit incl. beacon.
4. Get training on how to use rescue kit.
5. Go light to be fast. Nibbler is light so fits my F&L kit.
6. Wear bright colors in the Mountains.
7. Always carry a headlamp in your backpack when mountaineering.
8. Know when/if to return - you can try again next week, month, year...the mountain will still be there in the future.

Another exciting day in the mountains. The Nibbler was a great choice - sharp, solid, super light. Fast & Light by definition. It's a knife you can easily add to your kit and open/use it with one hand and cut a rope in a split second.

Leave a comment