Developing an Eye for Angles – Part 1

| January 1, 2009

An experienced car mechanic can look at a nut or bolt from ten feet away and instantly tell you what size it is down to the 64th of an inch.  It is not magic, but more a case of repetitive familiarity within a certain range.  Cars tend to use bolts in the 1/4″ to 1″ range, so after a few hundred times of fitting sockets to them, you start to develop a eye for what size they are.

The same idea applies for slope angles, which in terms of avalanche danger, is a key factor.  Although my eyes/brain are not accurately calibrated for the sub 25-degree range, or over 50-degrees, I can usually pick out a slope angle in the 30-45 degree range to within a degree or so at a glance.  Like a mechanic, this is more the result of first making a guesstimate, then trying it (with a clinometer in the case of a slope).  After doing this a few hundred times you start to get pretty accurate at it.  If I’m with a group, I make everyone guess (including myself) before taking the actual measurement, just for the fun of it.

Checking the slope angle in the Tetons. Photo by Doug Coombs.

The significance of developing an eye for angles is that often, just a few degrees can make a huge difference.  For instance, say you are skinning up a 30 degree ridgeline, which then contours around into a slightly steeper bowl.  In this case, you will be changing aspects (north/south/east/west) AND bumping the angle up towards the prime 38-degree avalanche strike zone.  It is subtle, but within a few feet you can go from relative safety to dangerous.

Help support and nail your angles with a Kasper & Richter Alpin Sighting Compass from Click on the photo below…


Category: 07 Avalanche Avoidance

About the Author ()

Andrew McLean lives in Park City, Utah and is a gear designer, writer, photographer, ski mountaineer, climber, Mountain Unicycle rider and father of two very loud little girls.

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