Glissading – Sliding Fall

On 2-15-99, BM was involved in a serious accident on the summit cone of Mount Washington. At approximately 1500, BM and his partners left the summit of Mount Washington, descending the southeast snowfields. The slope angle varies from 30 to 35 degrees where the accident occurred. About half way down from the summit, BM began glissading the snowfield. He lost control, gained speed, and caught his crampons on the surface. The slide was estimated to be approximately 200 feet, with many boulders hit along the way.

BM suffered an angulated boot-top fracture of the right leg, and swollen painful deformities of the right hand and right chest area. A lengthy rescue followed, which was not completed until 2:30 AM the following day. The rescue involved 7 pitches of raising over steep snow via a counter balance haul system. BM was raised to the summit and brought down the Mount Washington Auto Road with the assistance from the Mount Washington Observatory snow vehicle.

Comments

BM was glissading with his crampons on. Climbers must remove their crampons to glissade steep snow covered slopes. There have been several accidents on Mount Washington this winter where climbers began to glissade on their backsides without removing the crampons. Several of these accidents have resulted in fractured legs and ankles and lengthy rescue efforts.

The surface conditions at the time were extremely hard and icy, making self arrest difficult. Glissading steep, icy slopes without a good runout can be very dangerous.

Any accident in winter on Mount Washington can become life threatening given the notoriously harsh winter weather. Fortunately for BM and the rescuers, the weather was reasonably mild. BM was well equipped and had warm outerwear which helped keep him comfortable during the lengthy rescue, and may have prevented additional damage to his leg. Climbers, hikers and skiers would do well to prepare for the worst when climbing the mountain in winter.
The rescue required 15 people and 120 hours.

Long Sliding Fall – Lower Snowfields

On 2-13-1999, VM and her partner were descending the Lower Snowfields in Tuckerman Ravine on Mount Washington. The snow conditions were extremely hard, the result of a mid-winter rain storm. They decided to practice self arrest technique. The slope angle of the Lower snowfields is about 35 degrees, with a poor runout of trees and shrubby vegetation. From the top of the snowfield, VM began a deliberate slide. She was unable to self arrest, and experienced a sliding, tumbling fall of approximately 500 feet into the scrub vegetation.

She was evacuated from the base of the slope in a Cascade toboggan to Hermit Lake, and then to Pinkham Notch via US Forest Service Thiokol snow vehicle.

Injuries included swollen, painful deformities of both legs and right arm, multiple abrasions and contusions and hypothermia.

Comments

Self-arrest technique must be practiced on small, unobstructed practice slopes where a safe runout is assured. Slopes such as the Lower Snowfields can be a good place for such practice, but deliberate slides from the top of this 500 foot slope are not recommended, even under the best conditions. Ideally, the best slopes are those where excessive speed will not cause injury in the event of an uncontrolled slide.

The snow conditions at the time of the accident were extremely unfavorable for self arrest. Any type of fall can be difficult to arrest under such conditions, let alone a slide of this distance.

VM was wearing crampons while practicing self arrest. The importance of removing crampons during self arrest practice or when glissading can not be underestimated. It is likely that VM injured both legs by catching the points of her crampons as she slid down the slope.

VM was characterized as a novice and her partner as experienced.

The rescue required 23 people and 27 person hours.