Avalanche Right Gully

An avalanche accident occurred in the Right Gully of Tuckerman Ravine on Mount Washington. Right Gully is a 1000 foot snow gully with a slope angle ranging from 35 to 40 degrees. The climbers destination was the summit of Mount Washington. At approximately 1130, an avalanche was triggered by 2 climbers near the top of the gully. Four other climbers were also in the gully at the time the avalanche swept down. The four climbers had no warning and were unable to take evasive action to avoid the slide. PB was carried approximately 600 feet down to the floor of Tuckerman Ravine. WL and DC were carried approximately 300 feet. None of them were buried by the avalanche debris. PB suffered a fractured right tibia, WL a sprained left ankle, and DC a sprained right ankle. JE was not caught in the avalanche and escaped without injury.

The avalanche danger in Tuckerman Ravine was posted as Moderate. The avalanche was a pocket of windslab, which had been deposited on a combination of old, wind-packed snow and a rain crust. It appears to have been the only deposit of unstable snow in the gully, as no other snow was entrained by the slide. Crampons and ice axes were needed to safely ascend the gully.

Bystanders at the scene immediately began to assist the injured climbers. By the time the USFS snow ranger and search and rescue personnel arrived, the victims had been put into Cascade toboggans gathered from the nearby rescue cache. Rescue personnel and volunteers evacuated the injured to Hermit Lake, where the US Forest Service Thiokol was used to continue the transport to Pinkham Notch and the awaiting ambulance.

The debris from the avalanche was 180 feet long, 70 feet wide, and 2.5 feet deep. The maximum depth of the fracture was 18 inches. The fracture was approximately 175 feet wide. The track of the avalanche was 800 vertical feet.

Comments

The avalanche danger was posted at Moderate in Right Gully. The area that avalanched was an isolated pocket of unstable snow. Only this pocket was released, and very little other snow was entrained in the track of the avalanche. The area received 4.3 inches of snow in the previous 48 hours, with north winds gusting up to 60 m.p.h.. Right gully has a mostly south and southeast aspect.

Safe travel skills must be observed at all times in avalanche terrain when there is a danger of avalanches. The climbers caught in this slide were not practicing safe travel technique. They were traveling together up the gully, with another party above them.

Snow conditions were indeed stable where the victims were climbing, they were probably unaware of the unstable snow higher in the gully. Travelers in avalanche terrain should always be aware of what is above them and to have an escape route planned. These climbers were very lucky. They were not buried by the avalanche. They were not equipped with avalanche transceivers or shovels for self rescue. It was a small avalanche with a relatively benign run-out zone. Had the avalanche dragged them through an area known as Lunch Rocks located 150 feet west of the path of the avalanche, the outcome may not have been so fortunate.

The avalanche was triggered by 2 climbers also ascending to the summit of Mount Washington. They were aware that there were other climbers in the gully below them at the time of the avalanche. They declined to descend to the accident scene, choosing rather to continue on to the summit.