Huntington Ravine – Central Gully

Two skiers triggered a R2D1.5 avalanche in Central gully at approximately 2:30 in the afternoon. The previous night 2.9 inches of new snow fell on the summit with strong winds. During the morning and through the day this snow was transported into the deposition area below the Central ice bulge. Both Tuckerman and Huntington Ravines were under a General Advisory identifying snow stability concerns in isolated snowfields in each of the ravines.

In the words of skier #2: ” The sky was mostly clear with a lot of blowing snow, which should have been our first sign of newly loaded snow in the gullies. We moved our way up the hiking trail through the fan of the ravine carrying our skis on our packs. Halfway up the fan we broke left onto the snow fields in front of Pinnacle buttress and gully. Here we turned on our beacons and did a beacon check to make sure our transceivers were working in transmit and search mode: they were and we read in each others distance from one another approximately the same. With the high winds, cold and strong gusts, we decided to dig multiple quick/hasty pits as we ascended the snow. We found a lot of spatial variability up the slope. Scoured old icy surface, very dense heavy 2″ slab, 8-12″ lighter slabs, some of these slabs were right on old surface and some were sitting on top of what seemed to be consolidated snow. The cold temps and the winds were not friendly to digging more comprehensive pits, something we should have used as a sign that it was “not a nice day to go skiing” but we pushed on to the Central buttress where we found a large patch of recently (and still being) deposited snow. At the base of the ice route known as Cloud Walkers we began inspecting this new and different snow and kept digging around and feeling for layers in the snow as we climbed. There seemed to be no inconsistencies in this wind slab. Punching ski poles and our arms up to our shoulder we found the same type of snow as deep as we could determine with the assessment/observation technique we were utilizing. Climbing through this area of snow, postholing up to our waists at times, we made our way to the base of the ice slab in Central gully and tucked ourselves away into the corner of the rock climb known as Mechanics Route, which ended being a very good idea in retrospect. ”

The first skier started out and after one or two turns triggered a slab avalanche that carried the skier approximately 500 feet down into the fan, over snow, and fortunately not into the talus. The seconds skier standing along the buttress (skiers right) was not caught in the release and was able to move down the slope to help.

Skier#2: “I hurried down to a flatter spot where I left my skies and poles, pulled out my beacon and turned it on to search mode pointing it in the direction my partner had been swept toward. Taking a moment to make sure the beacon was indeed in search mode I found no signal, he was still too far away down hill. I began moving down through the rock fields, more or less on the hiking trail, adjacent to where the slide had flowed past. Visibility was difficult at a distance but I could see the debris from the slide. Most of it had been broken into small chunks of snow and some were still basketball size. I quickly moved downhill in a straight line scanning left and right to try to pick up his signal. Looking back and forth from my beacon to the direction I was heading, I soon saw a figure about five hundred feet below me moving from where I saw the slide go toward to where I was heading in the rock fields. It seemed to be my partner carrying his skis to a safer place away from the slide area.”

Snow Ranger doing a quick check on crown height.

Discussion:

In our experience looking at avalanche accidents and close calls on Mount Washington over the years, constant themes, mistakes, and oversights arise.  Many of them are related to human psychological factors, the mental drivers that whisper over our shoulder “..everything is fine, good ahead you’ll have fun, you’ve done this before…”,  while others miss the bulls-eye data that Mother Nature is offering and not having as much avalanche knowledge as we all should.  These are traps any of us can fall into, which highlights how important it is to approach avalanche terrain with skepticism and keep asking the critical questions.

In this particular case a number of things were done well and some factors were overlooked.  Good partner accountability and the ability to be support for our fellow partner is always important.  Sound rescue skills and a level head to execute under duress is what all of us want in our mountain team.  Beacon checks, going one at a time, good rescue execution are excellent practices and are commended in this case.  Having a good plan in case of an incident is critical, but focusing on and planning for rescue should not take a front seat to all the actions we should consider in order to not get caught.  It’s all about not getting caught, not avalanche rescue. New Hampshire leads the nation in the percentage of avalanche deaths resulting in trauma.  Based on our terrain and low snowfall an avalanche can often send you through the trees and rocks.  This results in a higher probability that you’ll be deceased when the snow stops more than any other state.  The avalanche beacon is of little value in this scenario.  So, avalanche rescue skills and gear are always extremely critical, but never more important than knowing how not to get caught.

In hindsight our vision is 20/20 as we ask ourselves “how could we have overlooked these clues?”  This is especially true with the objective facts we would expect to ask ourselves.  How much precipitation did we receive in the past 24/48 hours?  What direction are the winds and at what speed?  Is my intended terrain in the lee?  Do I have the slope angle and adequate bed surfaces for avalanche potential?  All these taken together will often send up some red flags.  After these questions are answered you’ve got some data, now what?  “What’s the stability like.”  Snow pits and stability tests can be a double edged sword.  They are critical to have an understanding what is going on under the surface.  Stability tests such as Compression Tests, Extended Column Tests, the Rutschbloc, etc. give you some indication how slopes might react as opposed to quick hasty digging (sans tests) which can bring out red flag layers or crystals, but are limited in what they tell us about how the slope might respond to your load.  The other edge of the sword in doing stability tests is they tell you what is going on right there and not accounting for potentially vast amounts of spatial variability.  As this team went upslope they recognized variability which led to a choice to not spend too much effort or time in one pit which is not an unreasonable decision.  There is a possibility that numerous pits would lead them to believe skiing the slope was a reasonable proposition.  In our terrain spatial variability often increases the odds of  “false stable” results when doing stability tests on a particular slope. Basically, stability tests can lead you to believe a slope is stable when in fact it’s not. No matter what mountain you’re on around the world knowing what’s buried 10-20 meters out in the middle of a couloirs is often the 64 thousand dollar question.

In this case, as best we can surmise, the initial fracture leading to failure occurred in a very thin section of the slab over water ice unseen from the surface.  It is very probable faceted snow sat between the ice and the thin slab (+/- 15-22cm) causing a failure back into the deeper slabs behind the first skier.  Given the same weak layer your “impact bulb” causes more stress on a shallow weakness than a deeper one.  The thicker a slab (i.e. +/- 80 to 100cm) the more it generally distributes your load over a broad area on a weak layer. In a thin slab (i.e. +/- 10-40cm) a point load of the same weight impacts the weakness with a greater amount of pounds per square inch generating a more likelihood of fracture and failure.

20 hours after the incident two crown line profiles were done in a +/- 12 meter section of the 30 m overall crown length.  This section was fairly consistent at 90cm deep before tapering rapidly after a rock in the crown.  A score of CT11 with Q2 shear occurred in both profiles failing at 90cm.  Although a number of layers existed above the test failures at 90cm they survived the CT11 tests.
%0

Lion Head Winter Route Glissade

A group was descending the Lion Head Winter Route, when one of the member of the group lost control of his glissade. He slid an unknown length, impacted trees along the way, and came to rest wedged between two trees just above the first steep pitch on the route ( atop the “rock step”). The party was able to reach 911 via cell phone, and also local caretakers from the AMC heard their voices while skiing and went over to assist. Due to the unfortunate location of where he came to rest, stabilization and extrication was difficult and took longer than usual for accidents in this area. The patient was eventually packaged on a backboard in a rescue litter, which was lowered by rope through the steep sections of trail. He was loaded into the USFS snowcat and transferred to an ambulance at Pinkham Notch Visitor Center. Overall the rescue involved 2 Snow Rangers, 2 caretakers, one bystander, and a handful of people from the group. The total time from injury to when he was transferred to the ambulance was approximately 4-5 hours.

Although this patient’s injuries were caused by impact with trees, we would like to remind everyone that glissading while wearing crampons is a dangerous activity. Every year people are injured doing this. You are better off staying on your feet if you are wearing crampons. If you do want to glissade, we recommend removing your crampons first. The Lion Head Winter Route is a steep route that requires the ability to self arrest to navigate safely. We recommend hikers should not only have an ice axe and crampons, but be experienced in how to use them effectively.

Snowboarder who had fallen into a crevasse near the waterfall in the Headwall of Tuckerman Ravine

At approximately 3:30pm, Snow Rangers at Hermit Lake were notified of a snowboarder who had fallen into a crevasse near the waterfall in the Headwall of Tuckerman Ravine. In the amount of time it took to grab gear for a technical rescue and hike up to the Bowl, bystanders had already pulled the soaked snowboarder out of the hole and were lowering him to Lunch Rocks. Other than being cold and having a scraped knuckle, he was uninjured. Although in the end the Snow Rangers did not provide medical care or transportation to the individual, the incident is significant enough to warrant inclusion here.

Based on interviews with the group and bystanders, here is how the events unfolded. The group had four people: the victim, his brother, girlfriend, and another friend. The group chose the line they wanted to take from below. The girlfriend was staying behind at Lunch Rocks to watch. The men did their best to make an assessment of what the run would be like. They planned where to enter the cliffs and where to make their turns, and they began climbing. We don’t know which route they climbed up, but this day the vast majority of the skiers were climbing the Sluice, traversing across to the top of the Lip, and dropping in from there. Earlier in the day, Snow Ranger Jeff Lane had climbed up through the Lip to assess the conditions of the crevasses and waterfall holes. Conditions were deteriorating rapidly as ravine temperatures had not gone below freezing for five consecutive days and nights, and at the time it was very warm and sunny. As of noontime, when Lane ascended, the crevasses in most location were not a significant safety concern but there were a few locations where they had grown and opened up enough for a person to fall deeply into them. He avoided approaching the waterfall holes in this assessment but noted they had grown substantially recently.

The group of three began their descent: two planned on dropping the waterfall while one chose to go through the Lip itself. The victim was the first one to go. As he attempted the final turn before dropping over the waterfall, he lost his edge, slid down, and fell in the crevasse. He landed upright in a constriction and was able to take off his snowboard so he could climb a few feet up to stand on a rocky edge. Icy water was cascading onto the snowboarder, so he put up his hood to help stay dry. The friend who was in the Lip saw him go out of sight, but did not know he fell into the crevasse. The brother also did not know the outcome right away. He carefully approached the edge to get a look down. Numerous people witnessed the incident, and before long bystanders were coming to the aid of the trapped snowboarder.

After a few minutes, someone was able to make voice contact with the snowboarder and determined he was uninjured. One of the bystanders on scene had been carrying a rope, which was lowered down to the snowboarded. After securing himself to the rope the group was able to pull him up and out of the crevasses. Wet clothes were exchanged for donated dry clothes. Some of the bystanders at this time began to descend. The victim slid down the Headwall on a belay and made his way to Lunch Rocks. Lane arrived at Lunch Rocks at approximately the same time as the victim, and confirmed he was uninjured.

This is a very remarkable event, mostly due to the fact that the victim was not injured more than he was and that bystanders were able to rescue him so quickly. A number of factors lead up to this incident, many of which could have been easily avoided or done differently. First, it is important for visitors to get the latest conditions information from reliable sources, such as the Snow Rangers, the AMC caretakers at Hermit Lake Shelters or the Visitor Center. The fact that crevasse danger existed on this day was discussed in the morning Avalanche Advisory. The daily advisory is the single best resource for information about the current conditions and potential hazards. We do not know whether or not it was read by any in the group, but they did pass by two locations where it is posted each day. Furthermore, we strongly recommend skiers climb up their intended line of descent so they can assess the hazards. Many hazards are difficult to see from the base of the ravine or from above while skiing.

03-28-2010:Snow Rangers and Mount Washington Volunteer Ski Patrol personnel responded to a 911 call reporting a fallen skier with traumatic injuries. The location was described as the “right ridge” of Tuckerman Ravine but no other details were available. Considerable efforts were made to locate the victim, but proved unsuccessful until after some time a Snow Ranger noticed a 17 year old male (NL) skiing out of the Ravine with a minor scrape on his face. He acknowledged that he had fallen while climbing up Right Gully and decided to walk down, but he didn’t know where his other two friends were. They had continued climbing up and upon reaching the ridge one (JB) decided to go down via Lion Head Trail and the other (NB) was going to try to ski Right Gully. The skier fell on his descent, lost a ski, and then passed his NL who was now down-climbing. He looked for his ski unsuccessfully, and decided to climb back up Right Gully to the ridge without his backpack and with only one ski so that he could also descend the Lion Head Trail. Eventually JB reached Hermit Lake where he was able to confirm with Snow Rangers there that he did indeed call 911 to report his friend falling even though he did not know the extent of injuries. It is unclear as to whether he made the call to report NL’s climbing fall or NB’s skiing fall. After talking with NL and JB for some time, it became clear that NB was unaccounted for, yet his backpack and a single ski were in the floor of Tuckerman Ravine. Neither NL or JB knew the location of NB, so the search of Tuckerman resumed. NB had gone down the Lion Head Winter Route and back up to Hermit Lake, where he was reunited with his friends.

This incident resulted in only very minor injuries. JB suffered a bloody nose and swollen lip from a fall on the Lion Head Winter Route, and NL had minor scratches on his face. The incident highlights the importance of proper trip planning and preparation. The entire group was dressed in cotton pants and shirts on a cold gray day, the snow surface was very firm and they were not carrying ice axes or crampons, and they did not have good knowledge of the trails and terrain of the area. Among the most common causes for incidents we respond to are long sliding falls, groups that have become separated, and hypothermia. All of these could have played a more prominent role in this incident; thankfully it resolved itself in a positive way.

Snow Shoeing in Tuckerman Ravine

A group of people were snow shoeing in Tuckerman Ravine in the bottom of Right Gully when one of them slipped on an icy surface and began a head first sliding fall toward boulders.  His friend, who was below him, got in his fall line and stopped his fall.  This successfully kept his friend from injuring himself, but the person who stopped the fall suffered a broken lower leg in the process.  The caretaker from the Harvard Cabin and three local guides were in the area.  They provided first aid and began transporting the patient with some assistance from bystanders.  Snow Rangers responded to help and the patient was lowered down the Little Headwall and transported to Pinkham Notch via snowmobile where he was transferred to an ambulance.

Avalanche in Pinnacle Gully

Shortly after 10:30am, a 31 year old man fell approximately 1150′ after triggering an avalanche in Pinnacle Gully. The avalanche deposited him at the bottom of the area known as the “Fan” about 50 feet below the debris pile. He sustained significant injuries but was able to call 911 from his cell phone alert authorities of the accident. USFS Snow Rangers were notified of the accident by the Androscoggin Ranger District at approximately 10:45 and arrived on scene with rescue equipment around 11:15. After the patients injuries were stabilized, he was packaged into a rescue sled and transported behind a snowmobile to an ambulance waiting at the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center.

The avalanche danger for Pinnacle was Considerable, based on new snow being blown in on southerly winds around 40-50mph. Between 7.3″ and 8.0″ of new snow was recorded from the storm before it changed over to rain on Friday. It is unclear how much snow had fallen at the time of the avalanche, but we estimate about 4″ had fallen. The avalanche was triggered in new snow sitting on top of a rain crust and was classified as D2R3. The climber described his location as being “about 3/4 of the way up” the climb when the slide was triggered. He stated his belief that he was the trigger for the avalanche.

Due to unfavorable weather conditions, a rapid trauma assessment and extrication were conducted in the field. The patient was treated for a possible fractured femur. Other injuries noted, but not immediately treated, included an angulated wrist and superficial facial contusions and abrasions.

Skier injured in East Snowfields

A skier fell near the bottom of the East Snowfields, on the summit cone of Mt. Washington. He told us that his ski contacted a hidden rock buried beneath a thin amount of snow. This caused him to fall, which sent him over the top of a large rock and he landed on a pile of more rocks. A friend of the skier notified personnel at the Mount Washington State Park, who contacted USFS Snow Rangers in Tuckerman Ravine. The skier was splinted for a pelvic injury, and then packaged for evacuation. He was hauled uphill in a rescue litter to the Auto Road. A large number of skiers assisted with the hauling operation, as well as State Park and USFS personnel.  He was transported down the Auto Road in a State Park vehicle, to an ambulance at the base.

Skier falls through snow bridge, John Sherburne Ski Trail

Around 4:00pm, a skier was attempting to cross, with skis off, the stream between the upper section of the John Sherburne Ski Trail and Hermit Lake Shelters when he broke through a snow bridge and fell into the stream. He was in about chest-deep and holding onto the snow to avoid being sucked under by the current. After a couple minutes a bystander was able to pull him up and out, but he was thoroughly soaked and quite cold. He was brought into the Snow Ranger cabin to dry out and warm up. This person is fortunate that he was not pulled under by the current, and that a bystander was able to pull him out before the cold water sapped him of his strength. Very warm weather and rain early in the week had severely undermined and weakened snow bridges, as well as contributed to high water and strong currents in the rivers and streams. This incident could have been avoided had the person stayed on the Sherburne Ski Trail instead of attempting a shortcut to Hermit Lake.

Skier fell while skiing Right Gully

2:30pm: Skier fell while skiing Right Gully. He suffered a blow to his calf muscle causing significant swelling. This person was assessed, treated, and transported to Pinkham by snowmobile.

Tuckerman Ravine Trail with signs and symptoms including shortness of breath, dizziness, and fatigue

At 2:30pm, the AMC Visitor Center received notification of a hiker on the Tuckerman Ravine Trail with signs and symptoms including shortness of breath, dizziness, and fatigue. One Snow Ranger responded on snowmobile. A bystander had been staying with the patient while her hiking partner had gone to summon help at the Visitor Center. The patient was assessed on scene and transported to Pinkham Notch Visitor Center, where he was released to his friends after being advised to seek further medical care. The patient was an active 26 year-old male with no history of medical problems. He reported having consumed approximately 2 quarts of fluids through the day, which was spent climbing up through Right Gully and down the Lion Head Winter Route. Although there may have been an underlying medical condition that caused the discomfort, it is likely that dehydration was a contributing factor.

 

Injured Skier Tuckerman Ravine

A 44 year old male was skiing in the Lower Snowfields of Tuckerman Ravine when he hit a section of “boilerplate” snow. He slid head-first into the trees suffering a shoulder dislocation and leg injury before coming to rest. He was treated by the USFS Snow Rangers and members of the MWVSP, transported to Pinkham Notch via USFS snow tractor, and transferred to an ambulance.

Group of three climbers fell while simul-climbing upper pitches of Pinnacle Gully

A group of three climbers fell while simul-climbing upper pitches of Pinnacle Gully. It was a very busy Saturday in Huntington Ravine. Temperatures Friday were warm and sunny, and then overnight they stayed above the freezing mark. Saturday was also warm and sunny, so there was a significant amount of water running over the snow and ice in the gully. One party of two had climbed the first pitch and was preparing to rappel off due to the excessive water. Another party, including a local guide (KM) and his two clients had also climbed the first pitch but rather than contend with the water, the guide climbed out of the gully on the rock to the right. As this was going on the party of three was simul-climbing from the top of the first pitch (they had used traditional belays for the first pitch). DH was leading, TV was in the middle of the 60 meter rope, and GT was tied into the bottom end.

Between the top of the first pitch and the top of the climb, DH had 7 pieces of protection: one fixed piton, four ice screws, a V-thread left by another party, and an ice axe deeply sunk and tied off. Just as DH was about to exit the gully, he felt the slack in the rope tighten up. After waiting a moment and not getting more slack to move upward, he stepped down a bit into a good stance to give slack to the climbers below him. At this time, TV had ascended to the second ice screw; GT had passed and unclipped the piton and V-thread but had not yet arrived at the first screw. As she was at the second screw and after unclipping it, TV began to have problems with her crampon falling off. She commented afterward that she didn’t really know what to do and probably should have clipped directly into the screw or even reclipped the rope. After a couple minutes without much progress GT began to climb up to assist her. This created a lot of slack between the bottom two climbers. TV eventually fell, pulling DH out of his stance near the top of the gully. He said that it happened very quickly so he didn’t really know what was happening. The ice tool and two screws above TV were ripped out of the ice, and the two climbers began falling simultaneously down the gully. The fall was stopped by a single 10cm ice screw that was between GT and TV. Had this screwed pulled out as well, it is likely that all three climbers would have fallen over the first pitch, and possibly brought down other climbers with them.

According to the two clients of KM, DH fell down the left side of the gully and near the bottom hit the rocks, bouncing him across to the other side and missing them by only a few feet. The two came to rest near the top of the first pitch, having fallen approximately 300’ (DH) and 100’ (TV). Neither climber was seriously injured. KM quickly responded, assisting the entire group down off of the climb and stayed with them until out of the steep terrain in Huntington Ravine. Snow Rangers learned of the incident fro the HMC caretaker who had heard about it from someone else. The climbers were encountered descending the trail to Pinkham Notch. They were bruised and slightly bloody otherwise uninjured and they walked themselves to the bottom.

Injured Climber

A 20 year old male sustained a laceration to his eyebrow area as a result of being accidentally kicked while climbing below another person. He was assessed by a member of the MWVSP and provided with bandaging for the wound. Lesson learned—don’t follow too closely in the boot pack. Pay attention to what’s above you, whether it’s the person just above, a snowboard rocketing down slope, or any of the other things that come tumbling down the mountain (like large blocks of ice.)

Snowboarder sustained a laceration to his shin during a fall in the Lip

A 22 year old male snowboarder sustained a laceration to his shin during a fall in the Lip. He apparently fell hard enough to pull his feet out of his boots, which remained firmly attached in his bindings. We believe it was the snowboard that caused the 2” laceration. He was provided bandages by a local guide who was skiing with his children that day and a physician walked with him to the top of the Little Headwall where he was met by a USFS Snow Ranger. He walked down from Hermit Lake under his own power.

Fall Lion Head Winter Route

A hiker was descending the steep section Lion Head Winter Route when snow had balled up in his crampon causing him to fall. He fell approximately 50 feet, injuring his lower leg during the fall. While bystanders began to haul him down the trail the Snow Ranger that was returning to Hermit Lake from the first incident rerouted to respond to the second incident. The patient’s injuries were stabilized and he was transported to Pinkham Notch by snowmobile as well.

The Lion Head Winter Route is a steep trail where conditions change quickly from day to day or even during the course of a single day. We recommend mountaineering equipment (i.e. an ice axe and crampons) be used for safer travel on this route along with the ability to properly use the equipment. In this instance, the patient had crampons and ski poles rather than an ice axe. For the purposes of arresting a fall in steep terrain, an ice axe is a far more effective tool than ski poles. Prior to these incidents, the Snow Rangers had not responded to any other injured or lost people this winter/spring season.

Injured his knee skiing down Hillman’s Highway

A skier who injured his knee while skiing down Hillman’s Highway. His partner was able to assist him out of steep terrain and down to the first aid cache at the bottom of Hillman’s. His injury was assessed by an M.D. with the Mount Washington Volunteer Ski Patrol and stabilized for transportation by USFS snowmobile to Pinkham Notch.

The Lion Head Winter Route is a steep trail where conditions change quickly from day to day or even during the course of a single day. We recommend mountaineering equipment (i.e. an ice axe and crampons) be used for safer travel on this route along with the ability to properly use the equipment. In this instance, the patient had crampons and ski poles rather than an ice axe. For the purposes of arresting a fall in steep terrain, an ice axe is a far more effective tool than ski poles. Prior to these incidents, the Snow Rangers had not responded to any other injured or lost people this winter/spring season.