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.