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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.)

Climber fall – Lobster Claw in Tuckerman Ravine

A mountaineer was injured while descending the Lobster Claw in Tuckerman Ravine. During the descent, he lost his footing and took a tumbling fall down the gully injuring his hip. Snow Rangers and a member of the Mt. Washington Volunteer Ski Patrol assessed his injuries and assisted him down to Hermit Lake where he was transported to Pinkham Notch in the USFS snowcat. This incident involved four rescuers and took three hours to complete.

Sliding Fall Huntington Ravine.

The victim was performing a seated glissade with crampons on in Huntington Ravine. Once he moved from soft new snow to the older hard icy surface he lost control and began cartwheeling. He tumbled about 150 to 200 feet before stopping in the rocks. Students from Lyndon State College were in the area and assisted the victim and called 911. The Gorham Ambulance service was called who relayed the information to the Forest Service Snow Rangers. Additional rescue resources were called. The victim was placed in a litter and lowered 600′ down the Fan, slid to the Sherburne ski trail where he was placed on the USFS snowcat. Due to icy conditions on the ski trail, the litter was belayed down the two lower hills and slid to a waiting ambulance. The victim suffered three fractured vertebrae, broken ribs, hand and ankle. This rescue took 22 people approximately 4.5 hours to complete.

Sliding Fall – Huntington Ravine

A party of three was hiking in Huntington Ravine, approaching O’Dell’s Gully when one of the individuals was knocked off his feet by a wind gust. He was unable to self arrest and slid and tumbled approximately 400’ into the rocks. The victim’s partners got him down the slope on two lowers. Then one of the partners ran down to the Harvard Mountaineering Club cabin to report the accident. Forest Service Snow Rangers were notified and additional rescue resources were called to the mountain. The victim was placed in a litter and carried down the Huntington winter access trail to the Tuckerman Ravine trail and over to the Sherburne ski trail where the litter was then slid down the trail to Pinkham and a waiting ambulance. The victim suffered facial injuries, fractures in both arms and a dislocated shoulder. Personnel from Mountain Rescue Service, Androscoggin Valley Search and Rescue, the Harvard Mountaineering Club, and the Appalachian Mountain Club worked with the Snow Rangers on this rescue. The rescue took a total of 34 people and 7.5 hours to complete

Long Sliding Fall – Central Gully

At around 1200 hours, the victim was attempting to ski in Central Gully in Huntington Ravine below the “ice bulge” when he fell. He slid on hard neve snow for 200 ft before hitting the rocks face first at the top of the fan. He had severe pain on his left side from his shoulder down to his leg. After assessing the victim, his partner went for help. Forest Service Snow Rangers were contacted and reached the victim at approximately 1335. The victim was put in a litter and lowered about 1200’ to the floor of the ravine. From there numerous climbers helped carry the litter to the Forest Service snowcat. He was then transported via snowcat to an ambulance at Pinkham, arriving at 1730. The victim suffered a dislocated and fractured shoulder, fracture humerus/elbow and muscular injuries of the right leg. This rescue took 19 people and up to 4 hours to complete.

Glissading – Huntington Ravine

The victim was glissading down the Escape Hatch in Huntington Ravine when her crampon got caught on a small tree. She suffered an ankle injury as a result. She was lowered by her party approximately 90 meters to the floor of Huntington where she was put into a litter. A USFS Snow Ranger met the group and transported the victim behind a snowmobile 2/3 of the way down the trail. The last 1/3 of the trail she was carried/sledded in a litter down to Pinkham Notch. This rescue took 6 people 2 hours.

Climbing Fall

The victim was climbing in O’dells Gully with two others. When on the last pitch of ice his crampon popped off his right foot which caused him to take an approximately 20 foot lead fall suffering a right ankle injury. The party self-rescued using a litter from the Dow Cache once they rappelled/lowered to the bottom of the ice. They pulled the litter to the Harvard Cabin where they met the HMC Cartetaker. The Caretaker contacted USFS Snow Rangers who then transported the victim to Pinkham Notch via the snowcat. His climbing partners then drove him to the hospital. This rescue took 4 people 2+ hours to complete.

Injured Climber

The victim was leading a climb in O’dells Gully when he took a 10′ fall on the third pitch of ice. He landed on a sloping ice shelf and fell backwards suffering an injury to his lower left leg. He was lowered down the ice by his climbing partners and then by USFS Snow Rangers. At the base of the ice he was put in a litter and lowered to the floor of the ravine and the waiting snowcat. He was transported by snowcat to Pinkham and then by ambulance to the hospital. This rescue took 6 people 3.25 hours.

Fall Central Gully

The victim took at 20-30 foot fall in Central Gully and suffered a possible sprained/broken ankle. He and his two partners self rescued to the Harvard Cabin. The victim was put in a litter from the Lion Head first aid cache by the Caretaker and sledded down the Tuckerman Ravine trail to Pinkham. The rescue took 3 people approximately 4 hours.

Climber Fall -Pinnacle Gully

The victim was solo ice climbing in Huntington Ravine’s Pinnacle Gully when he fell approximately 400 feet. He injured his back, neck, legs and suffered minor contusions and lacerations. The victim self evacuated himself to the Harvard Mountaineering Cabin where he was then put in a litter and transported to the Sherburne Ski trail he was then transferred to the USFS Snowcat to Pinkham Notch. The rescue took 6 people about 3 ½ hours to perform.

Avalanche – Damnation Gully

DB and CL were climbing Damnation Gully, a 1600 foot, grade 3 snow and ice route on the north side of Huntington Ravine. Weather conditions on the mountain were moderate with light winds. Approximately 2 inches of new snow was reported in the previous 24 hours from the summit of Mount Washington. Both climbers are experienced winter mountaineers and experienced climbing Mount Washington in winter. Damnation gully was the last remaining gully climb in Huntington Ravine for DB.

The pair had successfully climbed most of the gully. About thirty feet remained of the pitch when disaster struck. DB was near the end of the pitch, looking for an anchor when he triggered a small avalanche. He had recognized the instability and was moving off the slope when it failed. Nearly a full rope length out from the belay, DB was swept off his feet and began sliding down the gully. No intermediate climbing protection had been placed. Unable to self-arrest, the fall was taken directly on to the belayer and belay anchor, which subsequently failed. Still roped together, DB and CL fell 1000 feet down Damnation Gully.

Other climbers responded to DB’s cries for help. They hurried to the accident scene and began assisting the fallen climbers. One of these climbers was equipped with a portable handheld radio. He transmitted an emergency message which was received by another Forest visitor 3 miles away at the trailhead. The accident was then reported at the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center, and turned over to the US Forest Service. The initial report was of a broken leg in Huntington Ravine. USFS Snow Ranger Brad Ray and John Knieriem, patrol leader of the Mount Washington Volunteer Ski Patrol responded to the accident in the USFS Thiokol snow vehicle. They were met on the trail by witnesses who reported a much more serious accident than had been initially thought. Additional resources were mobilized from the USFS, AMC, and HMC to assist in the care and evacuation of the victims. Trauma equipment and technical climbing gear was dispatched to the scene.

Upon arrival of rescuers, CL had been evacuated from the lower slopes of the gully by volunteers using equipment from a nearby rescue cache. DB was still on the slope below the gully and required further evacuation using ropes and a belay. CL’s injuries and vital signs were quickly assessed. Oxygen was administered and he was transported in the Thiokol snow vehicle under the care of an ER doctor, and ER nurse, and 2 USFS EMT’s. A second trip up the mountain by the Thiokol was required to evacuate DB to Pinkham Notch.

CL suffered an L1 spinal compression fracture, numerous broken ribs, a fractured right femur, hemothorax of the right lung, and severe head trauma. He was immediately flown by helicopter to the regional trauma center. DB sustained serious injury to the sacral/pelvic region, including a displaced sacroilliac joint. DB also required surgery for his injuries.

Comments

Snow conditions in the gully during the climb were generally firm, making self arrest difficult if not impossible. An unarrested climber falling over 40 degree snow slopes quickly gains a great deal of speed. On low angle, less technical snow climbs, rope teams often proceed without placing intermediate climbing protection. While this type of terrain rarely exceeds the abilities of skilled and experienced climbers, the consequences of a fall could be disastrous. Without the placement of intermediate protection, any unarrested fall will translate directly to the belay/anchor system. A fall of this type puts the greatest possible stress on the belay system, a theoretical factor 2 fall. In this case, the belay anchor consisted of a block slung with 1″ tubular webbing backed up by a # 6 Stopper. Leaders must take care to place protection as soon as possible after leaving the belay, thus reducing the fall factor in the event of an accident.

Climbers should make the commitment to place protection. Otherwise, the party should dispense with the rope altogether and the climbers proceed solo. The decision to climb roped with belay, with running belays, or solo is a complicated one which must take many factors and conditions into account. Some of these considerations include weather, snow surface conditions, party experience, avalanche danger, terrain, and availability of good protection and belays. If possible, climbers in avalanche terrain must take care to place adequate protection and utilize ‘bombproof’ belays.

Climbers should never let their guard down. Even on seemingly easy climbing terrain, the unexpected can happen. All too often, climbers rely on luck or ability as opposed to skilled ropework for safety over such terrain.

The pair were climbing with short ice axes, better suited for steep ice climbs. A good combination of tools for moderate snow and ice terrain like that found in Huntington Ravine consists of a longer mountaineering axe in addition to one or two short technical type axes. A mountaineering axe is more effective for self-arrest and self-belay while climbing steep snow.

Both climbers were wearing helmets. The helmet worn by CL was destroyed in the fall. There is no doubt it saved his life.

Avalanche Information

The Mount Washington Observatory reported 1.3 inches of new snow in the previous 24 hours with light winds fron the West which shifted into the Southwest. The slope aspect of Damnation gully is generally S-SE. The gully is commonly cross-loaded with W winds. Another precipitation event earlier in the week which deposited 3.9 inches of snow on the summit of Mount Washington with NW winds from 70-90 m.p.h. may have contributed to the instability. Total snowfall from the summit in the 7 days preceding the accident was 5.6 inches, interspersed with fair skies.

The avalanche danger for Huntington Ravine was Low. Low avalanche danger refers to generally stable snow with isolated pockets of instability. The normal caution is advised when travelling in avalanche terrain. The avalanche triggered by DB is considered an isolated pocket of unstable snow. The fracture line of the avalanche was estimated at 40 feet wide and 10 inches deep. The victims were not buried in the avalanche debris, which was deposited 3 to 5 inches deep and covered an area 40 by 60 feet. Little additional snow was entrained in the slide as it moved down the track. Temperatures during the morning showed an increasing trend, and the avalanche debris was dense and wet. It is possible that increasing temperatures around freezing contributed to snowpack instability.

For those who choose to venture into avalanche terrain, a word of caution is advised. Even when the avalanche danger is posted as Low, the normal caution must be observed. On commiting mountainous terrain like that found in the easterly ravines of Mount Washington, even the smallest avalanches can be very dangerous.