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Back to back skier triggered avalanches in the Lower Snowfields and Hillman’s Highway

Back to back skier triggered avalanches in the Lower Snowfields and Hillman’s Highway resulted in one injury. Around 1230 a party of three were skinning up the Lower Snowfields. One person decided to head down while the other two continued up. The top skier stopped at the top of the “Christmas tree” for a break when he heard his remaining partner yell, “slide!”. Prior to the slide, both individuals observed shooting cracks propagating from their skis. The lower of the two people was caught and carried about 750 feet down the Lower Snowfields (D2R3*). During the ride, the victim swam feet first in an attempt to stay on top of the debris. At one point he hit a tree with his upper right ribcage. Debris momentarily went over his head and his mouth was packed with snow. When he stopped he was on his back and partially buried. He self extricated and a bystander showed up shortly after to help him. U.S. Forest Service Snow Rangers, members of the Mt. Washington Volunteer Ski Patrol and Mountain Rescue Service responded and were on scene in 20 minutes. The priority was to help the victim and assure no other people were caught in the slide. An initial search, a beacon search and thorough interviews with witnesses were conducted. The patient was able to walk to Hermit Lake under his own power where he was reassessed and transported down to Pinkham Notch via snowmobile.

Forty-three minutes after the initial avalanche, another one occurred in Hillman’s Highway (D3R3). Response time was immediate due to the proximity of the rescue crew working in the Lower Snowfields. Six people were in the gully at the time of the avalanche and some reported that it came from the top and was a natural avalanche. Confirmation of a natural avalanche was difficult due to low clouds and blowing snow. All witnesses stated that nobody was caught in the avalanche. With enough uncertainty about this fact, we conduced an initial search, a beacon search, a Recco search and a dog search. A probe team was mobilized to the area and held out of avalanche terrain for safety reasons. Clouds cleared and the fracture line became visible in the middle of Hillman’s Highway allowing us to confirm that the trigger was likely a person. We were able to deduce this due to the odd location of the fracture line, the suspicious amount of hangfire left above and the proximity of the people in the gully to the fracture line. Witnesses and bystanders stated that no one was missing and that they believed no one was caught. Based on this information and significant scene safety concerns we called off the search. Safety concerns included the instability of adjacent slide paths that run into the bottom of Hillman’s and the large amount of unstable snow left above the fracture line in Hillman’s, which included both of it’s primary start zones.

We are very happy that more people were not injured and no one was killed in these incidents, as this could have been a plausible outcome. Statistically, most avalanche accidents occur under Moderate and Considerable ratings. On this day, the Lower Snowfields were rated Moderate and Hillman’s Highway was rated Considerable. Both of these ratings state the potential for human triggered avalanches as being possible and probable respectively.

* “D” represents the destructive force of the avalanche on a scale of 1-5. “R” represents the size of the avalanche relative to the path, also represented on a scale of 1-5.

Sliding Fall – Tuckerman Ravine

A climber injured his leg after falling down Tuckerman Ravine. He was with two friends and the three of them climbed Central Gully, hiked across the Alpine Garden and began descending into Tuckerman Ravine at dark. He was wearing crampons at the time of the fall but his ice axe was secured to his pack. He said he was not using it because by the time he realized he needed it, the terrain was too steep to take his pack off. During the descent, he lost his footing and fell between 400 and 600 feet to the floor of the Ravine, injuring his leg during the fall. One friend went to Hermit Lake to get help while the other assisted his friend to the rescue cache near the bottom of the Ravine. Snow Rangers, personnel from the Mount Washington Volunteer Ski Patrol and the AMC, and overnight guests staying at Hermit Lake responded to help the patient. The patient’s leg was splinted and he was carried down to Hermit Lake which involved one 300′ rope lower. At Hermit Lake, the patient was reassessed and then transported to Pinkham Notch via snowmobile. This incident took 15 people 3.5 hours to complete.

If this person had his ice axe out during the fall he could have arrested himself and prevented this accident. We often see people descending Tuckerman Ravine in icy conditions without the proper equipment, particularly in the spring. An ice axe and the ability to use it properly are critical for safe travel in steep terrain. The combination of the axe and the knowledge of its use provide a reliable means of stopping yourself on steep snow in the event of a fall.

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.

Skier Fall – Headwall

The victim fell while skiing on the left side of the Headwall. She somersaulted and fell approximately 100′ injuring her right knee. She was able to make it to Lunch Rocks where she rested and put ice on her knee. While walking out of the Ravine her knee became very swollen and she had difficulty walking. She sought assistance from the Mount Washinton Volunteer Ski Patrol. Her knee was assessed and it was determined she would most likely not be able to walk out to Pinkham. Her knee was bandaged and her leg immobilized. She was transported in a litter down to Pinkham. This incident took 10 people 1 1/2 hours to complete.

Skier Fall – Chute

The victim fell approximately 500′ while skiing in the Chute and collided with another person’s ski equipment. The victim sustained a laceration on his head and an avulsion on his right forearm. He was treated by members of the Mount Washinton Volunteer Ski Patrol and was able to walk out to Pinkham on his own. This incident took 2 people 1 hour.

Snowboarder Fall -Lip

The victim was boarding on the Lip when she fell approximately 800′. She complained of pain in her wrist and sustained abrasions to her back. She was treated by a USFS Snow Ranger. She was able to walk out to Pinkham on her own. This incident took 1 person 1 hour.

Chute – Skier Fall

The victim was skiing the Chute when he fell. He tumbled approximately 500′ and sustained a possible concussion and numerous facial abrasions. He was treated by members of the Mount Washington Volunteer Ski Patrol and a USFS Snow Ranger. The victim was able to walk out to Pinkham on his own. This incident took 2 people 1 hour.

Sliding Fall- Lip

The victim was skiing the Lip when she fell. She sustained an injury to her left knee in the sliding fall. She was treated by members of the Mount Washington Volunteer Ski Patrol. She was able to hobble out from the Bowl to Hermit Lake where she was then transported to Pinkham on a snow machine by a USFS Snow Ranger. This incident took 4 people 1 1/2 hours to complete.

Sliding Fall, Hillman’s Highway

The victim had made 5 or 6 turns at the top Hillman’s Highway when he lost his edge and fell. He was unable to stop himself and fell the length of the gully, approximately 1200′. He sought assistance from the Forest Service and was treated by the Mount Washington Volunteer Ski Patrol for numerous abrasions. He was able to walk to Pinkham. This incident took 2 people 1/2 hour.

The previous day we received rain on the snowpack which then froze overnight. Conditions in Hillman’s Highway were very hardpack, icy and unforgiving. Skiers and riders should think twice about venturing onto slopes when conditions are such that without an ice axe you will not be able to stop a fall. One of the victims that fell was wearing snowshoes. Snowshoes are great for deep snow in rolling terrain but they are not intended for steep icy gully climbing. The snowshoe crampon system is designed to float over snow, not ice climb. Having the appropriate equipment for the terrain is essential for being safe in the mountains. Know your equipment, the advantages and limitations before you venture out into the backcountry.

Sliding Fall. Glissading Hillman’s Highway

The victim snowshoed up Hillman’s Highway and attempted to glissade down when he lost control. He took a long, high-speed fall the length of the gully, hitting rocks along the way. He suffered a dislocated shoulder and numerous abrasions to the face and his left side. He was treated by members of the Mount Washington Volunteer Ski Patrol. He was able to walk to Pinkham on his own. This incident took 2 people 1 hour.

The previous day we received rain on the snowpack which then froze overnight. Conditions in Hillman’s Highway were very hardpack, icy and unforgiving. Skiers and riders should think twice about venturing onto slopes when conditions are such that without an ice axe you will not be able to stop a fall. One of the victims that fell was wearing snowshoes. Snowshoes are great for deep snow in rolling terrain but they are not intended for steep icy gully climbing. The snowshoe crampon system is designed to float over snow, not ice climb. Having the appropriate equipment for the terrain is essential for being safe in the mountains. Know your equipment, the advantages and limitations before you venture out into the backcountry.

Long Sliding Fall – Hillman’s Highway

The victim was attempting to ski Hillman’s Highway when he lost his edge and took a long sliding fall, approximately 1200′. He suffered lacerations and abrasions to his hands and face. He sought medical attention from the Forest Service and was treated by the Mount Washington Volunteer Ski Patrol. He was able to walk out to Pinkham with his friends. This incident took 2 people 1 hour.

The previous day we received rain on the snowpack which then froze overnight. Conditions in Hillman’s Highway were very hardpack, icy and unforgiving. Skiers and riders should think twice about venturing onto slopes when conditions are such that without an ice axe you will not be able to stop a fall. One of the victims that fell was wearing snowshoes. Snowshoes are great for deep snow in rolling terrain but they are not intended for steep icy gully climbing. The snowshoe crampon system is designed to float over snow, not ice climb. Having the appropriate equipment for the terrain is essential for being safe in the mountains. Know your equipment, the advantages and limitations before you venture out into the backcountry.

Sliding Fall Hillman’s

The victim was snowboarding down Hillman’s Highway when he lost his edge and fell. He tumbled head over heals then was heading face first when he went over a rock drop off. He went approximately 200′ before he was able to stop himself by grabbing onto a clump of bushes. The victim sought assistance from the Forest Service and was treated by the Mount Washington Volunteer Ski Patrol. He had numerous abrasions and a possible concussion. The victim was able to walk out to Pinkham with his friends. This incident took 2 people 1/2 hour.

The previous day we received rain on the snowpack which then froze overnight. Conditions in Hillman’s Highway were very hardpack, icy and unforgiving. Skiers and riders should think twice about venturing onto slopes when conditions are such that without an ice axe you will not be able to stop a fall. One of the victims that fell was wearing snowshoes. Snowshoes are great for deep snow in rolling terrain but they are not intended for steep icy gully climbing. The snowshoe crampon system is designed to float over snow, not ice climb. Having the appropriate equipment for the terrain is essential for being safe in the mountains. Know your equipment, the advantages and limitations before you venture out into the backcountry.

Glissading with Crampons

The vicim was glissading in Tuckerman Ravine while wearing crampons. His crampon caught on the snow and he injured his ankle. His friends assisted him to Hermit Lake where they sought help from Forest Service Snow Rangers. The Snow Rangers assessed his injury and splinted his ankle. He was transported to Pinkham via the USFS snowcat. This rescue took 2 people 1 hour.

Comments:

This is the third incident this season of glissading with crampons on that resulted in an injury. This is one of the most common yet preventable injuries we see on the mountain. Glissading with crampons should never be attempted. If you want to glissade take the time to remove your crampons.

Snowboarding in the Chute, Axe Laceration

The victim was snowboarding in the Chute when he fell. He attempted to self arrest with his ice axe. During this attempt the adze of the ice axe impacted his face near the eye resulting in a laceration. He self rescued to Hermit Lake where he met Forest Service Snow Rangers. They bandaged him and gave him a ride on a snow machine down to Pinkham. He sought medical treatment and received numerous stitches. This rescue took 2 people 1.5 hours.

Glissading in Tuckerman Ravine

The victim was glissading in Tuckerman Ravine while wearing crampons. His crampon caught in the snow and he twisted his ankle. He made his way to Hermit Lake where he sought assistance from Forest Service Snow Rangers. He was transported to Pinkham in the USFS snowcat. This rescue took 1 person 1 hour.