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Downclimbing Headwall

The victim was downclimbing with crampons and an ice axe on the Headwall when he fell about 3-400 feet. Victim suffered a broken wrist, broken ribs and a head laceration. His injuries were treated by the Mount Washington Valley Ski patrol. He walked down to Hermit Lake and was then transported to Pinkham in the USFS snowcat.

Skier Fall – Sluice

The victim was up in the Sluice preparing to ski. He lost his footing and tumbled down the gully. Victim suffered a fractured ankle. After injuries were assessed and the ankle splinted, members of the Mount Washington Volunteer Ski Patrol, USFS Snow Rangers, AMC staff and other skiers commenced his evacuation from Tuckerman Ravine. The litter was lowered on belay the last pitch on the Tuckerman Ravine Trail into Hermit lake. Victim was loaded onto the USFS Snowcat to Pinkham Notch. The rescue took about 3 hours and required 20 people.

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.

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.