12-16-2006: A solo climber fell out of North Gully when his crampon slipped on an ice bulge while down climbing. The climber fell approximately 40 feet onto talus and sustained multiple fractures in his arm. Three climbers at the base of Yale Gully came over to assist him. He walked to the Harvard Cabin with their assistance but under his own power. The caretaker and two Snow Rangers met him at the cabin, provided first aid and walked him down to Pinkham Notch where he was met by an ambulance and transported to the hospital. This incident involved seven people and it took about four hours to evacuate the patient. The patient did an outstanding job getting himself off the mountain.
At the start of this incident, a bystander left the scene to get help. On his way down the talus he injured his knee. He was able to walk to the Harvard Cabin on his own where he spent the night. He walked down to Pinkham Notch the next day with assistance from his friends. This is a good reminder for everyone that one of the worst things you can do while helping out on an incident is create a new patient. If you are helping out with a rescue be sure to slow down and be methodical. Rushing rarely speeds up the progress of a situation.
12-30-2006: A party of five people were practicing mountaineering skills under Central Gully in Huntington Ravine. As they packed up to leave a loose snow avalanche came down and knocked three of them off of their feet. One individual caught his foot between some rocks and broke his lower leg just below the knee. While people went to get help, the party splinted the injury and managed to get the person down the talus to the floor of the ravine. At this point they were met by a USFS Snow Ranger and more bystanders who put the patient into a litter and assisted in the evacuation down to Pinkham Notch where they were met by an ambulance.
At the time of this accident, Huntington Ravine was under a General Avalanche Advisory due to an overall lack of snow. However, as the advisory stated: “…it’s important to realize that avalanche activity may occur within these locations before the issuance of a 5-scale forecast. This is a critical fact to remember. Under a General Advisory you need to make your own avalanche stability assessments before venturing into any open slopes.” The day this accident occurred, there were strong indicators of increasing avalanche danger. These included new snowfall that exceeded the forecasted amounts of 2 to 4” and west winds blowing on the Summit between 40 and 50 mph, which are ideal for loading snow into easterly aspects such as Central Gully. Additionally, the group was below an avalanche path in poor visibility with another party above them and no one in the group was carrying an avalanche beacon, probe, or shovel. These are all violations of basic avalanche safety and travel rules. While the avalanche that struck the party was quite small, it was big enough to create a problem for their group. Underestimating this type of avalanche activity can create big problems for climbers—small slides that knock you off your feet resulting in high consequences. The group, as well as the bystanders who assisted, should be complimented for their efforts in caring for the patient and beginning to self-rescue as additional help was being sought out.
1-7-2007: A man injured his ankle when he slipped and caught his crampon on a patch of ice while descending the Lion Head Trail. He was with a group of five other people. They were able to get the person down to Hermit Lake with the assistance of three bystanders. They then put the person in a litter and sledded him down to Pinkham Notch. The AMC, HMC and USFS provided logistical assistance, but the party performed a self-rescue. They were well prepared for being out after dark and had enough energy in reserve to help their injured party member down the mountain. This is an outstanding example of self-sufficiency.
2-18-2007: A skier doing laps on a man-made jump on the lower portion of the John Sherburne Ski Trail injured his lower leg on a failed attempt at a 360. We assisted him down to Pinkham where relatives were able to drive him to the hospital. Two people completed this incident in one hour.
3-24-2007: A hiker sustained soft tissue injuries after falling over the Headwall in Tuckerman Ravine. He was with a party of skiers when he decided to leave them and hike to the Summit by himself without any equipment except ski poles and the clothes he was wearing. On the ascent, he climbed the Lip and decided not to descend that way because it was too steep. He opted to try going down to the south of the Lip, which is steeper. After encountering icy conditions, he fell approximately 400′ over the Headwall. The fall was witnessed by a group of bystanders, half of which went to Hermit Lake for help while the other half provided assistance to the victim. A Snow Ranger, the AMC Caretaker and a member of the Mt. Washington Volunteer Ski Patrol responded, treated his injuries and assisted him down to Hermit Lake. The person was able to walked out the next day. Five rescuers and a group of bystanders completed this incident in two hours.
3-25-2007: 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.
3-31-2007: A hiker injured her ankle when she slipped on ice while descending the Tuckerman Ravine Trail. A bystander went to Hermit Lake and notified a Snow Ranger. Once on scene, she was treated by members of the Mount Washington Volunteer Ski Patrol and transported to Pinkham Notch in the USFS snowcat. This incident took one hour to complete.
3-31-2007: 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.
4-14-2007: 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.
5-6-2007: After skiing the Upper Snowfields, a party of three decided to split their group at the intersection of the Alpine Garden and Lion Head trails. Two were planning to ski Right Gully and the other was going to hike down the Lion Head Winter Route. The plan was to reunite at the intersection of the Huntington Ravine Winter Access Trail and the Tuckerman Ravine Trail. When the group of two arrived at the rendezvous point, their friend was not there. Based on a report from another party who had hiked down the Winter Route, they decided to ascend the Winter Route to meet their friend. As they approached treeline and had not yet found their friend, so they began shouting his name. A Snow Ranger descending the Tuckerman Ravine Trail at the end of the day heard this shouting and decided to investigate. Around this same time, the party of two had decided to turn around based on the time of day. They encountered the Snow Ranger at the lower section of the Lion Head Winter Route. The Snow Rangers interviewed the party and began the preliminary phase of a search mission. Before the search progressed beyond early stages, the missing friend arrived at Pinkham Notch Visitor Center under his own power and uninjured. He had missed the Winter Route and hiked down the Lion Head Summer Trail, which was closed at the time. The hike down took place at the same time the Snow Ranger was collecting information from the other two friends on the Winter Route. The party was reunited at Pinkham Notch Visitor Center.
Although in this case the party reunited without incident, we are posting this report based on the frequency of this type of incident. Splitting up a group is one of the most common and preventable causes of “missing” people in the White Mountains. More often than not, groups that split up reunite without any problems at all. However, all it takes is a missed trail sign, a twisted ankle, or any number of other issues that can prevent a happy reunion. We recommend keeping your group together and choosing routes that are acceptable to, and within the ability level of, all members of the group. This incident involved four Snow Rangers over two hours.