2009-2010 Summaries

 

04-03-2010: Snow Rangers and the Mount Washington Volunteer Ski Patrol assisted with three incidents today. The recent weather likely contributed to all three. Record-setting temperatures, clear skies, and calm winds made for conditions that changed dramatically throughout the course of the day.

At 2:30pm, the AMC Visitor Center received notification of a hiker on the Tuckerman Ravine Trail with signs and symptoms including shortness of breath, dizziness, and fatigue. One Snow Ranger responded on snowmobile. A bystander had been staying with the patient while her hiking partner had gone to summon help at the Visitor Center. The patient was assessed on scene and transported to Pinkham Notch Visitor Center, where he was released to his friends after being advised to seek further medical care. The patient was an active 26 year-old male with no history of medical problems. He reported having consumed approximately 2 quarts of fluids through the day, which was spent climbing up through Right Gully and down the Lion Head Winter Route. Although there may have been an underlying medical condition that caused the discomfort, it is likely that dehydration was a contributing factor.

Around the same time a skier fell while skiing Right Gully. He suffered a blow to his calf muscle causing significant swelling. This person was assessed, treated, and transported to Pinkham by snowmobile as well.

Around 4:00pm, a skier was attempting to cross, with skis off, the stream between the upper section of the John Sherburne Ski Trail and Hermit Lake Shelters when he broke through a snow bridge and fell into the stream. He was in about chest-deep and holding onto the snow to avoid being sucked under by the current. After a couple minutes a bystander was able to pull him up and out, but he was thoroughly soaked and quite cold. He was brought into the Snow Ranger cabin to dry out and warm up. This person is fortunate that he was not pulled under by the current, and that a bystander was able to pull him out before the cold water sapped him of his strength. Very warm weather and rain early in the week had severely undermined and weakened snow bridges, as well as contributed to high water and strong currents in the rivers and streams. This incident could have been avoided had the person stayed on the Sherburne Ski Trail instead of attempting a shortcut to Hermit Lake.

04-02-2010:At approximately 3:30pm, Snow Rangers at Hermit Lake were notified of a snowboarder who had fallen into a crevasse near the waterfall in the Headwall of Tuckerman Ravine. In the amount of time it took to grab gear for a technical rescue and hike up to the Bowl, bystanders had already pulled the soaked snowboarder out of the hole and were lowering him to Lunch Rocks. Other than being cold and having a scraped knuckle, he was uninjured. Although in the end the Snow Rangers did not provide medical care or transportation to the individual, the incident is significant enough to warrant inclusion here.

Based on interviews with the group and bystanders, here is how the events unfolded. The group had four people: the victim, his brother, girlfriend, and another friend. The group chose the line they wanted to take from below. The girlfriend was staying behind at Lunch Rocks to watch. The men did their best to make an assessment of what the run would be like. They planned where to enter the cliffs and where to make their turns, and they began climbing. We don’t know which route they climbed up, but this day the vast majority of the skiers were climbing the Sluice, traversing across to the top of the Lip, and dropping in from there. Earlier in the day, Snow Ranger Jeff Lane had climbed up through the Lip to assess the conditions of the crevasses and waterfall holes. Conditions were deteriorating rapidly as ravine temperatures had not gone below freezing for five consecutive days and nights, and at the time it was very warm and sunny. As of noontime, when Lane ascended, the crevasses in most location were not a significant safety concern but there were a few locations where they had grown and opened up enough for a person to fall deeply into them. He avoided approaching the waterfall holes in this assessment but noted they had grown substantially recently.

The group of three began their descent: two planned on dropping the waterfall while one chose to go through the Lip itself. The victim was the first one to go. As he attempted the final turn before dropping over the waterfall, he lost his edge, slid down, and fell in the crevasse. He landed upright in a constriction and was able to take off his snowboard so he could climb a few feet up to stand on a rocky edge. Icy water was cascading onto the snowboarder, so he put up his hood to help stay dry. The friend who was in the Lip saw him go out of sight, but did not know he fell into the crevasse. The brother also did not know the outcome right away. He carefully approached the edge to get a look down. Numerous people witnessed the incident, and before long bystanders were coming to the aid of the trapped snowboarder.

After a few minutes, someone was able to make voice contact with the snowboarder and determined he was uninjured. One of the bystanders on scene had been carrying a rope, which was lowered down to the snowboarded. After securing himself to the rope the group was able to pull him up and out of the crevasses. Wet clothes were exchanged for donated dry clothes. Some of the bystanders at this time began to descend. The victim slid down the Headwall on a belay and made his way to Lunch Rocks. Lane arrived at Lunch Rocks at approximately the same time as the victim, and confirmed he was uninjured.

This is a very remarkable event, mostly due to the fact that the victim was not injured more than he was and that bystanders were able to rescue him so quickly. A number of factors lead up to this incident, many of which could have been easily avoided or done differently. First, it is important for visitors to get the latest conditions information from reliable sources, such as the Snow Rangers, the AMC caretakers at Hermit Lake Shelters or the Visitor Center. The fact that crevasse danger existed on this day was discussed in the morning Avalanche Advisory. The daily advisory is the single best resource for information about the current conditions and potential hazards. We do not know whether or not it was read by any in the group, but they did pass by two locations where it is posted each day. Furthermore, we strongly recommend skiers climb up their intended line of descent so they can assess the hazards. Many hazards are difficult to see from the base of the ravine or from above while skiing.

03-28-2010:Snow Rangers and Mount Washington Volunteer Ski Patrol personnel responded to a 911 call reporting a fallen skier with traumatic injuries. The location was described as the “right ridge” of Tuckerman Ravine but no other details were available. Considerable efforts were made to locate the victim, but proved unsuccessful until after some time a Snow Ranger noticed a 17 year old male (NL) skiing out of the Ravine with a minor scrape on his face. He acknowledged that he had fallen while climbing up Right Gully and decided to walk down, but he didn’t know where his other two friends were. They had continued climbing up and upon reaching the ridge one (JB) decided to go down via Lion Head Trail and the other (NB) was going to try to ski Right Gully. The skier fell on his descent, lost a ski, and then passed his NL who was now down-climbing. He looked for his ski unsuccessfully, and decided to climb back up Right Gully to the ridge without his backpack and with only one ski so that he could also descend the Lion Head Trail. Eventually JB reached Hermit Lake where he was able to confirm with Snow Rangers there that he did indeed call 911 to report his friend falling even though he did not know the extent of injuries. It is unclear as to whether he made the call to report NL’s climbing fall or NB’s skiing fall. After talking with NL and JB for some time, it became clear that NB was unaccounted for, yet his backpack and a single ski were in the floor of Tuckerman Ravine. Neither NL or JB knew the location of NB, so the search of Tuckerman resumed. NB had gone down the Lion Head Winter Route and back up to Hermit Lake, where he was reunited with his friends.

This incident resulted in only very minor injuries. JB suffered a bloody nose and swollen lip from a fall on the Lion Head Winter Route, and NL had minor scratches on his face. The incident highlights the importance of proper trip planning and preparation. The entire group was dressed in cotton pants and shirts on a cold gray day, the snow surface was very firm and they were not carrying ice axes or crampons, and they did not have good knowledge of the trails and terrain of the area. Among the most common causes for incidents we respond to are long sliding falls, groups that have become separated, and hypothermia. All of these could have played a more prominent role in this incident; thankfully it resolved itself in a positive way.

03-27-2010:A 44 year old male was skiing in the Lower Snowfields of Tuckerman Ravine when he hit a section of “boilerplate” snow. He slid head-first into the trees suffering a shoulder dislocation and leg injury before coming to rest. He was treated by the USFS Snow Rangers and members of the MWVSP, transported to Pinkham Notch via USFS snow tractor, and transferred to an ambulance.

03-20-2010: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.)

03-20-2010:A group of three climbers fell while simul-climbing upper pitches of Pinnacle Gully. It was a very busy Saturday in Huntington Ravine. Temperatures Friday were warm and sunny, and then overnight they stayed above the freezing mark. Saturday was also warm and sunny, so there was a significant amount of water running over the snow and ice in the gully. One party of two had climbed the first pitch and was preparing to rappel off due to the excessive water. Another party, including a local guide (KM) and his two clients had also climbed the first pitch but rather than contend with the water, the guide climbed out of the gully on the rock to the right. As this was going on the party of three was simul-climbing from the top of the first pitch (they had used traditional belays for the first pitch). DH was leading, TV was in the middle of the 60 meter rope, and GT was tied into the bottom end.

Between the top of the first pitch and the top of the climb, DH had 7 pieces of protection: one fixed piton, four ice screws, a V-thread left by another party, and an ice axe deeply sunk and tied off. Just as DH was about to exit the gully, he felt the slack in the rope tighten up. After waiting a moment and not getting more slack to move upward, he stepped down a bit into a good stance to give slack to the climbers below him. At this time, TV had ascended to the second ice screw; GT had passed and unclipped the piton and V-thread but had not yet arrived at the first screw. As she was at the second screw and after unclipping it, TV began to have problems with her crampon falling off. She commented afterward that she didn’t really know what to do and probably should have clipped directly into the screw or even reclipped the rope. After a couple minutes without much progress GT began to climb up to assist her. This created a lot of slack between the bottom two climbers. TV eventually fell, pulling DH out of his stance near the top of the gully. He said that it happened very quickly so he didn’t really know what was happening. The ice tool and two screws above TV were ripped out of the ice, and the two climbers began falling simultaneously down the gully. The fall was stopped by a single 10cm ice screw that was between GT and TV. Had this screwed pulled out as well, it is likely that all three climbers would have fallen over the first pitch, and possibly brought down other climbers with them.

According to the two clients of KM, DH fell down the left side of the gully and near the bottom hit the rocks, bouncing him across to the other side and missing them by only a few feet. The two came to rest near the top of the first pitch, having fallen approximately 300’ (DH) and 100’ (TV). Neither climber was seriously injured. KM quickly responded, assisting the entire group down off of the climb and stayed with them until out of the steep terrain in Huntington Ravine. Snow Rangers learned of the incident fro the HMC caretaker who had heard about it from someone else. The climbers were encountered descending the trail to Pinkham Notch. They were bruised and slightly bloody otherwise uninjured and they walked themselves to the bottom.

03-19-2010:A 22 year old male snowboarder sustained a laceration to his shin during a fall in the Lip. He apparently fell hard enough to pull his feet out of his boots, which remained firmly attached in his bindings. We believe it was the snowboard that caused the 2” laceration. He was provided bandages by a local guide who was skiing with his children that day and a physician walked with him to the top of the Little Headwall where he was met by a USFS Snow Ranger. He walked down from Hermit Lake under his own power.

03-06-2010: Snow Rangers assisted with two separate lower leg injuries this Saturday. The first was a skier who injured his knee while skiing down Hillman’s Highway. His partner was able to assist him out of steep terrain and down to the first aid cache at the bottom of Hillman’s. His injury was assessed by an M.D. with the Mount Washington Volunteer Ski Patrol and stabilized for transportation by USFS snowmobile to Pinkham Notch.

The second incident was on the Lion Head Winter Route. A hiker was descending the steep section of trail when snow had balled up in his crampon causing him to fall. He fell approximately 50 feet, injuring his lower leg during the fall. While bystanders began to haul him down the trail the Snow Ranger that was returning to Hermit Lake from the first incident rerouted to respond to the second incident. The patient’s injuries were stabilized and he was transported to Pinkham Notch by snowmobile as well.

The Lion Head Winter Route is a steep trail where conditions change quickly from day to day or even during the course of a single day. We recommend mountaineering equipment (i.e. an ice axe and crampons) be used for safer travel on this route along with the ability to properly use the equipment. In this instance, the patient had crampons and ski poles rather than an ice axe. For the purposes of arresting a fall in steep terrain, an ice axe is a far more effective tool than ski poles. Prior to these incidents, the Snow Rangers had not responded to any other injured or lost people this winter/spring season.