On Sunday May 30, at approximately 1:20pm, a Mount Washington Volunteer Ski Patroller radioed the USFS lead snow ranger to report that a skier had taken a sliding fall down a 35 degree snow slope into Lunch Rocks. A short time later, the ski patroller made contact with the patient, and the small group of skiers who were rendering aid, and determined that the patient required immediate evacuation due to the nature of the injuries. Just prior to this contact, a bystander had triggered a distress signal via InReach that alerted State Police and NH Fish and Game at 12:40pm of the accident. At 2:20pm, after determining no other air ambulances were available, a flight briefing with USFS personnel concluded and by 3:45pm, a helicopter departed Weymouth, Mass.
At 2:45pm a Gorham EMS ambulance and UTV started up the Sherburne Ski Trail in order to render paramedic level care and to provide a means of patient transport. Concurrently, the ski patrol and USFS snow ranger coordinated an effort to move the patient in a litter with belay 2 rope lengths to the floor of the Ravine and then down to Hermit Lake via a very steep trail, arriving at 4:00pm. Weather factors made local air ambulance services unable to fly, but the US Coast Guard 1st District was available for the mission. At 5:00pm, under a low ceiling at 4,500’, a Coast Guard Jayhawk arrived at Hermit Lake and hoisted the patient and a paramedic for the flight to the Level 1 trauma center in Portland.
The father of this father and son team has years of experience skiing in Tuckerman Ravine, but like many “old school” skiers, tends to forget his helmet while skiing in the backcountry. This was the pair’s third run of the day in the limited remaining snow in the Ravine for which they chose the lower portion of Sluice. The pair climbed to the highest point of snow remaining and the father slipped, sliding 400’ or more into the jagged rocks currently exposed adjacent to the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, known as “Lunch Rocks”. (This area sees one of the highest concentrations of sliding fall and icefall incidents anywhere in the Presidential Range.) The pair was not wearing crampons, which can be insurance against hard snow or obscured icy patches.
One of the more important lessons of this incident comes from the bystanders who assisted. This group of 20-30 years olds jumped in to assist, suffering in the cold drizzle to render first aid and then carry the litter to Hermit Lake where they then waited patiently to confirm that they wouldn’t be needed to carry the litter should the helicopter fail to arrive. Anyone having an accident would be lucky to have this group of solid individuals to assist them.
The efforts of the Mount Washington Volunteer Ski Patrol and the AMC Hermit Lake caretaker were also impressive with three veteran patrollers doing what they do to keep an injured person from succumbing to their injuries and to the elements. Be sure to thank a patroller and the caretaker when you see them. Thanks as well, to the NH Fish and Game officers and Gorham EMS personnel for their efforts in this mission.
-Frank Carus, Lead Snow Ranger