January 5, 2012

A party of two was climbing Central Gully when the leader was hit with a naturally-triggered sluff avalanche. During the fall, one of the climbers fractured his ankle. Much of the information below was gathered from a narrative provided by a guide who was in the area as well as from conversations with the injured party.

Just prior to the incident, the guided group climbed up to top of the ice bulge in Central. The guide decided not to continue up the gully due to excessive spindrift, blowing snow, and generally harsh conditions above treeline. He had a 3-ice screw anchor built for his group in the ice. When the party of two arrived, he allowed them to clip the anchor while they climbed the ice. However, after the group cleared the ice they were climbing unprotected with a short rope between them.

At this point the guide was at the top belay, out of the fall line, while his clients were down at an ice screw anchor below the ice and also out of the fall line. About 15 meters above the ice, the party of two was hit with a loose snow (sluff) avalanche which carried them both downslope. According to the leader, the force felt as though he received a stiff push or kick in the chest. The guide heard “Avalanche!” but did not see the falling climbers pass by. He descended down to his clients to get them situated. He assumed that the slide had happened below him and that the party of two was still up in the gully. About 10 minutes later he heard a call for help. The party had fallen about 100m, coming to rest about 30m below the fracture line from two days earlier. It was the second climber who sustained the ankle injury. The lead climber was uninjured but did break his climbing helmet in the fall. It wasn’t until he descended to the injured party that he learned it was the climbers above who had been avalanched past.

With help from his clients and the partner of injured climber, the guide was able to lower the patient down toward the bottom of the fan. At this point two clients went to the rescue cache to bring up a litter. The guide had been able to wrap the patient in a bivy bag and help keep him warm with a water bottle of hot tea placed between his legs. The patient was then placed in the litter and they worked their way down to the Harvard Cabin. From the time of the accident (2pm) to the time they arrived at the cabin (6pm) was about 4 hours. Their efforts are very much appreciated, since the trail from the bottom of the fan to the Cabin is very difficult for a litter carry in these lean snow conditions.

USFS Snow Rangers met the group at the Harvard Cabin, reassessed and re-splinted the injured leg. From arrival at the cabin to the parking lot at Pinkham was about 2 more hours. The litter was sledded down the Sherburne Ski Trail by USFS Snow Rangers, MRS and students from SOLO who were at Pinkham for a Wilderness First Responder course.

We received word afterwards that the patient did indeed break his ankle, which will require surgical repair. This day (January 5) was the first 5-scale avalanche advisory for Huntington Ravine this season. The advisory for the day indicated Huntington Ravine starting the day at Low danger, but moving into the Moderate rating as a forecasted 1-3” loaded in on W and NW winds. The summit did record 2.4” of new snow on January 5 with winds averaging 56mph.