April 2, 2011

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.