April 12, 2014

After climbing through Tuckerman Ravine earlier in the day, a pair of hikers descending Lion Head Winter Route each slipped and fell in the steep section of the route (independent of each other). Neither person was injured in the fall. However, having not hiked this trail before, they did not know how much farther down they would need to descend before the trail became less steep. They had appropriate clothing for the winter, but they fell short of being fully prepared. They had no ice axe or crampons, and they were wearing lightweight sneakers with microspikes and a different brand of slip on traction. They were able to make a call to 911 to ask for help with the descent.A Snow Ranger and four volunteer Ski Patrol members responded from Hermit Lake. At the scene, they encountered the hikers near the bottom of the steep section. One hiker was at the top of the rock step and the other was approximately 75′ uphill. The lower of the two was able to descend with some coaching and a hand line. The upper hiker was given an ice axe and downclimbed while on belay through the steep section. They were both transferred to Pinkham by USFS snowmobile.This is a common scenario that plays out every spring. Thankfully, this event ended without injury. The pair did need to endure several hours with cold wet feet due to wearing mesh sneakers- but thankfully again, they had spare socks and shoes in their vehicle. A couple of the points we discussed with them after the fact included:

  • Winter/Spring conditions take longer than summer hiking times. Leaving Pinkham at 1:15 put them at a disadvantage early on.
  • Making the mistake of thinking lightweight traction devices are the same thing as crampons. They also did not carry ice axes, although one did make a comment along the lines of “I’m glad I had my knife. It was the only thing that stopped my fall.” Similar to microspikes vs. crampons, a pocket knife does not offer security in steep terrain as an ice axe does.
  • Not carrying or using a map. When asked from a distance, the pair responded that they did not know if they were on the trail or not (they were). They apparently hiked up through Tuckerman, presumably in the Lip bootpack, then at the summit asked other hikers which was the fastest way down. They chose Lion Head over the Auto Road since it was the shortest distance, but despite following blue plastic blazes, they had thought they may have lost the trail after descending below treeline.

April 12th was the date of the Friends of Tuckerman Ravine race, the Son of the Inferno. This annual event draws a large crowd. We counted about 1850 people entering the Hermit Lake courtyard from the Tuckerman Ravine trail from around 8am to 3pm (thanks, Alec!) Also, this number does not count the hundreds that hiked up Lion Head or went into Huntington Ravine. For this many people to have spent the day on Mt. Washington and only have had four incidents is remarkable. Surely a lot has to do with luck, but we want to take a moment to thank the hundreds or thousands of you who did your homework, came prepared, were self-reliant, and went home with all your bones and soft tissues intact. We also want to thank the Mount Washington Volunteer Ski Patrol for all their help, not only on Inferno day, but each and every weekend from March through May. This is an incredible group of people who give a remarkable amount of time so that we all can better enjoy our days in the Ravine. Be sure to thank them when you get the opportunity!