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Author Topic: Avalanche on Mt Washington  (Read 326 times)

xenolith

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Avalanche on Mt Washington
« on: November 30, 2002, 07:18:46 AM »

From today's bulletin at http://www.mountwashington.org/avalanche/

2 AVALANCHE FATALITIES IN TUCKERMAN RAVINE 11-29-2002. Yesterday morning around 11:20 7 climbers were involved in a class 2 avalanche on the right side of the Tuckerman Ravine triggerd in the "Lip" area. 4 of them were buried, 2 of which were "complete burials" and 2 were "partial", but very close to being completely covered with debris. The two complete burials were fatal and the other two were very lucky as bystanders were able to see the little of them that were showing. Those two individuals were uncovered in the first several minutes of the rescue. My sincere thoughts go to those effected by this tragedy and thanks go to outstanding rescue efforts by those from volunteer Search and Rescue groups, namely AVSAR, MRS, and the AMC. New Hampshire Fish and Game and the U.S. Forest Service worked closely to resolve this potentially complex rescue involving 7 individuals.
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Re: Avalanche on Mt Washington
« Reply #1 on: November 30, 2002, 12:42:45 PM »

thanks for posting this notice - I've been away and just heard about this a little while ago. one of the climbers who was killed was Scott Sandberg, a member of the Boston climbing community. to my understanding the other was named Thomas Burke, one of a party of 3 soloists including Rick Coyne (?) and another climber named Matt. I don't have all the details yet, here is what I have managed to piece together:

Scott and his partner were not climbing at the time. they were roping up and getting ready to climb the open book. the avalanche was apparently triggered by climbers soloing near the upper part of the headwall. immediately prior to the avalanche Burke, one of the soloists, fell about 100 feet down from the lip of the ravine. he survived the fall, mostly uninjured, only to be caught in the main avalanche triggered by his partners on the lip a few minutes later. soloists Matt and Rick were swept all the way down by the slide. Matt was uninjured but Rick was partly buried. he had shoulder injuries and was taken to the hospital in Berlin. Scott was killed by trauma from being hit by the avalanche and not from being smothered.

2 other climbers (both local) fortunately were uninjured and were able to assist in the rescue. one was actually in the direct path of the avalanche at a belay with 3 screws in place when the avalanche hit. he managed to hunker down and the slide went over him.

I'm sorry that I don't have any more details to share at this time, but I hope to know more in the next couple of days. if any of you were there and have more info, please contact me directly.

BTW: REMEMBER, Mt. Washington can be a very dangerous place. this in-between time, before things really freeze up, is probably one of the most dangerous times to be in the ravines. there has been snowfall up there for almost 3 days now and a lot of warm/cold temperature changes. if you insist on climbing up there PLEASE take precautions and be most exceedingly careful.

my thoughts and prayers go out to those involved and their families.

Al
« Last Edit: November 30, 2002, 06:03:55 PM by admin »
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drb

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Re: Avalanche on Mt Washington
« Reply #2 on: December 01, 2002, 05:51:11 AM »

The Boston Globe has a story on the accident
http://www.boston.com/dailyglobe2/335/metro/N_H_avalanche_victims_were_skilled_climbers+.shtml

They will be dearly missed...
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Richard Doucette

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Re: Avalanche on Mt Washington
« Reply #3 on: December 01, 2002, 08:39:06 PM »

As you have heard, there was a fatal accident friday on Mount Washington NH.  Two people have died, Scott Sandberg and Thomas Burke.  I was about to begin a climb with Scott when we were overtaken by an avalanche.  Scott was swept away and I was simply lucky enough to have been slightly sheltered by a ledge.  Scott was just 3-5 feet next to me, but slightly more exposed.  There is no good reason for his fate, or my survival.  

I will post a report on this experience when I have spoken to others who were there, but it would be appropriate for me to wait until I have more information before I do that.  Until then, I hope you are all well, and safe wherever you are.

The memorial service for Scott is scheduled for Tuesday at 1pm in Arlington MA.  A memorial fund has been established to assist his family in these troubled times:
Scott Sandberg Mememorial Fund
Medford Cooperative Bank
856 Mass Ave.
Arlington MA 02476

For more info feel free to contact me directly at rpdoucette@juno.com or 617-924-4828

Be safe,
Richard Doucette
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Alex

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Re: Avalanche on Mt Washington
« Reply #4 on: December 02, 2002, 07:54:10 AM »

My deepest condolonces to you and your friend and his family...I don't know what else to say...


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richard doucette

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Re: Avalanche on Mt Washington
« Reply #5 on: December 04, 2002, 12:31:46 PM »

For those who knew Scott, and have asked for the details:

On Friday November 29th my friend Scott Sandberg and I hiked up to Tuckerman's Ravine on Mount Washington.  The conditions were above average for an early winter day.  We had been tracking the weather and avalanche conditions for several days and were comfortable in this setting.  As we roped up, 4 feet apart at the base of a climb, we were overtaken by a silent avalanche.  The snow poured down on us for several seconds, and all I heard was the eerie hissing and thumping sound of the snow falling and sweeping past.  I was thrown to the ground and Scott was swept away.  Due to our slightly different positions next to the cliff, I was untouched.  The avalanche debris stretched for approximately 100 yards downslope, by 20 yards wide.  Immediately after the avalanche I ran downslope toward a hand waving for help, protruding from the avalanche debris.  I uncovered his face and found a person I did not know.  He was injured and in pain, but now he could breathe.  I told him I was sorry that I had to leave him, but I had others to dig out.  I ran further downslope to find another hand and a head protruding from the snow.  I made sure he could breath, and he appeared uninjured.  I told him I had to go search for others.  I scanned upslope and found no more hands waving from the snow.  

The Hermit Lake Caretaker and numerous hikers/rescuers appeared on the scene and began to dig out the two victims.  I told them there were others still missing.  I found my climbing rope, which Scott had in his hands when the avalanche hit.  We had not yet tied into the rope.  I had nothing else to go by, so I decided to look there.  I pulled hand-over-hand at the rope until it wouldn,t budge, then I dug.  Within a minute I found Scott, unconscious, his face just a foot beneath the surface.  I called to the gathering rescuers who swarmed on us, and we dug furiously.  Quickly he was out of the snow and CPR was being provided by an EMT and another trained volunteer.  Scott was found within 5 minutes of the avalanche.  I joined the 10-20 rescuers and we searched/probed for the last victim, Tom Burke, for approximately an hour before he was found.  He was unresponsive.  Both Scott and Tom were removed by sled and later pronounced dead of head and neck injuries.  I give my sincere thanks to the numerous hikers/rescuers who worked so hard to save people they had never met, particularly to the Hermit Lake Caretaker and the volunteer who provided CPR to Scott.  

I offer the following advice to those who venture into the mountains, particularly in winter.  First, obtain sufficient training in first aid and avalanche awareness to help yourself and those around you.  This help was comforting during the rescue, but would not have helped Scott or Mr. Burke  that day.  The conditions were generally good, but the slope above still avalanched.  We found Scott quickly, but he died more quickly, even though trained volunteers were on the scene.  Second, be aware of where you are in relation to others on the mountain.  The avalanche was likely triggered by a party of 3 above us.  I assign no blame to anyone, as they probably did the best they could under the circumstances.  All three men were swept down the mountain, one died and one was injured.  But climbing in winter, above or below others, is inherently dangerous.  If you find yourself in unstable snow, get off the snow and onto rock or ice before you or someone below you is hurt.  Third, avalanche prediction is an extremely inexact science.  It is impossible to know or describe the conditions in a feature as large and varied as a whole valley, simply by applying one word ("moderate") to the snow hazard.  When some hazard is present, but it's low enough so that people still go there, this increases the danger.  Lastly, try to make some assessment of the conditions well above you, not just where you are on the mountain.

Scott will be missed by everyone he touched, particularly his wife Rhona and 8 year old daughter Jessica.  A memorial fund has been established in his name, to assist his family.  Donations can be made to:

Scott Sandberg Memorial Fund
Medford Cooperative Bank
856 Mass. Ave.
Arlington MA 02476
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James Douglas Morrison

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Re: Avalanche on Mt Washington
« Reply #6 on: December 04, 2002, 06:33:46 PM »

Wow,, talk about a reality check. Im very sorry to hear about both people who died and I feel for thier familes. Also the other climbers who got injured. I just wanted to add that I saw Rick Coyne on television and he was best friends with Tom Burke. He said that there is a fund being set up for Tom's family. However I was unable to write down the address before it was off the screen. If any one knows this could you post it so others will have the chance to contribute if they can. I hope this is the last of the epics for awhile. Climb safe and enjoy the mountains.
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jamie

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Re: Avalanche on Mt Washington
« Reply #7 on: December 05, 2002, 08:18:46 PM »

Al, I must take issue with the message of your report this week.  You wrote:

    "These were two of seven individuals who made a concious decision that morning to enter an area posted as having Moderate danger. Moderate danger is defined as "Natural avalanches are unlikley and human triggered avalanches are possible on steep snow covered open slopes and gullies. Use caution in steeper terrain." This is in fact exactly what took place, with the soloists triggering the avalanche. Taking into consideration the complete description is critical. Many people look at Moderate conditions as an overall "unlikely" but quite obviously this is not the case!"
-end quote
    Correct me if I am wrong, but he way I read this, you intend to say that climbing in Moderate conditions is unsafe, and that a human triggered avalnche is likely.  And I believe you imply that Richard and Scott did not make a good decision about the conditions.  I do not agree.  
    I believe that the specific wording of the posting is that avalanches are possible.  That does not mean likely.  The (many) ice climbers I have spoken with in the past, and in response to this incident, have said that they regularly climb in Moderate conditions.  I do.  Moderate is 2 out of 5.  Certainly, one must make a careful risk assesment of the specific local conditions.  But I can not agree that the Moderate posting should be interpreted as a "Do not climb" sign.  Certainly read the complete posting carefully.  
    You can not always see above your climb.  You can not know if other climbers have a clue.  You can not always tell how loaded a slope is from afar.  You do walk into the bowl, pick a line, and head up.  I know Richard well, and know him to be a very careful, experienced, wise climber.  I know that he and Scott had been following the avalance hazard postings and observatory weather reports for at least five days before they went into the ravine.  They discussed the conditions daily, and the conditions looked good and trending better.  They specifically chose their belay spot to be in a more sheltered location.  They got hit with an unusual piece of bad luck.  
Jamie Leef
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dogboy

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Re: Avalanche on Mt Washington
« Reply #8 on: December 06, 2002, 06:32:47 AM »

Although I'm not sure that Al was attributing blame in his post, I do have to agree with Jamie's sentiment.  It seems as though when any climber is injured or killed, others not involved want immediately to point fingers and say "Not experienced enough," or "Shouldn't have been there."  It is probably, however, more appropriate to say "There, but for the grace of God, go I."  I think a lot of us would have made a judgement call if the rating was moderate, and probably 8 times out of 10 everything would have been OK.  We all make judgement calls, and usually, given experience and intelligence, everything works out OK.  How many times have climbers run things out on a sketchy pitch, or traversed across rotten ice, or climbed in moderate avalanche conditions?  There are many things to be learned from every avalanche accident, and one of them, in this case, is that even a reasonable judgement call can turn out to have unfortunate consequences.
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Re: Avalanche on Mt Washington
« Reply #9 on: December 06, 2002, 10:14:52 AM »

Jamie,

by no means am I BLAMING anyone, and certainly not Scott or Richard. they were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. I know Richard well, and by no means would I call him reckless.

what I said, or was trying to say, was that Moderate is not NOTHING. I copied the description directly from the csac site, didn't even retype it, and it is explicit. it says that human triggered avalanches are possible. you're right, sure it's a 2 out of 5 - and most, if not all of us, take those odds to be in our favor. but what I am attempting to point out is that what the danger description said, is exactly what took place. I want people to understand what lies behind that word.

and I wasn't saying that people shouldn't climb in Moderate conditions. hey, it's New England. if we didn't get out in Moderate conditions, we probably wouldn't get out at all.

please don't take this as a criticsm of Scott or Richard. that was not my intent. HOWEVER we must learn from this tragedy. sorry to upset you.

Al
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mtnperson

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Re: Avalanche on Mt Washington
« Reply #10 on: December 06, 2002, 10:55:10 AM »

everyone makes good points, and I don't find any fault in Al's comments, i think they are accurate... not blaming...
one thing to add I think is that accidents related to avalanche effect more than just the climber... it can effect others in the area, rescuers, and of course the families of the victims... somewhat a bigger picture than running out a route a little.
A horrible loss... remember when you are up there... It might not be "just you"... your loved ones I think would agree, as would others on the mtn.
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Re: Avalanche on Mt Washington
« Reply #11 on: December 09, 2002, 07:18:31 AM »

>>>>what I said, or was trying to say, was that Moderate is not NOTHING.

"Low" (1 on the scale of 1 to 5) is also not NOTHING.  

There is risk when you climb.  This is one of the things that gives it meaning.  That's why we're all not home glued to an XBox.  

Risk has a dark side.

The thing to remember next time you go out is that you can get seriously hurt in all sorts of ways.

Stay alert.



And just so we're on the same page.....

1:5  LOW: Natural avalanches very unlikely. Human triggered avalanches unlikely. Generally stable snow. Isolated areas of instability. Travel is generally safe. Normal caution advised.  


2:5  MODERATE: Natural avalanches unlikely. Human triggered avalanches possible.. Unstable slabs possible on steep terrain. Use caution in steeper terrain on certain aspects (defined in accompanying statement).  


3:5  CONSIDERABLE: Natural avalanches possible. Human triggered avalanches probable. Unstable slabs probable on steep terrain. Be increasingly cautious in steeper terrain.  


4:5  HIGH: Natural and human triggered avalanches likely. Unstable slabs likely on a variety of aspects and slope angles. Travel in avalanche terrain is not recommended. Safest travel on windward ridges of lower angle slopes without steeper terrain above.  


5:5  EXTREME: Widespread natural or human triggered avalanches certain. Extremely unstable slabs certain on most aspects and slope angles. Large destructive avalanches possible. Travel in avalanche terrain should be avoided and travel confined to low angle terrain well away from avalanche path run-outs.  



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JacksonBay

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Re: Avalanche on Mt Washington
« Reply #12 on: January 06, 2003, 03:15:28 PM »

As part of the MSR involved in the rescue attempt that day and as a regular on Mt. Washington/ice climber I wanted to pass along some thoughts.  Moderate is a pretty difficult term to interpret even with the guidelines previously posted.  We all make judgment calls whenever we climb.  My thoughts and prayers go out to the families of all involved as it was a desperate situation to be involved with.  I had a lot of time to reflect as I assisted in transporting  one of the victims down from the ravine and ultimately it was just myself and another climber that carried the body down the last half of the Sherburne trail (the hitch on the US Forestry Service snow machine broke).  

Since the tragedy I have been to the Summit about 6-7 times and have hiked up and around Lion's Head an equal number.  Coming at the ravine from Lion's Head or the Boot Spur gives you a chance to see all of the climbers in the ravine, spot out ice and avalanche situations...and test the snow at the top....and then in sections as you down climb.  It is with a lot more confidence that you can climb up after going through this process.  Time consuming....absolutely.  But all I have to do is think of that day and my ten year old son to know that the extra effort is worthwhile.  It won't prevent an accident as no one can read the conditions that well but it may possibly give some other climbers some alternatives that may be of help.  

Safe climbing to all...its good ice this year!
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Regards, JacksonBay
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