The skier (above) is helped by his party after climbing out of a waterfall hole. Mount Washington Avalanche Center Photo.
On Monday, April 22nd, a backcountry skier had a close call after falling into a deep waterfall hole from the headwall of Tuckerman Ravine. According to the Mount Washington Avalanche Center, such incidents are a major concern for this area when the melting snowpack creates dangerous holes, cracks, and crevasses. Not only is it incredibly difficult to rescue someone from this form of entrapment, but the victim could quickly succumb to hypothermia from the cold water which can accumulate in these spaces.
This skier got really lucky. After 20 minutes of being trapped, he was able to climb out of a different hole and slide down to a rescue party below. His equipment, however, was lost to the hole. Once reconnected with his party, he was whisked into dry clothes, wrapped in a sleeping bag, and helped down to Hermit Lake where U.S. Forest Service Snow Rangers took over the rescue.
He was not alone during the incident, but his partners and fellow bystanders could do little to help him. They called 911, but performing an actual rescue was tricky since they had no clear idea where the skier had fallen. In this particular case, the Avalanche center suggests that a beacon search could have been useful—despite being a non-avalanche incident.
The incident is a harrowing reminder of dangers to consider when embarking on spring skiing mission. Had the victim not been a strong climber, the outcome could have been much worse. During this time of year, it’s best to give holes and glide cracks a generous amount of space. The Avalanche center praised the rescue team for being properly prepared to respond. They had all the essentials that made this a successful rescue: dry clothing, emergency supplies, a hypothermia wrap (which was accessible from the nearby connection cache), and avalanche rescue equipment. This was a prime example of how being prepared in the backcountry can make a big difference in saving one’s life.
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