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Mike
03-22-2004, 07:18 AM
Climbers found safe on Mount Washington

— Two climbers who lost their way in white-out conditions above treeline on Mount Washington Saturday were found unharmed Sunday morning as they were descending the Lion Head Trail on the east side of the mountain, officials with the White Mountain National Forest reported.

Karen Churches, 40, of Ottawa, Ontario, and Cheryl Wallace, of Arlington,Mass., spent the night in a snow trench covered with their gear and drifting snow while awaiting daylight to continue their search for the trail down the mountain. They had ice-climbed Odell’s Gully in Huntington Ravine on Saturday with plans to meet Churches’ husband above the ravine on the Alpine Garden and hike back to Pinkham Notch in the afternoon. They did not appear as planned and were reported missing Saturday evening.

Temperatures on the Mount Washington summit averaged 14 degrees F overnight, with winds peaking at 75 mph. Dan Solari, a meteorologist at the Mount Washington Observatory, noted of Saturday’s afternoon and overnight conditions, “I have never seen worse blowing snow…the freezing fog and falling snow didn’t help either. Visibilities were only about 15 feet or so.”

The initial search began late Saturday night with staff from the U.S. Forest Service, Appalachian Mountain Club, and Harvard Mountaineering Club facing darkness, Considerable avalanche danger, and winds gusting to 60 mph. The search resumed early Sunday with about 14 expert winter mountaineers from Androscoggin Valley Search and Rescue, Mountain Rescue Service, and NH State Parks on the mountain, led by three U.S. Forest Snow Rangers. The Mount Washington Observatory’s snowcat transported searchers on the Auto Road, the Appalachian Mountain Club supplied base support from Pinkham Notch, and NH Fish and Game stood on alert to assist if needed.

Lead Snow Ranger Chris Joosen of the White Mountain National Forest is gratified to have search and rescue personnel on call when needed. “Most of the searchers today are volunteers who were alerted late last night and were on the ground at first light this morning. We could not do what we do to assist the lost and injured without the expertise and dedication of the local search and rescue community.”

A volunteer search team encountered the lost pair on the trail above treeline and accompanied them through steep terrain and drifting snow down the Lion Head Winter Route, and were transported via Forest Service snowcat down the Tuckerman Ravine Trail to Pinkham Notch.

Saturday’s mountain forecast called for increasing winds and unstable snow accumulating in the ravines. The daily avalanche advisory posted early in the day by Joosen predicted “considerable” avalanche danger, approaching “high,” by mid-afternoon, meaning that natural avalanches were possible and human-triggered avalanches were probable. Other climbers reported seeing Churches and Wallace as they climbed, and said that loose snow avalanches were occurring in the Ravine Saturday afternoon.

Snow Rangers at the U.S. Forest Service’s Mount Washington Avalanche Center on the White Mountain National Forest post daily avalanche advisories and safety information for Tuckerman and Huntington ravines at www.tuckerman.org. Safe climbing and hiking information for all ages is also available at www.hikesafe.com.

CaptCaper
03-22-2004, 07:03 PM
Lucky them. Must have been along nite.

Dr. Dasypodidae
03-22-2004, 11:45 PM
I spent Saturday night on the Summit while teaching a weekend Edu-trip for the Observatory and was glad to be inside with the high winds and blowing snow. Before we left the Summit early Sunday afternoon to head down, we heard that the two women were on their way down (the Obs staff was on alert to assist if necessary) and that the reason they were benighted was that they had spent considerable time in the afternoon assisting on a rescue of someone with a broken leg from another climbing party in O'Dells. In any case, they should be commended for clear thinking and digging into the snow for the night. Fortunately, temperatures were not extremely cold, so the important thing for them was getting out of the wind. Given the light snowpack this winter, finding a suitable snowbank was probably not all that easy.