CSAC Avalanche Incident

Mt Adams, New Hampshire - November 23, 1997

[Official Reports] [Media Reports] [Other Sources]

Official Reports

Kai-Uwe Allen, Snow Ranger, R09F22D02Abr US Forest Servicebr White Mountain National Forestbr Androscoggin Ranger Districtbr 300 Glen Road Gorham, NH 03581br Date: ## 12/05/97 16:40 ##

Over November 22nd and 23rd, the summit of Mt. Washington reported 4.41 inches of new snow. On November 23, the prevailing winds were from the SW averaging 24 mph, with a peak gust of 37. Temperatures were in the low to mid 20's. While on patrol in Tuckerman Ravine, I observed small avalanche activity. Many ice climbers experienced the same. The slabs were 2-3 inches deep and very sensitive. A larger slide with a 3 inch fracture and 30 feet wide, ran approximately 150 feet sometime earlier in the day.

King Ravine is a large glacial cirque located in the northern Presidential Range on the White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire. It features several prominent avalanche tracks and starting zones. There are no avalanche forecasts issued for this part of the range.

On Nov. 23rd, Joel Reigner and Luc Parent were ascending the Great Gully Trail, a steep and difficult hiking trail (and major avalanche path) in King Ravine. They were out on a round trip day-hike and were reasonably well equipped and experienced for such an excursion. Both had some previous winter experience in the White Mountains. They carried crampons, ice axes, day packs and headlamps. Neither were equipped with avalanche rescue equipment. They did know something about avalanches, but both men assumed that it was too early in the winter for it to be a concern.

As they ascended the trail, the pair triggered numerous small pocket avalanches. While neither had formal avalanche training, they did have some avalanche awareness, and were able to recognize the instability. They considered the small avalanches inconsequential, and proceeded to continue up the trail toward treeline. At times they were slogging through pockets of wind deposited snow up to mid-thigh. As they continued upward, the trail became significantly steeper. At this time, Joel and Luc had separated, and were approximately 15-25 feet apart. Luc, who was trailing behind, became concerned about the possibility of a larger avalanche. There was significantly more snow in the middle of the gully where Joel was climbing, so Luc made an effort to travel off to the right where the snow was more shallow. He wanted to tell Joel that he too should move to the right side, but the distance between them would have made communication difficult. It was now dark, and Joel's headlamp had failed. At about this time, approximately 5:00 PM, Joel triggered an avalanche which swept him down the gully.

By Joel's approximation, the avalanche was soft slab with a crown 10 feet wide and 4-6 inches deep. The slide ran 150 feet. Joel went sliding past Luc, who remained safe off to the right. Fortunately for Joel, the snow came to a stop on a bench, preventing him from being carried to the floor of the ravine over several small cliffs. He estimates his burial depth at 3-4 feet. Joel was buried on his left side, with his head and right arm above the snow. He yelled out, and could see Luc's headlamp above him on the trail. Luc thought he heard someone yelling, but dismissed it as his imagination. Luc thought it was too dangerous to descend the gully to search for Joel. He was intimidated by both the steepness and the possibility of starting another slide. During the interview, he affirmed his awareness that successful avalanche rescue must be carried out by the victims party. Nonetheless, he continued up the Great Gully Trail in hopes of finding the Spur trail. His intent was to hike down to Grey Knob Cabin to report the accident to the caretaker there.

In the meantime, Joel was busy digging himself out of the avalanche. His mouth and nose had been filled with snow. Still clutching his ice-axe in his right hand, he used it to dig the snow out from around himself. He was able to dig out his upper body fairly quickly, though he was unable to move his legs. After 40-50 minutes of self-excavation, Joel set about to finding Luc. He continued up the Great Gully trail toward treeline. Without a headlamp, he was unable to travel very far. There was little choice but to bivouac. Joel excavated a snow cave with his ice axe and settled in for a long, cold night.

Luc was lost. His headlamp died as well, and he lost the trail. He too was forced to bivouac. The following morning, Luc was still unable to find the trail. He was afraid of starting another avalanche, and did not return to the accident site. He bushwhacked down the side of King Ravine through thick krummholz and boulders, eventually reaching the hiking trail far below the floor of King Ravine.

Luc reported the accident at the local fire station around 11:30 AM the following day, 18 hours after the accident had occurred. New Hampshire Fish and Game, local rescue groups, 3 USFS snow rangers, and a National Guard helicopter were dispatched. As the advance party was just heading up the trail, Joel appeared at the trailhead. He was cold and tired, with a large bruise on his leg, a twisted ankle, and quite a story to tell.

Both men are very lucky to escape unharmed. Not only did they survive an avalanche, but the notoriously dangerous winter weather of the Presidential Range had been fairly mild for spending an unprepared night out above treeline.

Media Reports

Canadian Hiker Survives Avalanche

By Pam Bouchard, Conway Daily Sun

GORHAM - "Relief" was about the only word Montreal hiker Luc Parent uttered when he learned his hiking partner had survived an avalanche in Great Gully near Mount Adams on Sunday afternoon. Parent, 30, and his hiking partner, Joel Reigner, 27, who Parent thought for sure was dead, were reunited in the back of an ambulance at the Gorham Fire station Monday afternoon amid tears of joy.

The bizarre story unfolded around 9:30 a.m. that morning when a disheveled looking man walked into the Gorham Fire station and announced to Chief Wally Corrigan and EMS Director Bill Hathaway that he had been in an avalanche the night before and said, "I think my friend is dead. He was swept away in an avalanche last night."

Corrigan and Hathaway immediately put in a call to Gorham dispatcher, Pat Lapointe, who in turn called the Fish & Game Department. Fish & Game Officer Kevin Jordan arrived at the station after Parent had been fed with food from MacDonald's and Dunkin Donuts. Firefighter Vic Aubut, who speaks fluent French, was there to translate if needed, but Parent could be understood in broken French. Aubut found a towel so Parent could take a hot shower and Sharon Dalphonse arrived with some dry clothing. Parent's weariness was apparent as he tried to describe the route the two men had taken to Jordan, Kai Allen, a snow ranger with the USFS, and Bill Arnold from the Randolph Mountain Club.

Parent told Jordan the two men had parked at the Appalachian Trailhead parking area and planned to hike up the Great Gully. Both are experienced hikers and both had headlamps, ice axes, winter boots and crampons. Parent has been coming to the White Mountains to hike for the past several years and only last year did some winter hiking in the Tuckerman Ravine area, but this was to be the first time for both men hiking up Great Gully. Reigner has been living in Montreal since last Christmas. He is originally from the Chambery area near Albionville, France, and has hiked the Alps a few times. Parent told Jordan they reached the Great Gully area around 2 p.m. and were still ascending the steep part of the gully below Mount Adams when darkness fell just after 5 p.m. He put his headlamp on, but said Reigner's headlamp wasn't working due to dead batteries. Parent stayed to the right of the trail while Reigner hiked more toward the middle. He said both men had seen a few small slabs of snow sliding down earlier in the day, but they didn't think the avalanche danger was that great so early in the season. They continued up the steep part of the gully after Parent turned on his headlamp, but by then Reigner was out of sight ahead of him. Five minutes later, Parent heard Reigner scream and saw him slide past him on loose snow. He said Reigner probably triggered the avalanche because he didn't see any snow above him. While Parent hung onto some low trees, Reigner was swept 150 feet down the gully and soon disappeared from sight. He didn't think it was a big avalanche because the swath that took Reigner was only about ten feet wide. The area was steep and Parent tried to find him, but darkness and the potential danger of another slide, prevented Parent from straying too far.

He searched and called out for his friend until about 9:30 p.m. and then settled in under the tree branches for the night after bushwacking down the trail. He didn't get much sleep and figured he might have been hallucinating during the night. He thought he could hear someone screaming, but visibility was too poor to see. He tried bushwacking again at first light and lost the trail. Parent had wanted to hike to Gray Knob after the slide, but ended up heading toward Crag Camp, where there is no radio. He eventually made his way down about 6 a.m. by holding onto low trees and reached the parking lot. He took a right turn out of the trailhead and ended up in Gorham at the fire station.

Jordan contacted Mountain Rescue Service and the USFS for some additional help. At least 60 rescuers were on standby to respond once officials determined the stability of the area to be searched. A National Guard helicopter was scheduled to land at the Gorham Airport to assist in the search, but as Fish & Game Lt. Eric Stohl was organizing the search party at the trailhead parking area, Reigner limped out into the parking lot, wet and exhausted from the ordeal, but none the worse for wear. He was transported by Fish & Game officers to the Gorham Fire Department where he was met by ambulance attendants and several members of the press. He was treated in the back of the ambulance for minor injuries, including scratches and a bruised right thigh. Parent was then brought to the ambulance where the two men privately embraced in tears.

Reigner refused transport to the hospital and spent several more minutes with Parent before describing his ordeal. He said he didn't know Parent had been looking for him during the night. He knew Parent had survived the avalanche and assumed he would have gone down the mountain for help. After riding the avalanche some 150 feet down the gully, Reigner ended up with his head and right arm sticking up through the snow. He said he fell perpendicular to the fall line and went down end over end. He never lost consciousness and immediately tried to remove some of the snow around him by using his ice axe. He had snow in his mouth and nose, but had enough room to breathe. He began to feel some pain in his right thigh so he used his knees, along with the axe, to dig his way out. He tried to go up the gully a different way, but it was too windy to reach the top so he came back down a little way and dug himself a snow cave for the night. At first light, he bushwacked down the trail to the parking area where he met Stohl and Lt. Rick Estes.

Parent is a chemical engineer and research associate who works at the Montreal Polytechnical Institute and Reigner is a graduate student in the PhD program at the same school. Both men left Gorham for Montreal yesterday afternoon, but vowed to return for more hiking. They said they may invest in an avalanche locator and will be more aware of the avalanche dangers this time of year, but both were all smiles as they departed for home, tired but giddy.

RMC's Arnold said there is approximately 19 inches of snowfall on the mountain so far this year, but there are several feet of snow in the gully areas and the avalanche danger is high, even at this time of year.

Other Sources

Note: A few people sent e-mail about this incident, and it was mentioned in the Mt Washington bulletin. At least one person was looking for more details.

Received via e-mail

I read an article in the Plattsburgh Press Republican a few days ago about an avalanche in the Great Gully of Kings Ravine on Mount Adams, White Mtns, NH. Unfortunately, I did not cut out the article and do not now have it with me. But I will try to relate the events as best as my memory will allow.

Two Canadians were ascending the Great Gully a few days ago when one triggered an avalanche. He was carried down the couloir with the snow. Somehow, he managed to free his arms before the slide stopped though the rest of him was buried. His partner apparently made no attempt to look for him, but left immediately for help at the foot of the mountain. The buried man was able to quickly uncover his face and head, but it took him a long time (hours, I think) to dig himself out. He then headed down the mountain, but due to the lateness of the day and some injuries, he was unable to make much distance. He hunkered down under a spruce tree for the night, survived, and was met by rescuers in the morning.

I am attempting to find out more information about this for you. Meantime, you might pursue more information from your end. Sounds to me like these guys were very lucky.