American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing
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California, Mt. Ralston

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1956

California, Mt. Ralston—On January 1, 1955, Allen Steck (28), Richard Houston, William Dunmire, and Kenneth D. Adam set out for a ski ascent of Mt. Ralston from Echo Lake, above Tahoe. Plans to attempt Pyramid Peak were cancelled because of a recent heavy snowstorm and 40-mile-an- hour winds. At 11:00 a.m., a mile and a half from the camp and 1500 feet beneath the summit, the four started across an open slope about 200 yards wide. When they were halfway across the area, without warning, they were suddenly engulfed in an avalanche. They were carried 120 feet downhill and encased in the snow. Houston was almost completely buried but was able, by means of a swimming motion, to free his face. Dunmire and Adam, by similar motions, made an airpocket for their faces. Steck, who was in the lead, came to rest face down under 4 feet of wet snow. Fortunately, a second party left shortly after the first group and came upon the avalanche site, one-half hour after the accident. Houston was dug out promptly and the others were finally recovered. Steck was unconscious but revived promptly.

Source: William Siri, Newspaper accounts.

Analysis: This accident occurred in only moderate terrain slope and involved a group of persons with extensive experience. It demonstrates the need for extreme caution during ski mountaineering and the real hazard presented by recent heavy snow fall.

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