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Fall/Slip on Ice, Exceeded Abilities—New Hampshire, Mt. Washington, Huntington's Ravine

FALL/SLIP ON ICE, EXCEEDED ABILITIES—New Hampshire, Mt. Washington, Huntington’s Ravine. On March 25, Margaret Snyder Cassidy (24) of Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, her husband Daniel (24), and her two brothers Jim (19) and Mike Snyder (13) of Elkins, New Hampshire, traveled to AMC Pinkham Notch Camp with intentions of staying 2 nights at AMC Hermit Lake Shelter Area in Tuckerman Ravine. Their gear included skis, snowshoes, ice axes, and crampons, although not every member of the party had all of this equipment. The party arrived at Hermit Lake that afternoon. The following day, March 26, the party left Hermit Lake ascending the AMC Lion Head Trail and started across the Alpine Garden. It was a spectacular day; light winds, dark blue sky, brilliant sunshine, temperatures in the 50s. The party had pre-planned to descend via the AMC Huntington Ravine Summer Trail (into Huntington Ravine), and did begin to do so, but due to the nature of the terrain they had only proceeded approximately one third of the way down the headwall before they traversed over to Roger’s Escape Hatch, a relatively easy—but technical—descent route. Due to the warm temperatures and sunshine of the day and orientation of the gully, the snow surface in Roger’s was soft and reasonably easy to maneuver upon. The lower end of Roger’s eventually exits out into the lower part of Yale Gully. It was close to this juncture that the party was confronted by a large ice outcropping.

Jim Snyder was the first to be injured. He began to cross the ice outcropping but slipped and fell about 200 vertical feet. Jim attempted to warn the others not to follow. Daniel Cassidy and Mike Snyder then tried to cross the outcropping to rescue their companion. They, too, fell the 200 feet. Mrs. Cassidy, seeing her husband and two brothers injured below, also attempted the dangerous descent, despite warnings from the other three. Her fall was worst of all, covering approximately 300 vertical feet.

The three climbers who witnessed the accident from the base of Huntington Ravine came to the aid of the victim, while another climber and Mr. Cassidy went down to the Harvard Mountaineering Club cabin to report the accident via AMC radio. A Forest Service officer on duty in Tuckerman Ravine was notified after the accident occurred, and a rescue party was dispatched.

Mrs. Cassidy appeared to be in critical condition when the rescue party arrived. An initial check of injuries revealed she was semiconscious and had multiple head injuries. She was in deep shock. External bleeding had been controlled. Her pulse was very weak but steady. Her pupils were widely dilated. She had already been secured in a litter. Mrs. Cassidy, Daniel Cassidy and Jim Snyder were immediately taken by the snow vehicle to AMC Pinkham Notch Camp where they were transferred to an Androscoggin District ambulance (at 2:15 p.m.) which proceeded to the Androscoggin Valley Hospital in Berlin. The snow vehicle was stopped several times on route to check Mrs. Cassidy’s fading vital signs. (Mike Snyder was left attended in the Ravine awaiting a second trip down. He was later transported by the snow vehicle to another ambulance which left for Berlin.) Mrs. Cassidy died at 3 p.m. on route to the hospital. She succumbed to extensive internal injuries. Jim Snyder suffered two broken wrists. Mike Snyder suffered a broken left arm and a fractured pelvis. Daniel Cassidy dislocated his left shoulder. (Source: Douglas George, AMC)

Analysis: One of the survivors has stressed the importance of maintaining optional plans in case, for some reason, the main plan of action doesn’t work out. In this case the option of returning up to the top of the Ravine was a difficult one to accept, because reasonable going was within such a short distance and because the route was chosen as a bailout from bad weather (which did not materialize). Ice axe instruction from below and laborious step cutting might have been possible but did not occur to the party. Registration in the usual sign-out book for winter climbs, while highly desirable, does not assure that there will be any feedback for climbers with inappropriate plans or options. In winter or spring it is not safe to descend a trail if the hiker has no knowledge of its current snow and ice conditions. Many gently graded trails traverse steep talus slopes; when the snow fills the trail the traverse may require high angle snow techniques. Other moderate trails may involve pitches which become technical ice climbs. In autumn descent routes with northern exposures might involve encounters with ice not found on ascent routes with other exposures. Under winter conditions, Huntington Ravine is a technical route for experienced alpinists; the Ravine should not be attempted by hikers. (Sources: Accident report by Mark Goebl (USFS) and Doug George (AMC) and a personal interview with Jim Snyder)