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Avalanche, Climbing Unroped — Alaska, Valdez


Alaska, Valdez

On April 6, 1984, Glenn Larson (31), of Valdez, Alaska, was climbing with four partners on a peak which rises to 1500 meters out of the east side of the Valdez Arm.

The initial part of the ascent had been on skis, then they went on foot, unroped (accompanied by Larson’s dog) to a point out 30 meters below the summit on a 30-35 degree slope. The upper ten centimeters of snow was soft, and below that, it was firm. Footsteps were sinking about 60 centimeters. It was about 1530 when the snow above them fractured, and a soft slab about 45 to 60 centimeters thick began sweeping all five climbers downward. Part of the snow went off to the left of the ridge and part off to the right side of the ridge, and part went straight down the ridge. All climbers were swept down some distance, and Chris was knocked over by one of the other climbers and started sliding. He recollects swimming in the avalanche and having his glasses knocked off, and at one point, being deeply underneath the snow. For a period of several seconds he was airborne as he went off a 30 meter rock cliff, then felt bumps on his arm and back when he came in contact with hard surfaces and finally ended up 100 meters or so below his starting point on the surface of the snow. He walked up and found his glasses, and also his dog, which was dead. He, however, had severe pain in his lower back, some pain in his right thigh, right chest, and left forearm. He felt unable to proceed, and two of his companions, Matt Kinney and Pat Levy, skied out by separate routes to the road and notified the Security Office at the Valdez-Alyeska Pipeline Terminal.

The Valdez Emergency Medical Services were notified, and they initiated a helicopter rescue. ERA-Jet Alaska flew a helicopter pilot down from Anchorage in a Lear jet, and by 1930 a Bell Jet Ranger lifted off from Valdez Airport carrying Pat Levy, the pilot, and climber-physician, Andrew Embick. The helicopter was able to land within 15 meters of the victim, who had been kept warm first by lying on one of his companions, Bob Peca, and then by Peca building a snow cave. Larson’s feet were kept warm against the stomach of the other climbing companion, Brian Teal. On several occasions, Larson had been feeling weak and dizzy and unable to stand up. Of note is that he had not had anything to eat or drink during the four hours of the long, hot ascent on skis.

Larson was able to walk up the slope to the helicopter. He was in considerable pain, but was able to sit while being transported first to the airport, then to the hospital. A second flight evacuated the remaining two companions and all equipment. Larson was released from the hospital the next morning. (Source: Dr. Andrew Embick, Valdez, Alaska)