AAC Publications - http://publications.americanalpineclub.org

Avalanche, Poor Position, Eyeglasses Removed, New Hampshire, Huntington Ravine

AVALANCHE, POOR POSITION, EYEGLASSES REMOVED

New Hampshire, Huntington Ravine

On March 13, 1988, at 1000 Charles Graves (36) and Robert Kaufman (26) started up a mixed snow/ice climb known as Damnation Gully. The climbers found neve in between pitches of solid water ice and so decided only to rope up and belay the steeper sections of the gully. At 1230 they were climbing side by side, one meter apart, when they approached a cornice guarding the exit of their gully. They were on easy angled ledge covered with a half meter of snow and 16 meters below the top of the gully. Graves noticed that the snow was becoming “funky” and instructed Kaufman to traverse right to the rock. As Graves began his traverse, sugar snow started to trickle down from beneath the cornice, directly onto him. This was quickly followed by a slow, shallow river of wet snow which piled up against Graves’ body and dislodged him from his stance. Luckily, Kaufman was only involved in the edge of the avalanche and was able to maintain his stance. Throughout his 300 meter fall, Graves remained conscious and recalls attempting to arrest, becoming airborne, removing an ice ax dangling from his forehead and landing on a snow slope near the floor of the ravine where he finally was able to arrest his fall. As Graves finished bandaging his wounds, a solo climber, who had witnessed the fall, came to his aid. The climber, using an ice ax attached to Graves crampons, dragged him feet first another 300 meters to the Huntington rescue cache. Word of the accident was sent to the Harvard Cabin caretaker who in turn radioed the USFS Snow Rangers at Hermit Lake for assistance. The Rangers transported Graves with their Thiokol Sno Cat to the AMC Pinkham Notch Camp arriving at 1520. Graves was then transferred to Gorham Ambulance and transported to Androscoggin Valley Hospital, in Berlin, for treatment of a severely lacerated forehead, sprained knee, ankle and multiple contusions. (Source: Mike Pelchat, New Hampshire Mountain Rescue Service)

Analysis

Graves is an expert climber with 18 years’ climbing experience in mountain ranges from Alaska to Mexico, as well as having climbed every route in Huntington’s several times. Graves reported two factors that probably put him in the path of the avalanche. First, as he approached the top of the gully, a little voice from within his gut told him to move right and finish the climb on the rock. For some reason he ignored this voice and continued straight up. Secondly, Graves is near-sighted and had removed his eye glasses since they had fogged up. He felt that had he been able to see properly, he would have noticed the weird snow conditions at the top of the gully and would have moved right earlier. Graves suffered relatively minor injuries compared to the severity of his fall and lack of a helmet. He was probably somewhat cushioned during the fall by being inside the avalanche. (Source: Mike Pelchat, New Hampshire Mountain Rescue Service)