American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Avalanche, Weather, Washington, Dragontail Peak

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1991

AVALANCHE, WEATHER

Washington, Dragontail Peak

Eric Simmonson (22) and his partner (22) left the parking lot at Colchuck Lake early on the morning of November 3 to climb Dragontail’s north face in a day. The pair climbed up high on the route but decided to quit and descend the route because of freezing rain and snowfall. The weather had deteriorated. The pair was unroped and down climbing when an avalanche hit them. Eric was thrown off his stance and fell approximately 300 meters down the couloir. His companion escaped being struck by the avalanche and was safely able to down climb the route. He thought Eric was killed by the avalanche. Eric also thought his partner was dead and managed to crawl down approximately 60 meters below the entrance of the gully before his companion reached him. The two climbers did not have any bivouac gear. A partial snow shelter was built for the victim and his partner left to go seek help. On his way down he encountered two hikers who were on their way up to Asgard Pass. He recounted the story of the accident. The climber proceeded out to notify the sheriff's department. The hikers reached the victim at 1430. They found the victim uncontrollably shivering. All his clothes were wet. They set up their tent, stripped him of his clothes and placed him in one of their sleeping bags. The victim told them he spit up some blood after the accident and was complaining of internal pains.

At 2300 two members from Central Mountain Rescue arrived. One was a paramedic. The victim was placed on an IV and given medication. Everyone spent the night just below the couloir. The medic noticed that the victim passed blood in his urine in the morning.

At 0700 on November 4, a team of 20 people was assembled at the PUD district station in Leavenworth by the sheriff s department to provide a carry out. At 1030 the carry out team reached the victim and at 1115 the carry out began with the victim placed in a litter. High winds, snowfall and lack of visibility persisted. At 1400 the victim had been moved to the lower end of the Colchuck Lake. A decision was made to continue transporting the victim down the trail. An Air Force helicopter from Spokane was put on alert with the idea of positioning it at the fish hatchery area on Icicle Creek Canyon. The weather continued to deteriorate. At 1600 the Stuart Lake-Colchuck Lake trail fork was reached. The helicopter was now positioned in Icicle Creek. Weather still made it insufficient for a fly-by. Fifteen minutes were requested to hold further transport in order to assess a “scrub or go” on a helicopter pickup at the swampy meadows just above the trail fork. The weather cleared slightly and the pilot/sheriff's department decided to do a fly-by and check conditions.

The helicopter landed and litter carriers were forced to ford a very cold Stuart Creek above waist level. The victim and medic were placed aboard the helicopter and transported to Wenatchee State Hospital. The victim’s injuries were determined to be fractured vertebrae, broken ribs, and a broken thumb. (Source: Seattle Mountain Rescue Council)

Analysis

Eric and Cal felt the snow conditions in the lower and middle couloirs were stable at the time of the avalanche. They believe the avalanche started either in the upper (third) couloir or resulted from snow breaking loose from a ledge on the face that rises above the left side of the Hidden Couloir. They believe that being roped would have been no advantage in this situation.

The route description in Becky’s guide warns of avalanche danger. (Source: Fred Stanley)

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