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Avalanche, Rockfall, Warm Weather, Yukon Territory, Mount Logan, Early Bird Buttress

AVALANCHE, ROCKFALL, WARM WEATHER

Yukon Territory, Mount Logan, Early Bird Buttress

On May 19, 1993, three German climbers, L.S., S.V., and S.W., were established at an advanced base camp for an attempt on the Early Bird Buttress of the south face of Mount Logan (6052 meters), after about a week of exploring and acclimatizing on Mounts Baird and Augusta. L.S. and S.V. left this camp at 0430, ascended on skis to the base of the rocky buttress, and climbed a steep snow couloir leading 200 meters up to the ridge crest. From there, they climbed a steep section of the ridge, consisting mainly of rather loose rock, in 2.5 pitches. Continuing over a short snow slope and some pitches on the following knifeblade snow arete, they finally reached the base of the first ice serac, approximately 80 meters high, at 1100. After some discussion, they decided on a good route to bypass the serac. Then they descended the same route, finding some rappel anchors from the previous attempt. Back at their advanced base camp, they storm-proofed everything, then skied down the glacier to the base camp, where S.W. had awaited them in order to allow the smaller party to make better time.

After a few days of warm but bad weather that put climbing out of the question, May 23 brought enough clearing to allow them to move up to the advanced camp in hopes of continued improvement in the conditions.

On May 24, all three climbers left advanced base camp at 0300 on skis in steadily improving weather conditions, slightly overcast and -8C. At the foot of the Early Bird Buttress, they left their skis and proceeded up the 200 meter snow couloir which L.S. and S.V. had climbed five days earlier. They gained height rapidly in good conditions, and were about halfway up at 0415, when some large boulders broke loose from the ridge some 100 meters above, and fell into the couloir, triggering a mixed avalanche above the climbers. They were all swept down a mixed, 100-meter high face, into a crevasse field at about the 3000 meter elevation level. L.S. and S.W. suffered only minor injuries and were hardly buried, so they were able to free themselves, but S.V. was carried into a crevasse and buried under three to four meters of debris. It was several hours before his partners were able to locate and dig him out, by which time he was dead.

Pilot Andy Williams was contacted by radio at 0800, but it was not possible for him to fly in for the rest of the day because of the weather. He was able to reach the site during a period of good weather the next day, along with a helicopter with park wardens and a police officer. A brief examination of the scene of the accident was conducted, and then all material and people were flown out to Haines Junction. After a few days of reorganization at Kluane Lake, the two remaining party members returned to Germany via Whitehorse and Vancouver.

Analysis

The weather during the latter half of May had been unusually warm for this area. Precipitation in the form of heavy snowfalls and some rain, causing poor snow conditions, were reported by this group and others on Mount Augusta prior to the accident. A group on the East Ridge of Mount Logan reported a sizable ice and snow avalanche on or about May 21. Though climbing on the south side of Mount Logan always involves a certain degree of objective hazard, the conditions this spring seem to have been unusually poor. (Source: Andrew Lawrence, Kluane National Park Reserve)