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Avalanche, New Hampshire, Canon Mountain, Black Dike

AVALANCHE

New Hampshire, Canon Mountain, Black Dike

Two climbers were up to attempt the Black Dike in the beginning of April. They weren’t really thinking about the possibility of an avalanche. It’s not clear how often anyone thinks of that small gully sliding. In retrospect all the ingredients were there. Perfect slope angle, heavily wind loaded lee slope, and lots of fresh faceted powder. TP always tried to hug the wall a little bit near the Whitney-Gilman (left), just in case, and he was a bit near it this day, just not enough evidently. For some reason when they cleared the trees and got about fifty feet from the rescue cache, TP took off his pack and put on his helmet. There was a lot of unfamiliar ice up on the cliffs from the recent freezing rain and it made him a little uncomfortable, so he put the helmet on early, an action he gave true thanks for after he cracked it on the slide.

They started post-holing up that gully. About ten feet into it, TP hit the “sweet spot” and set off the whole thing. He estimated the crown was about 12-18 inches deep and approximately 50 feet wide. As soon as it fractured, they were gone. TP tried to run towards the cliff but was immediately overrun and sent head-first down into the talus. By the time he stopped he had slid somewhere between 50-100 feet. His partner slid approximately 200 feet. He quickly realized that he was OK, experiencing just some serious bruising. He found his partner after he was able to clear his throat and mouth of snow and was able to access his situation, he claimed to be OK, but really “beat up.”

As TP put it “we just both put our heads down and marched, slid, crawled and groaned our way back to the truck, an event which you can probably recreate in your imagination.” They went to the hospital where DR was diagnosed with with three fractured vertebrae and a bruised kidney, among other assorted ailments not as serious. TP didn’t go to the hospital. It took him about a week to recover to 100 percent.

Analysis

Awareness is everything. Many people don’t perceive this area as a possible avalanche slope, but it has done so in the past. It almost got alpinist John Bouchard, and several years previously Jared Ogden was caught in one in the same area and injured his back. On this day the conditions were right for the slope to let go, and it did.

If the climbers had been pinned or buried, it might have been a day or two before anyone realized what had taken place, due to the time of year and lack of climbing traffic. Canon is a true alpine environment and should be treated with respect. (Source: Al Hospers)