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Inadequate Equipment and Clothing, Inexperience, Darkness, Exposure, New Hampshire, Mount Washington, Damnation Gully


New Hampshire, Mount Washington, Damnation Gully

On a Tuesday morning in January, two ice climbers from Connecticut, Damian McDonald and Susanna Saarkangas (ages unknown), were rescued from the Alpine Garden above Damnation Gully on Mount Washington. They spent a night out in subzero temperatures and high winds. According to their own comments, they spent the night at the Harvard Cabin on Sunday night. They left the cabin at around 11 a.m. Monday to climb Damnation Gully.

According to the caretaker at the cabin, they were moving extremely slowly when he saw them on the second pitch of the gully at around 4 p.m. As they got to the top, the conditions had deteriorated significantly and it was dark. They did not descend the gully because the second had never rappelled before. Unable to traverse to the Escape Hatch, they huddled by a cairn near the Nelson Crag, eventually building a small snow cave and stomping around to keep warm.

The caretaker notified the authorities that they had not returned. The snow rangers got notification at about 10 p.m. Conditions at this time were -6 F with 70 mph wind gusts. A team of approximately 20 searchers went out at 6 a.m., some up Lions Head, some into Huntington, and some on the Auto Road. At this time temps were -17 F and wind gusts were 80 mph with fog and blowing snow. About 9 a.m., the climbers were spotted above Central Gully and were found by members of the MRS and AVSAR. They were led to the Auto Road where a snowcat took them to a waiting ambulance and the hospital in Berlin where they were treated for hypothermia and frostbite. They were expected to recover fully.


The leader had done the climb before, but this was to be his partner’s first climb. They were unprepared to spend a night out and, according to one report, had neglected to check the weather prediction for the day. (Edited from The White Mountain Report, January 27, 2005)