American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Avalanche, Poor Position, Utah, Little Cottonwood Canyon, Pfeifferhorn

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 2008

AVALANCE, POOR POSITION

Utah, Little Cottonwood Canyon, Pfeifferhorn

On February 3, Brian Dutton (42) and Joe Bullough (42) attempted to climb the East Ridge of Pfeifferhorn on the Little Cottonwood/American Fork ridgeline at 11,326 feet. On the East Summit Ridge, they triggered a small, hard, slab avalanche three to six inches deep and 70 to 100 feet wide. The avalanche carried them off the south side of the peak, running 700 vertical feet into Dry Creek Canyon in Utah County. Neither climber was buried, but they were carried over 150-foot cliff bands and sustained major injuries. Fortunately, Dutton was able to get to his cellphone out and call 911.

Rescuers responded from Wasatch Backcountry Rescue, Utah County SAR and Salt Lake County SAR. A team started skiing in from White Pine Trailhead just before 11 a.m. and reached the victims three hours later. Winds of 50 to 90 mph made the route along the Pfeifferhorn ridgeline extremely difficult. The patients’ injuries and the remote location ruled out anything other than helicopter evacuations. Both patients were treated at the scene, and then transported by ski toboggan farther downhill to a suitable LZ. Despite the wind, Life Flight was ultimately able to land at the LZ before dark and transport both of them to the hospital.

Analysis

Climbers need to be just as focused on avalanche conditions as backcountry skiers are. For climbers in exposed terrain, the consequences of being caught can be very high, even for a small avalanche. The summit ridge of the Pfeifferhorn is often wind scoured, but this particular storm had loaded it with fresh deposits. (Source: Tom Moyer, Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue)

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