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Loss of Control on Glissade — Fall into Crevasse/Moat, Inexperience, Washington, North Cascades, Aasgard Pass

LOSS OF CONTROL ON GLISSADE – FALL INTO CREVASSE/MOAT, INEXPERIENCE

Washington, North Cascades, Aasgard Pass

On July 3 about 0:30 a.m., Julia Rutherford (2) was glissading down the Colchuck Lake side of Aasgard Pass with three other people: her boyfriend Peter Borschowa, his father, and a friend. She fell into a moat, down a high-volume sub-snow-surface waterfall and was swept downstream under the snow.

Peter Borschowa said he heard a scream and then helplessly watched as Julia Rutherford disappeared into a crevasse. He searched at the base of the waterfall but he could not see the victim and she did not respond when he called her name. It appeared she was unreachable without a rope. He then ran out to the Stuart Lake Trailhead for help. Three other witnesses went in separate directions for help, finding two more parties at the top of the pass, one from the Seattle Mountaineers with ropes and one from the Washington Alpine Club.

While two people stayed at the top of Aasgard Pass and called 9 at :00 a.m., the remaining first responders descended to the accident scene, which was approximately one third of the way up the pass. The slope was steep enough to be a black diamond or double black diamond at a ski area and we observed a glissade path leading directly over the waterfall. We shouted Julia’s name into the base of the waterfall but received no response.

The remaining two members of the party were distraught and had begun descending very slowly. One had a shoulder injury from an out-of-control glissade that had preceded the primary accident. One first responder descended the pass with these additional victims and monitored their condition.

At the accident scene, we dug a hole five feet from the waterfall, built a snow anchor, and lowered a volunteer from our group into the waterfall to search for the victim. She was able to retrieve Rutherford’s ice axe about 5 feet down the waterfall, but was not able to see Rutherford through just a ½ foot aperture through which the water was flowing at the bottom of the space.

We then sent a small group up the pass to contact 9 again while another group started marking the slope for any helicopter rescue. We also marked the glissade path with sticks well above the waterfall to warn others of the danger ahead. There was only one shovel in our group and we used it throughout the day to dig more holes, although the snow got progressively deeper away from the waterfall. As a precaution, we were on belay while shoveling.

About 2:00 p.m., an off-duty rescuer from Seattle Mountain Rescue, who had familiarity with the terrain, arrived and instructed us to dig a hole in a particular spot. While we were digging, a helicopter from Whidbey Naval Air Station inserted two corpsmen. One ofthem belayed off three snow anchors and lowered into the twelve-foot deep hole when it reached the watercourse. He located Rutherford’s body approximately 45 feet from the waterfall. The first responders extricated the corpsman and the victim out, approximately 6 hours and 45 minutes after she had fallen in.

Analysis

It struck many of the first responders how relatively safe and normal the path must have looked from above. All that was visible was a lip beyond which the path was not visible for a few feet.

But there are several lessons and reminders here. First, don’t glissade if you can’t see the run-out and keep speed under control at all times. Second, be very cautious of moats and other sub-surface hazards in late spring and consider plunge stepping, being roped up, and carrying a beacon, probe and shovel.

The rescue came with its own lessons. First is just the sheer length of time that it takes to get trained rescuers on the scene. Next, Peter Borschowa spread the word far and wide on his descent to the trailhead, which was important in getting the manpower and skills necessary for the rescue. Third, personal radios would have been very helpful because we only had cellphone service at the top of the pass – and that was a 30 to 45 minute climb away. (Source: Will Kruse – Washington Alpine Club, Eileen Kutscha and Erica Cline – Seattle Mountaineers, and www.komonemews.com)