Avalanche sweeps man down N.H. mountain

Despite injuries, ice climber made 911 call for help

By Kathy McCormack
Associated Press / March 12, 2011

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CONCORD, N.H. — A 31-year-old ice climber who slid about 1,300 feet after triggering an avalanche in a ravine on Mount Washington called 911 despite his injuries, forest officials said yesterday.

The New Hampshire man was out on a solo climb Thursday morning on the mountain’s Huntington Ravine. He started climbing down because he had concerns about unstable snow, said Tiffany Benna, a spokeswoman for the White Mountain National Forest. While he was descending, the snow gave way, carrying him down a gully to the bottom of the ravine.

Benna said the man had significant injuries, but dialed 911 about 10:45 a.m. Thursday. Snow rangers reached him a half-hour later via snowmobiles, put him on a sled, and took him to Memorial Hospital in North Conway.

The man’s name has not been released. The extent of his injuries and his condition were not known yesterday.

The US Forest Service had rated the avalanche danger for the gully at “considerable’’ on Thursday and “high’’ yesterday. Signs are posted near the trail entrances with the day’s conditions.

Al Hospers of North Conway, an ice climber who writes a newsletter about trail conditions in the White Mountains and manages the website, said the weather has varied recently on the mountain, with warm-weather days mixed in with cold ones. Climbers are encountering a mix of snow and ice on trails.

“Ice — it’s always different, it always changes. It changes from the base of the climb to the top of the climb,’’ Hospers said.

Hospers, 63, who said he has climbed the ravine a number of times, described the Pinnacle Gully, which the man was on, as a snow-covered, narrow cleft between the rocks that tops out on a slope.

He said that with proper equipment, the climb is “pretty reasonable to do — but very committing.’’

“You’re completely on your own,’’ he said. Hospers said he was amazed that the climber on Thursday was able to call for help, and that he even had cellphone service.