Sunday, January 18, 2009

3 avalanche fatalities in SW Montana

Yowzer, yesterday was not a good day for the backcountry in southwest Montana. According to the Gallatin NF Avalanche Center there were three avalanche fatalities. There has been a lot of bad things happening out there, you can check out this season's accidents over at the Avalanche.org website (http://www.avalanche.org/av-reports/index.html). I believe with these recent deaths, the tallies are: USA Fatalities: 16, Canada Fatalities: 13; Total Fatalities: 29.

Here's the write up from the Gallatin AC site:

Yesterday there were three avalanche fatalities in southwest Montana, two outside the advisory area and one within. One avalanche fatality occurred in the mountains north of Cooke City near Daisy Pass. This was a massive avalanche, and we have few details. Doug and I will be going to Cooke City today for an investigation and will have more details in tomorrow’s advisory.

Another avalanche occurred near Mt Jefferson in the Centennial Range. The victim was wearing a beacon, but was buried under 8 ft of snow and it took 30 minutes to extricate him. More details can be found at: http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/6420ap_id_avalanche_death.html


A third avalanche fatality occurred in the Gravelly Range near Black Butte. This avalanche was 200 ft wide and ran 75 vertical feet. It occurred on an east facing slope at 9000ft. A group of 14 riders met in a meadow and noticed someone from the group was missing. They searched for him and found his sled in avalanche debris at the base of a small slope. Everyone was carrying rescue gear and began a beacon search. They immediately detected a signal from the victim’s beacon and found him under 2 feet of snow. Once they got him out of the debris they performed CPR. The victim was buried for approximately 15 minutes. This was an experienced group of riders well equipped with rescue gear and aware of current avalanche conditions with no intentions of climbing steep slopes.

Photos of this avalanche are posted at:
http://www.mtavalanche.com/photos/photos.php

A video clip can be seen at:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WFMi1gtaH-o

Meanwhile, over in Western Montana the snowpack seems to be stabilizing. The Friday report from the Missoula Avalanche Center rated LOW on most slopes and at all elevations. Moderate rating on some terrain features such as wind loaded slopes steeper than 35° or areas where the snowpack is shallow with rock outcroppings where it would be easier to collapse through to the weaker facets near the ground.

A few friends and I toured out behind Snowbowl on Friday and found their reports to be accurate. We dug a pit on a S aspect at 8100ft and found a RB6. In general the snow was consistently bonded, but faceted near the ground. We found evidence of some large slides on similar aspects that looked to have occurred sometime last week. These slides ran to the ground, with crowns of 18" to 30" and widths of ~150 yards. Riding conditions were good where the sun had warmed up the snow. Here's a few pics of the fun.


Be safe out there. My sincere condolences to the families and friends of these recent tragedies.