The Mount Washington Avalanche Center is reporting an accident on Tuckerman Ravine that occurred Monday, April 22, 2019. A skier fell over the Tuckerman Ravine headwall and into one of several waterfall holes. After 20 minutes submerged in the hole the skier was able to climb out of another hole in the snow. The skier was in pain from several impacts during the fall. He was also cold and wet from spending most of the 20 minutes in very cold flowing water, though not submerged. He had lost his skis, poles, and pack.
Rescuers were able to dry the skier and help walk him down the Tuckerman Ravine Trail towards Hermit Lake.
Mount Washington Avalanche Center would like to use this accident as a reminder that Tuckerman Ravine has waterfall holes, glide cracks or crevasses, moats around cliffs and rocks, and other deep holes that open as the thick snowpack melts. A fall into these holes, which often also have significant amounts of cold flowing water which can quickly cause hypothermia, can be very difficult to escape or be rescued from. Such accidents have resulted in several fatalities in Tuckerman Ravine.
This positive outcome should be regarded as quite lucky and be taken as a warning for all who travel on steep snow slopes in spring conditions in our mountains. Had the subject, who was a strong athlete and also a climber, been unable to self-extricate himself from the waterfall hole the outcome could have been far worse. Many of these deep holes in the snow are impossible for even the strongest individual to climb out of. Extricating a person from these holes can be very dangerous for rescuers and is difficult to accomplish in a sufficiently timely manner to save a life. We know the subject would urge you to learn from this accident, giving potentially deep holes and glide cracks in the snow a wide berth and taking care to not fall above one.
The rescue initiated by partners and bystanders of the subject was a positive example we would also like you to learn from. Partners were paying attention to each other and able to quickly initiate a rescue. They had sufficient dry clothing and emergency supplies to provide proper care for the subject. Several emergency medical professionals observed the accident and immediately helped rescue efforts. Rescuers had knowledge that a litter and hypothermia wrap materials were available in nearby Connection Cache and used them. All individuals on the scene had avalanche rescue gear, as large wet slab avalanches were forecast as unlikely but not impossible that day. While a call was made for professional rescue, this group realized that they could provide timely aid to the subject and took appropriate action that could have resulted in an effective evacuation had professional rescue been delayed or unavailable. This self-reliant level of accident response is commendable. It is also the level of response that everyone traveling in the backcountry should be prepared for, every time you’re out.
Please learn from this accident to have a safer spring ski season, and see you on the hill!