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Author Topic: Avalanche kills person near Mount Baker ski area  (Read 29567 times)
nordique
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Avalanche kills person near Mount Baker ski area
« on: 01/25/16, 09:54 AM »

In the Seattle Times.  Originally published January 24, 2016 at 10:45 pm Updated January 25, 2016 at 6:22 am

Another person was hospitalized after being hurt on Mount Herman in what officials say was a "pretty frantic situation."

By Katherine Long
Seattle Times staff reporter

One person was killed and another was injured in an avalanche Sunday on Mount Herman, near the Mount Baker ski area, avalanche safety officials said.

The body of the victim has not been recovered, said Scott Schell, program director for the Northwest Avalanche Center. He said he did not have any information about the victim’s age or gender.

A second victim was airlifted to a nearby hospital, he said.

Search-and-rescue crews are planning to return to the area Monday to continue the search.

Schell described the site as the north-facing flank of Mount Herman, an area adjacent to the Mount Baker Ski Resort.

It is backcountry, and he said the victims would have likely parked at the ski area and then worked their way uphill to get to the area where the accident occurred, because it was not accessible from a ski lift.

It was not known if they were traveling on skis, snowshoes or snowboards, he said, or if they were carrying transponders — devices that signal a person’s location in the event of an avalanche.

“I think it was a pretty frantic situation,” he said. “There was a 911 call placed by some people in the party.”

Mount Herman is 6,260 feet high, and its base is about 4,000 feet, Schell said. Witnesses told experts that the avalanche came down from above the victims.

Schell said the avalanche danger at this time is considered to be moderate, or a 2, on a scale of 1 to 5. However, the danger is heightened by what experts term a “persistent slab” — a persistently weak layer that can fail at any time. The slab was created by layers of frost that formed on Jan. 3 and Jan. 11, and have since been buried by snowfall. “It adds a whole level of uncertainty,” he said.

He described the terrain on Mount Herman’s north side as “relatively complicated, undulating terrain.”

The avalanche center will send two professional observers up to the site Monday “to try to get some answers as to how big the avalanche was,” Schell said.

It’s the second avalanche death in Washington in the past four weeks, and the seventh avalanche death in the U.S. in the last week alone, according to the Northwest Avalanche Center.

In late December, Washington entrepreneur and outdoorsman Douglas W. Walker was killed in an apparent avalanche while snowshoeing and hiking on Granite Mountain.

The Northwest Avalanche Center is the official forecasting agency for Washington and Northern Oregon, and uses its network to let people know of the avalanche danger and tell when there has been an accident.

http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/avalanche-kills-person-near-mount-baker-ski-area/
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Charlie Hagedorn
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Re: Avalanche kills person near Mount Baker ski area
« Reply #1 on: 01/25/16, 04:05 PM »

As often, the TGR forum has useful detail: http://www.tetongravity.com/forums/showthread.php/296957-SNOW-IN-THE-PNW-2015-16-Winter-Strikes-Back?p=4649887#post4649887
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Charlie Hagedorn
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Re: Avalanche kills person near Mount Baker ski area
« Reply #2 on: 01/25/16, 07:47 PM »

Deceased victim identified: http://www.bellinghamherald.com/news/local/article56441645.html

Our thoughts go out to both victims, their partners, friends, family, and the rescuers who helped them.
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T. Eastman
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Re: Avalanche kills person near Mount Baker ski area
« Reply #3 on: 01/25/16, 07:55 PM »

Quote
Schell said the avalanche danger at this time is considered to be moderate, or a 2, on a scale of 1 to 5. However, the danger is heightened by what experts term a “persistent slab” — a persistently weak layer that can fail at any time. The slab was created by layers of frost that formed on Jan. 3 and Jan. 11, and have since been buried by snowfall. “It adds a whole level of uncertainty,” he said.

Please explain to me why a "persistent slab" or a high likelihood of that being within the forecast area not part of the daily forecast...
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aaron_wright
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Re: Avalanche kills person near Mount Baker ski area
« Reply #4 on: 01/25/16, 08:36 PM »

Please explain to me why a "persistent slab" or a high likelihood of that being within the forecast area not part of the daily forecast...
Persistent slab was in the forecast for Sunday- https://www.nwac.us/avalanche-forecast/avalanche-region-forecast/1986/
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T. Eastman
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Re: Avalanche kills person near Mount Baker ski area
« Reply #5 on: 01/25/16, 09:23 PM »

Noted as cautionary attribute but not incorporated in a region-wide forecast rating?
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AlpineRose
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Re: Avalanche kills person near Mount Baker ski area
« Reply #6 on: 01/25/16, 09:31 PM »

Quote
Continued conservative decision-making remains wise travel advice, until the persistent slab problems can be ruled out.
<<--from NWAC

That's a pretty clear statement.  Currently, the PWL warning is not region wide, because it's not region wide.
« Last Edit: 01/25/16, 09:34 PM by AlpineRose » Logged
T. Eastman
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Re: Avalanche kills person near Mount Baker ski area
« Reply #7 on: 01/25/16, 09:48 PM »

Quote
Currently, the PWL warning is not region wide, because it's not region wide.

And "Moderate" is a region-wide determination though all hazards are dependent to aspect and can be extremely local? And this is with the information contained withing the cautionary statement?

Help me with the logic here.

 
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ccwaskier
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Re: Avalanche kills person near Mount Baker ski area
« Reply #8 on: 01/25/16, 10:28 PM »

And "Moderate" is a region-wide determination though all hazards are dependent to aspect and can be extremely local? And this is with the information contained withing the cautionary statement?

Help me with the logic here.

 

I wouldn't put too much emphasis on snowpack information being relayed through a news article. NWAC has discussed the persistent week layers extensively in their forecast over the past few weeks.  The forecast discussed that those layers were not present anymore in many areas due to Thursday's rain, but would remain in the discussion since they could still be an issue in some areas.
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Lowell_Skoog
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Re: Avalanche kills person near Mount Baker ski area
« Reply #9 on: 01/25/16, 11:44 PM »

Confusing report.  How could the ski patrol have seen them if they were on the north side of Mt Herman? Where is the Widow Maker run?

Condolences to family and friends.

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Jim Oker
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Re: Avalanche kills person near Mount Baker ski area
« Reply #10 on: 01/25/16, 11:47 PM »

Don't forget the "travel advice" for Moderate hazard rating:
Quote
Heigtened avalanche conditions on specific terrain features. Evaluate snow and terrain carefully; identify features of concern.

Features of concern - i.e. places where the PWL may have not broken down, or perhaps places where water percolation from the recent rain may have hit a sliding surface, or where the new snow warmed in the heat of day, etc., and of course perhaps places where the consequence of a slide might be especially bad particularly given the discussion of a decent amount of unpredictability to the location of higher hazards.

You of course can't just bank on the one-word rating - you have to pay attention to the details too. What you see out there of course, but also what field observers have reported and what else is shared in the forecast discussion, which has been speaking of these dispersed and somewhat hard to predict hazard areas.

The rating does not strike me as way off for what has been getting reported from the field. Some slides have happened. Lots and lots of people have been out w/o incident though.

As to this particular incident, my condolences to the victim's family and friends.
« Last Edit: 01/25/16, 11:59 PM by Jim Oker » Logged
Jim Oker
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Re: Avalanche kills person near Mount Baker ski area
« Reply #11 on: 01/25/16, 11:48 PM »

Lowell - take a look at the nwhikers thread on this death. Someone, I think pipedream, posted a photo of the slope, which is apparently visible from the upper lot at the ski area if I'm reading him correctly. More like NE or even ENE slope?
« Last Edit: 01/25/16, 11:54 PM by Jim Oker » Logged
pipedream
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Re: Avalanche kills person near Mount Baker ski area
« Reply #12 on: 01/26/16, 01:05 AM »

I shared that photo after hearing multiple comments that the slide occurred on an area known as the "Widowmaker". That zone is visible from the parking lot at HM and is NE-facing. The entire face is a rock slab with minimal vegetation - it's possible this week's rainfall percolated through to the rock beneath and lubricated it to the point where it could act as a bed surface making this a wet slab / climax event. Early details from NWAC indicate this was a natural slide which released from above.
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Moral of story is don't ski when you can snowboard
bwalt822
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Re: Avalanche kills person near Mount Baker ski area
« Reply #13 on: 01/26/16, 06:28 AM »

And "Moderate" is a region-wide determination though all hazards are dependent to aspect and can be extremely local? And this is with the information contained withing the cautionary statement?

Help me with the logic here.

 

Why do you seem to be upset with the NWAC forecast?  They got the forecast correct based on what I observed.  I don't think I saw any active slide activity that day, just about everything had slid from the rain already... Also I haven't read about anyone else seeing any slide activity other than the accident.
« Last Edit: 01/26/16, 06:33 AM by bwalt822 » Logged
kamtron
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Re: Avalanche kills person near Mount Baker ski area
« Reply #14 on: 01/26/16, 08:04 AM »

We triggered an R1D1 wind slab in the Tatoosh on Sunday that propagated surprisingly far. Reported it to NWAC; you can see it on the Obs page.

Such a bummer....
« Last Edit: 01/27/16, 10:51 AM by kamtron » Logged
dberdinka
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Re: Avalanche kills person near Mount Baker ski area
« Reply #15 on: 01/26/16, 08:26 AM »

Todd's anger or concern is reasonable just presented somewhat obtusely.  However based on initial reports this particular incident does not seem related to any persistent weak layer.

Much as there are still areas of safe travel during periods of high avalanche danger there are also areas that are simply unsafe regardless of the avalanche hazard.  The lower northeast slopes of Herman are one of those IMO.  In the last 5-10 years it’s become increasingly common to see skin tracks cutting across these slopes in an effort to reach the backbowls of Herman and Slate.  It’s disturbing.

Simple fact is that NWAC reports are not always accurate.  While they tend to capture the big trends correctly there are times when they miss unexpected and/or rapid changes in snowpack or localized variations.  But on a vast, vast majority of “moderate” days the potential for avalanches of consequence is basically zero.  As a result I think a lot of backcountry users will take that as the green light to jump on just about anything without considering an actual assessment of conditions as presented.  One could probably make an argument that NWAC reports are in some ways detrimental to the self-sufficiency and safety of experienced backcountry users and only really pertinent to the casual snowshoer/slackcountryer/general population.
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aaron_wright
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Re: Avalanche kills person near Mount Baker ski area
« Reply #16 on: 01/26/16, 08:37 AM »

I think the daily forecast, discussion and observations make the forecast relevant to everyone if used along with your own observations and judgement.

Like dberdinka says, this is a case of poor route selection. Maybe they triggered a small avalanche on the PWL and that took away the support of the upper slopes causing a far more dangerous climax avalance?
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David_Britton
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Re: Avalanche kills person near Mount Baker ski area
« Reply #17 on: 01/26/16, 08:41 AM »

Adding to dberdinka's helpful comments, Herman is large and very complex terrain. For example, many people confuse Herman's SE shoulder with Herman proper, when in fact they are separated by significant terrain features.

Herman is also wonderful skiing right next to a parking lot. It has many aspects, points many directions, and has many cliff bands. Hazards (avalanche, long slide) could vary completely on a single day depending on where you are on this mountain, no matter what a region-wide forecast says. I personally saw the relatively moderate E. face of Herman shoulder slab off with a hundreds-of-yards wide 3 foot crown. Two riders were flushed unhurt down nearly to Bagley creek.

I am saddened for all involved in this incident, the first of which in some time in the Baker backcountry, and hope the NWAC accident report has good photos so people can learn from this incident.
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cumulus
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Re: Avalanche kills person near Mount Baker ski area
« Reply #18 on: 01/26/16, 09:22 AM »

well put dberdinka

and to add to this:
As a result I think a lot of backcountry users will take that as the green light to jump on just about anything without considering an actual assessment of conditions as presented.  One could probably make an argument that NWAC reports are in some ways detrimental to the self-sufficiency and safety of experienced backcountry users and only really pertinent to the casual snowshoer/slackcountryer/general population.

I find a simple rule for backcountry travel is that:
every individual claim full authority.
NWAC is icing on the cake, not an institution to which you relegate authority. Same goes for skin tracks.

Conditions are never static. Every backcountry traveler has to make decisions in real time, on the fly, in flow, on the go.

Really sorry to hear what happened. Healing vibes to all involved.


a part of widowmaker can be seen here on the left (Justin Wood photo):



* widowmakerSM_HthrMdws.jpg (248.74 KB, 800x600 - viewed 2630 times.)
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Stefan
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Re: Avalanche kills person near Mount Baker ski area
« Reply #19 on: 01/26/16, 10:26 AM »

Simple fact is that NWAC reports are not always accurate.  While they tend to capture the big trends correctly there are times when they miss unexpected and/or rapid changes in snowpack or localized variations. 


Keep hammering on this point. NWAC should be viewed as only one (extremely valuable) tool in the toolkit. There is ample evidence of wet slab climaxes from the past several days since the big rain. Look over at Goat and Sefrit etc. All the usual rock slabs are popping. The rock slab on the south face of Herman is another trouble spot, anyone know if it went during this last cycle?
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dberdinka
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Re: Avalanche kills person near Mount Baker ski area
« Reply #20 on: 01/26/16, 03:02 PM »

While I personally did not know the victims I'm reposting the following from another website......

On behalf of Amanda Peart, a memorial fund has been setup to help support her and her children after the loss of her husband and their father, Mark Panthen. Mark at 36 years old leaves a beautiful, but devastated family. I hope you can find it within your hearts to share the link to Mark Panthen Memorial Fund to help Amanda and her children:

The Mark Panthen Memorial Fund 

We have a great Northwest community. Now is the time to come together to support this family in our community.

Thank you

« Last Edit: 01/26/16, 03:07 PM by dberdinka » Logged
ryanl
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Re: Avalanche kills person near Mount Baker ski area
« Reply #21 on: 01/26/16, 08:12 PM »

My heartfelt condolences to Amanda, her children, and all those who knew Mark. What a horrible loss.

In the vein of learning, where exactly in the photo is windowmaker and does anyone know or have theories about why the skiers were where they were? I've gotten the impression that they were traversing when the first skier got inured (by avalanche?). Then 2 more avalanches, both from above, occured. Does one usually  traverse beneath widowmaker to reach or return from common lines? Were they skiing a line? I don't know Baker all that well.
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Sidecut
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Re: Avalanche kills person near Mount Baker ski area
« Reply #22 on: 01/26/16, 09:31 PM »

It's worth looking at the TGR thread linked above - it has comments from people who were in the area and saw what happened, which helps make sense of it. This is a copy-and-paste.

"It appears that one of them was injured while skiing on the backside of what most people call Mt. Herman. Technically the true Mt. Hermon is behind to the west. They had called 911 for help with the injury so several people were watching them work their way down. They were coming from the backside of Herman and cutting under what is known as the Widowmaker, just on the apron of it. A slide from above hit them and now both were injured. A second and third slide came down from above them and really messed them up. It is amazing that they were not both fully buried or killed from trauma. These were very large wet slides going on the ground. Widowmaker is very steep and the ground is solid rock slab with no vegatation. We just had a ton of rain a 2 days before this so the water could not drain due to the solid rock. The stability really wasn't that bad anywhere else. I bet these were the only slides in the Mt Baker region yesterday. Strange set of circumstances really. A situation went from bad to worse. They longlined one guy out and left the other due to him being mostly buried, having severe head trauma and it being too unsafe to dig him out."

Such a tragic situation, my heart goes out to his family and friends and most especially his poor wife and kids.
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Charlie Hagedorn
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Re: Avalanche kills person near Mount Baker ski area
« Reply #23 on: 01/26/16, 10:00 PM »

I'm waiting to see the official, properly informed, analysis, but curiosity's hard to quash entirely.

I've barely skied the Baker BC, just ~six trips or so, but from photos people have posted, it sounds like the slide path is where I've labelled "Spot 2" on this map. I've refrained from using the path name because it seems too apropos at present.

http://caltopo.com/m/5M86

The edit password is "TAY"; do feel free to improve the map however you wish. To edit, click on the "Read-only" link, and it'll let you enter a password.
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Charlie Hagedorn
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Re: Avalanche kills person near Mount Baker ski area
« Reply #24 on: 01/26/16, 10:03 PM »

NWAC made a preliminary report in tonight's (for 1/27) avalanche forecast:

Quote from: Update to NWAC preliminary avalanche incident report for Mt. Herman – 1/24/2016

Two experienced skiers were hit by natural avalanches on the north side of Mt. Herman in the early afternoon on Sunday, January 24th 2016. One skier sustained a non-avalanche related injury. A call was placed to 911, initiating rescue. Both skiers continued descending the north side of Mt. Herman. A small, likely loose snow avalanche originating from steeper terrain above, caught and carried both skiers—no burials. The party then continued down-slope under their own power. A short time later, the party was struck by a secondary avalanche originating from a steep, isolated terrain feature above the party. After initial observations, the secondary slide appears to be a glide avalanche and not triggered by the party. The persistent slab problem is no longer suspected as a cause of this incident. Both skiers were caught, carried, and partially buried—one was injured and air lifted Sunday. The second skier sustained fatal traumatic injuries. His body was recovered on Monday, January 25th 2016. NWAC will be releasing the full incident report as soon as it is available.
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