Detailed Accident Report
Submitted By: NWAC
Place: Near Source Lake, Snoqualmie Pass WA
Summary: 3 hikers caught, 2 completely buried, 1 mostly or completely buried, 2 killed
Source/Snow Lake Trail Avalanche Accident
Time: 2nd December 2007, approximately 15:00 hrs
Location: Near Source Lake, Snoqualmie Pass WA
Activity: Snow Hiking / Camping
Buried: 3 2 completely buried, 1 mostly or completely buried
and able to self extricate.
Preliminary Summary: compiled from rescuers and also statements made by the survivor: A party of 3 snow campers followed a popular summer hiking route to spend the night at Snow Lake. The trail traverses up the east side of the South Fork of the Snoqualmie River drainage and then climbs over a short but fairly steep ridge through a series of switchbacks before descending about 500? in elevation to Snow Lake. Snow Lake lies slightly over 3 miles from the trailhead in this adjacent drainage. The party departed from the trailhead at the Alpental parking lot on Snoqualmie Pass at approximately 1000 hrs, Saturday December 1st, 2007, and arrived at the lake by about 1300 hrs where they set up camp for the night. Snow began to fall in the area just after midday Saturday, continuing throughout the night and into the next day. Twenty inches of new snow was measured at the Alpental Ski Area snow study plot at 0700hrs Sunday, December 2nd. Mid-morning Sunday the party broke camp and ascended back to the dividing ridgeline. The wind was strong at their backs and the ridgeline was scoured to the old snow and dirt. It was obvious that the steep slope before them was in the lee and significantly loaded but the very strong wind made staying on the more exposed ridgeline uncomfortable and they began to descend onto the loaded slope. The survivor was the most experienced of the group and was in the lead, hoping to trigger a sluff ahead of him and relieve some of the slope?s avalanche potential. He stated that they began to descend in single file and reports hearing an exclamation from behind by one or both of the other party members just prior to being hit from behind by a wave of snow and carried down slope rapidly. The slide occurred at approximately 1500hrs. The ride is recalled as somewhat confusing with tumbling, light and dark, and the striking of at least one object with his left leg. When he came to rest he was either completely or mostly buried but able to self-extricate with some difficulty and remove his pack. Neither of his partners were visible and no one responded to his calls. His gloves were lost during the slide and after trying to move around looking for clues he realized that he would need to work to survive himself.
Co-workers raised the alarm when one of the group did not report to work Monday morning, the vehicle was verified to be at the trail head late Monday afternoon and the official alarm was raised. An additional sixteen inches of new snow was measured on Monday morning at the Alpental plot but the precipitation had changed to rain in the early morning hours and several inches of rain were forecasted.
The Professional Patrol from the Alpental Resort were requested to be initial response and determine avalanche hazard potential to any rescue response. Hazard was determined to be very high still with ongoing rain Monday evening and based on forecasted decreasing precip rates for the following day plans were made to evaluate first thing Tuesday morning. A team of two pro patrollers and a trained avalanche dog went in at 0800 hours Tuesday morning and assessed remaining hazard potential on the route into the area. The team determined hazard to have decreased enough to allow searchers to follow into the area and King County Sheriff?s Department began deploying additional teams around 0915 hrs. Team One arrived at the accident site at around 1000 hrs and found a partially erected tent and evidence of an older (soft snow) avalanche.
Contact was made with an injured person in the tent and it was learned that an avalanche accident had occurred Sunday afternoon and two persons were unaccounted for. One rescuer initiated care for the patient, and the second rescuer immediately began a hasty search and dog search. The dog alerted about three minutes into the search and uncovered the arm of victim # 1. Death was verified by the handler while the dog was sent back to searching. A couple personal items were also uncovered by the dog as the search continued and the second victim was found by the dog about 60 yards upslope about 20 minutes later. The second victim was also verified to have expired and the search was suspended. The patient was winched from the scene about an hour later by a rescue helicopter and is expected to survive his injuries. A more complete incident report will follow in a few days.
R. Gibson, Summit at Snoqualmie Professional Patrol