Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 2001-01-29
Submitted By: KM
Place: Twin Lakes, Chelan County
State: WA
Country: USA
Fatalities: 1
Summary: 2 snowshoers, 3 dogs caught, 1 person killed. 1 Dog killed.

For the full report with pictures for the Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center, goto:

Twin Lakes Avalanche Accident, Twin Lakes, WA?01-29-2001

Two snowshoers caught, one partially buried, one completely buried, one killed; one buried and

presumed dead

Accident and Rescue narrative by Joanne Stanford, Stevens Pass Ski Patrol, Stevens Pass, WA and Mike Stanford, WSDOT Avalanche Control,

Stevens Pass, WA

Day 1

Monday, January 29,2001

After leaving the Tall Timber Trailhead (just north of the Napeequa Crossing Campground on White River Road northwest of Lake Wenatchee) and snowshoeing up the Napeequa River Trail to the northeast of the road junction, two snowshoers, Seneca and Jay, arrived at the upper Twin Lake (see aerial photo?Figure 1 below) at approx. 1445/1500, along with their three dogs. One dog belonged to Seneca and the other two were Jay?s (Katie & Collier). On the way to the lake it was snowing lightly, temperatures were relatively cold and winds mostly light. They stayed for just a few minutes and then turned around and started out at approximately 1515 hours. As they left the upper lake their route took them under a west facing cliff band with an open creek at the bottom of a ravine. See Figures 2 and 3 for the cliff band and the short steep slope that lay just below the cliff.

At this time the wind and temperature had increased and there was in increase in blowing snow. Reports from the nearby Tall Timber Ranch indicated that the temperature had increased from the teens to about 30o F in an hour and a half around the time of the accident (see the hourly weather data from nearby Stevens Pass below). During the traverse down and across the ravine, the snowshoers triggered a small slide (see Figure 4 below) that caught both of them and swept them down toward the creek?see Figures 4 and 5 below for the terrain trap that lay below the relatively small slope. Seneca stated that Jay was 20? to 25? in front of her and described the slide as approximately 75? to 100? wide, splitting and flowing around "brush". Seneca?s head stayed above the slide. Her pole straps were on and she tried to "pole her way out of the slide". Her left leg was stuck more than her right and ultimately she was buried up to her waist. While she was digging herself out she was yelling for Jay but got no answer. Her dog and Katie were on top the snow and "freaked out". However, there was no sign of Jay or Collier. Seneca probed with her ski pole for approx.10 minutes, but during this time she heard "whumping sounds" and noticed that the wind was increasing.

As a result she decided to leave for her own safety and try to get help. She crossed over to the other side of the creek and traversed out to the Napeequa River trail. She reported the accident to Stan Fishburn at Tall Timber Ranch and they called 911 at 1830 hours. Because it was dark, the avalanche danger was still perceived as high, and Jay?s potential for survival was decreasing every minute the sheriff decided to wait until morning to search. At this time there were stars visible and very little wind.

Day 2

Tuesday, January 30, 2001

The rescue group met at Tall Timber at 0700 hours.

Eight college students from Whitworth College in Spokane had been at Tall Timber for 3 weeks participating in a backcountry awareness course taught by Stan Fishburn, director of Tall Timbers Ranch. I had made previous arrangements to meet with the students at 0900 for 3 hours. On this last day of their program, they wanted to watch my avalanche dog Denali work and I was going to spend some time with them on beacon searches.

At approx. 0900, Mike Stanford (an avalanche control team member from WSDOT at Stevens Pass and the avalanche rescue advisor) and Matt Fields (Chelan County Deputy Sheriff) decided to send in an initial party of four. Stan Fishburn was very familiar with the area so he was appointed as the team leader. One of the college students, Dusty and two other rescuers journeyed into the site on snowshoes. When they arrived at what they thought was the

location, they reported that most of the recent snowfall had sluffed off and felt fairly confident that it was safe for more searchers to come and assist with the rescue operation.

At 12:50 my avalanche dog Denali, four more college students and I started in to the accident location. We arrived at approx.1445. In the meantime the initial party had been probing what they presumed was the slide debris below the cliff band.

I had Denali sit and rest and then started her search. For an hour we searched around most likely burial spots, the trees and the creek bed. During this time Seneca?s statement about the brush kept going through my head. Where we were initially, there was a leafless tree in the middle of the slope and two firs on either side but no brush. Then I looked down the creek and saw brush. As a result one searcher and I moved to that area.

Denali and I took one more break. I fed her some food and she drank some water. I then started her search again. At approx. 1600 Denali alerted next to a large boulder. I called for another shovel and probe and I also started to dig. We uncovered a ski pole 1 ?? deep. I radioed Search Base (that had been established at Tall Timbers Ranch) that we found a pole. After hearing the description of the pole we were informed that it was Seneca?s pole.

Upon this site confirmation, we moved the remaining searchers down to that area. Search Base had earlier advised us to come out at 1600 hours. We requested that we be allowed to stay longer and Search Base then advised us to come out at 1700, in order to avoid crossing potentially unstable avalanche terrain in the dark.

The searchers probed around likely spots while Denali continued to search around the alders and other likely burial spots. As we moved down the creek she alerted (not a strong alert, but an alert none the less) next to an alder over the creek bed. I dug down approximately 2 feet , put her back in the hole and she once again started to dig up the creek. We pulled her out and continued to dig. By now the time was 1740 hours, the wind was increasing and tree bombs were dropping.

We decided to leave at that time. We marked the site of the ski pole and the hole that Denali alerted on with surveyors tape, and came out safely in the dark.

Day 3

Wednesday, January 31, 2001

I wasn?t physically able to return to the site the next day so I called Larry Goldie (another professional patroller from Stevens Pass Ski Area) and his search dog Scooby to come down from Stevens Pass, about an hour and a half away. We had a briefing at 0630 at Tall Timber, and then fifteen searchers including Larry and Scooby were on the trail at 0730.

As they journeyed toward the site Larry and three others moved out ahead of the rest, as they wanted to get Scooby in first to search without additional contamination in the area. They arrived on scene about 10 minutes ahead of the rest of the group. Larry said Scooby wasn?t her normal excited self. He used every trick he could to get her excited but she didn?t appear to be interested. However, she did alert on the same hole that Denali alerted on the day before.

After Scooby searched for approx. ? hour the rest of searchers arrived on scene and formed a probe line under the direction of the accident site commander Tim (Chelan County sheriff?s deputy). Fifteen searches then formed a probe line and began to fine probe perpendicular to the creek bed, the upper end of the probe line starting where the ski pole had been found. At 1050 after 5 probe steps one of the probers reported a strike and Jay was

subsequently found.

He was 8? down creek from the recovered ski pole and approximately 4? deep. He had his right arm over his face to form an air pocket and was dug out directly over running water. After subsequently discussing the position of the victim, Larry and I decided that both dogs did get Jay?s scent but it was traveling down the creek and coming up next to the alder.

The accident site was a west facing slope, elevation approx. 2800?. The slope angle was approx. 40o. Around the time of the accident the temperature rose rapidly Monday afternoon when the front passed through and winds were shifting (from east to west). At Tall Timber Ranch the temperature was reported as rising from the teens to 30 o in under two hours. The winds at the 5000 ft level at nearby Stevens Pass were gusting up to 60 mph Monday

afternoon (see the attached hourly weather data from the ski area automated weather site). The crown of the slab was approx. 6? to 8?wide and 16 to 18" deep, spreading out somewhat as it moved downhill. The path was approx. 20? to 25? wide and 80? to 90? long, all in all a relatively small but dangerous slide, especially considering the terrain trap and the creek. The slab was apparently formed from a combination of increasing winds and rising temperatures, with surface hoar as the weak layer and an old ice crust as the sliding surface.