Detailed Accident Report
Submitted By: CAIC
Place: Near Baldy Peak, east of Ridgway
Summary: 1 ice climber, approaching on skis, caught, buried, killed
*** OFFICIAL REPORT FROM THE CAIC ***
Link to report on CAIC site with photos: avalanche.state.co.us
Rescue workers and the investigators believe the climber arrived in the area and was traversing under a cliff band when the avalanche released. This was a large an destructive avalanche. The vegetation damage was impressive. In the United States deaths in dry natural avalanches are uncommon (about 10% of people killed since 1950), while 40% of people killed in wet avalanches died in a natural release.
The day of the slide was the warmest day of the season to date. The closest remote weather station is at Mile Marker 88 on US550 (9400' asl). Although in very different terrain, temperatures rose to 48F on March 29, dropped to 22F overnight, and rose to 53F on March 30. They were 32F or greater from 10am (3/29) until 8pm (3/29), and then again at 10am on March 30. The high temperature on March 30 occurred at 4pm. Winds were very strong and gusty out of the south (20-30 mph, gusts to 60 at the Mt. Abrams weather station (12,000' asl)). A storm on the March 27th had left up to 21" of snow with 1.6" water equivalent at the closest CAIC snow study plot (Monument) ~14 miles to the north. During the month of March, there were five storms that deposited a foot or more of snow at this study site. The March 2010 is the snowiest March in the 17 year record at this site by about 2 feet with a total of 86 inches.
Forecasters investigating the scene were unable to assess the snowpack as the crown was above an impassable cliff area. Based on observations at the elevation of the track and in CAIC's Northern San Juan zone, we speculate there was a thick slab of snow resting on weak basal facets.
EVENTS LEADING TO AVALANCHE
The victim went to climb a remote ice climb on the northeast side of Baldy Peak on Tuesday March 30th. Other details of the events leading up to the avalanche are largely unknown as the victim was traveling alone. There were no witnesses.
Based on evidence at the scene, we believe that the slide released as a natural avalanche. Weak basal snow, a series of snow events in March, and very warm temperatures contributed to this natural avalanche and several other natural avalanches that released on the same day (in Sneffles Range).
Ouray County Search and Rescue was contacted on Wednesday March 31st when a friend found that the climber had not returned home. A small team went to assess the scene Wednesday afternoon and discovered the avalanche. A ski track entered the debris, but did not lead out. They found the climbers pack, one climbing skin and dog, though were unable to locate the climber. The dog was frantic and would not leave the scene. Darkness hampered further rescue efforts, so they decided to return the next day. A larger rescue team as well as 2 avalanche rescue dogs and their handlers arrived at the staging area early on the morning of April 1st. A team of 2 went into the area, followed shortly thereafter by the dog teams and four additional. After several hours of searching the complex terrain, a dog team located a ski. The ski was found at the toe of the debris, in line with the clues that were found the day before (pack, climbing skin). Rescuers decided to do a probe search up the likely line of trajectory. After about 45 minutes rescuers felt they had a strike and dug down to confirm. One of the avalanche dogs also alerted in the area. Rescuers continued to dig and found the body of the missing climber under 5 to 6 feet snow and debris.
The victim in this accident was a very experienced backcountry traveler and a certified alpine mountain guide (AMGA). She had completed professional level avalanche safety training (AIARE Level III).