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Accident Prevention

Despite Warnings, Three Injured in Mount Washington Avalanche

Three climbers were injured including an Iraqi War veteran on a fund-raising climb when an avalanche ripped down Central Gully in Huntington Ravine on New Hampshire's Mount Washington.

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Three climbers were injured including an Iraqi War veteran on a fund-raising climb when an avalanche ripped down Central Gully (WI 1, first climbed in 1927) in Huntington Ravine on New Hampshire’s Mount Washington last Thursday.

The climbers, part of a group of 12 included Keith Zeier, 26, of Brooklyn who lost a leg to an IED in Iraq and was climbing with a prosthetic limb. The climb was to raise money for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation. Zeier and the two other climbers carried away by the avalanche did not sustain life-threatening injuries. Four rangers and 19 volunteers from the Harvard Mountain Club and the Appalachian Mountain Club rescued the climbers.

According to the Mount Washington Avalanche Center, the 12 climbers were roped into four teams, and included a film crew. The highest team triggered a soft-slab avalanche approximately 20 feet wide and 180 feet long that swept over the lower three teams. The climbers below the lead team were carried over an ice bulge and fell 800 feet to the base of the route. Another group was able to self-arrest and avoid being carried away. The fourth team was swep downslope but stopped when their rope snagged on an exposed rope.

The climbers had begun their ascent at 8:30 a.m., having been advised the evening before by a USFS Snow Ranger who noted that there was an increasing avalanche danger.The day of the climb the danger was “Moderate,” meaning that human-triggered avalanches are possible.

The Avalanche Center reports that the team had pressed on with the climb due to pressures of accomplishing the fund-raising ascent. It also notes that a fast-moving group could probably have made a safe ascent, but that 12 climbers, a film crew and one climber with an artificial limb simply moved too slowly, during which time falling snow increased the avalanche danger. This was “clearly a complex situation where a lot decisions
needed to be made as the day unfolded,” notes the Avalanche Center. “We believe that this was an
avoidable accident that fortunately resulted in very minor injuries
considering the magnitude of the incident.”