Spring conditions bring new and unexpected avalanche dangers
On Friday, April 21, at approximately 4 p.m., Inyo County Sheriff’s Office (ICSO)received notification of a potential fatality on the Mountaineer’s Route on Mount Whitney. A party of climbers descending the eastern slope of Mount Whitney passed a male solo climber who was ascending the Route. Later, the group saw a backpack fall and realized that the climber may have fallen. They hiked to cell service at Iceberg Lake, where they reported the incident to ICSO.
At first light on Saturday, California Highway Patrol H-80 of Apple Valley began an aerial search and sighted the body of the victim in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park. A body recovery ensued on Sunday morning.
At approximately 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 22, ICSO received notification of an avalanche on the lower end of the Mountaineer’s Route. The slide was reported by a hiker who saw debris from the avalanche and noticed a single male hiker below the slide path. The victim, 64-year-old Sung Kim of Fullerton, CA, suffered a broken leg when he was swept away by the slide, and was successfully airlifted to Southern Inyo Hospital for treatment. The Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center (ESAC) reported that several other parties were partially buried in that slide, and that it carried several boulders that were at least 25 feet in diameter.
Still another avalanche-related incident occurred on the East Face of Mount Morrison on Friday, April 21, in which a hiker was carried nearly 1,500 feet by a large wet slab avalanche triggered by skiers above him. He was able to hike out with assistance, but was carried through a large rock band.
According to Doug Lewis, Lead Forecaster for ESAC, backcountry travelers need to be aware of unique dangers presented by spring backcountry travel. “When someone gets caught in an avalanche in the winter, 90% of the time, they or someone in their party triggered the slide. In the spring, that number is only 60 percent. That means that the other 40 percent of the time, the skier is just minding his own business,” said Lewis in a presentation at ESAC’s Spring Fling Event on Wednesday, April 26.