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Armstrong and Williams - The Avalanche Book
I concentrated on material pertinent to the Northwest or to the entire United States. I skimmed over stories about avalanche work in regions outside the Northwest.
Chapter 1 - Why Tell of Avalanches
p. 10: On April 26, 1975, a party of 29 climbers set up camp on the Forsyth Glacier on the north slope of Mt St Helens. Skies were partly cloudy but winds gusted to 60 mph. At 8:26 p.m, the campsite was struck by an avalanche. At least 18 people were completely buried, most inside their tents. Rescue efforts began immediately and continued throughout the night. Five people died. On p. 9 is a photo of the avalanche location.
p. 11: The authors briefly describe several accidents on Mt Rainier:
- Mar 9, 1969 - Solo ski mountaineer killed on Panorama Point.
- Nov 18, 1974 - One of two climbers killed during descent of Success Cleaver.
- Dec 31, 1977 - Another fatality on Panorama Point.
- Mar 4, 1979 - Willi Unsoeld and Janie Diepenbrock killed below Cadaver Gap.
- Jun 21, 1981 - Eleven of 22 climbers killed by ice avalanche on Ingraham Glacier, the worse accident in U.S. mountaineering history.
p. 12: No fatal avalanches have been recorded in the Olympic Mountains of Washington during the 20th century, mostly due to limited winter access.
p. 18: The authors estimate that 100,000 avalanches fall annually in the United States. An average avalanche is two to three feet deep at the fracture line, 100 to 200 feet wide, and falls 300 to 500 feet in elevation at 40 to 60 mph (p. 23). The authors also discuss the extremes in avalanche size and speed.
Chapter 2 - History and Avalanches
p. 38: The most disastrous avalanche in U.S. history occurred in 1910 near the town of Wellington in Washington. The authors provide a two-page description apparently drawn from The Snowy Torrents. The death toll was 96, with 22 survivors.
p. 41: During World War I, the Austrians and Italians used avalanches as a weapon of mass destruction. "No one knows how many lives were lost in the avalanche warfare, but estimates are in the thousands. Colin Fraser gives a range of a conservative 40,000 to as high as 80,000. He quotes a famous skiing pioneer and avalanche expert who trained the Austrian Alpine troops: 'The mountains in winter were more dangerous than the Italians.'"
Chapter 5 - The Right Choice
p. 102: On January 27, 1974, six members of two Seattle families embarked on a snowshoe tour to Source Lake, Washington. Avalanche hazard was posted as high. The party was caught by an avalanche falling from the slopes of Chair Peak. Two young girls, ages 10 and 13, were buried under 30 feet of snow. Their bodies were recovered seven months later.
p. 103: The authors describe three broad groups of victims based on their ability to assess risk:
- Those who were totally unaware that an avalanche hazard existed and that they were at risk.
- Those who were aware of and accepted the risk of their sport but who lacked the experience to properly evaluate the conditions.
- Thoroughly skilled and experienced skiers or mountaineers capable of evaluating the situation to arrive at a well-considered decision. Unfortunately, even this group is not immune to avalanche accidents.
p. 108: Since the introduction of avalanche beacons in the U.S. around 1970, at least 17 lives have been saved by these units.
p. 117: The authors provide a first-person description of being caught in an avalanche in Utah. On pp. 127 and 128 are two more stories from Colorado.
Chapter 6 - When Things Go Wrong
p. 119: Nine out of every ten people caught by avalanches survive, because most victims are not buried. Of those totally buried, with no clues on the surface, only one out of four survive.
p. 130: In December 1973, snow ranger Robert Cooper was caught in a slide at his home area of White Pass, Washington. He was dug out from three feet of snow in six minutes, uninjured.
Chapter 7 - Getting Things Under Control
p. 142: Military weapons were first used for avalanche protection in Europe during the 1930s. Twenty years earlier, in World War I, weapons had been used to trigger avalanches to cause death.
p. 147: In 1971 and 1972, serious accidents occurred at the snowshed several miles east of Snoqualmie Pass. This shed protects the westbound lanes of I-90 but not the eastbound lanes. The 1971 accident killed a motorist. The 1972 accident trapped three school teachers in a car. When rescuers later probed the car through its broken windshield, the driver, Ralph McEwen, grabbed it and jerked it downward. "I wanted to make sure those people knew we were down there," he said. The rescuer was equally startled. "Someone's pulling my probe back down!" he shouted. The rescue was a success. On p. 146 is a photo of the snowshed.
p. 154: In the 1960s, a snow ranger at Crystal Mountain, Washington pulled the lanyard while standing behind a recoilless rifle and was killed instantly by the backblast. According to the authors, this was the only person ever to die while firing this weapon in the U.S.
Chapter 8 - Avalanches and the Law
p. 181: In 1966, Ed LaChapelle was hired to do a feasibility study for developing property at what would become the Yodelin ski area. LaChapelle warned against any construction across the valley from the ski area because of avalanche danger. The property was sold to a different developer and construction began. During the summer of 1968, LaChapelle drove past the area and noticed new cabins in the avalanche area he had identified in his report. He sent a new report to the State Real Estate Division, expressing his concern. The state sent a letter to the developer, which prompted the developer to threaten legal action against the state, claiming damages. Eventually, the matter was dropped.
On January 24, 1971, a major storm caused the slope above the cabins to avalanche, killing four. More than half a dozen law suits followed, documented by Sue Ferguson in the February 1985 issue of The Avalanche Review. During an appeal in 1975, the courts found that the State of Washington had a "duty to warn" about the hazard and could be tried for negligence if it could be proven that they had not warned the properly owners properly. In 1973, in response to the Yodelin accident, the State of Washington enacted the Land Development Act, which requires the disclosure of "any hazard on or around the development" of 10 lots or more. Single lots are exempt from the requirement. A suit by the Yodelin residents against the developer is believed to have been settled out of court. On p. 187 is an aerial photo of the Yodelin avalanche site.
p. 184: An inquiry following the Wellington disaster in 1910 attributed the death of nearly 100 persons "to the decree of God alone." The Great Northern Railroad was absolved of responsibility.
Chapter 9 - Avalanche Studies
p. 194: The Forest Service started its first avalanche research program at Alta, Utah in the winter of 1937-38. C.D. Wadsworth was the first full-time snow ranger. Monty Atwater arrived at Alta in the fall of 1945, after discharge from the 10th Mountain Division. Atwater organized the first avalanche school at Alta in 1949. On p. 197 is a photo of Monty Atwater, Lowell Thomas, Ed LaChapelle, and PIF, the first American avalanche dog, in the 1950s.
p. 199: By 1971, research had ceased at Alta, continuing at Fort Collins, Colorado. No longer were operational people and researchers working and living together, resulting in a gap in information exchange. In 1985, the Forest Service's snow and avalanche research group at Fort Collins was terminated.
p. 210: The authors briefly discuss regional avalanche forecasting centers, including the Northwest Avalanche Center in Seattle.
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