MOUNT WASHINGTON – A Special Operations Wounded Warrior and two others were injured after falling 800 feet in an avalanche on Mount Washington Thursday during their attempt to summit the Northeast's highest mountain.
According to White Mountain National Forest spokesman Tiffany Benna, U.S. Marine veteran Keith Zeier and an 11-member support team were climbing Central Gully in Huntington Ravine when the avalanche happened. Zeier was roped to the other two who were swept down the mountain.
The injuries, Benna said, were reported as being non-life threatening. Zeier, who was wounded in 2006 during a deployment to Iraq when an IED explosion hit his humvee and he subsequently lost his leg, was climbing with the support of the Special Operations Warrior Foundation for the Ascents of Honor project.
The three hikers, though injured, wer able to slowly make their way to rescuers, who assistied them off the mountain, according to a Friday morning post on the Ascents of Honor Facebook page.
"Unfortunately our summit bid was unsuccessful. As we approached the top of Huntington Ravine, a slab avalanche broke loose and swept three of our climbers down to the bottom of the ravine. They were injured, but able to slowly make their way to rescuers, who assisted them off the mountain.
"The other nine climbers were able to descend and walk out of the ravine on their own power. While this is certainly not the outcome we had hoped for, we are thankful that all in our party are safely off the mountain. We extend a heartfelt thanks to the US Forest Service and local Mountain Rescue Service personnel for their assistance, and look forward to sharing more details after we all get some rest. Thank you all for your support throughout this project!" the Facebook posting said.
The rescue call came in around 5:30 p.m. with four U.S. Forest Service Snow Rangers, 17 volunteers from the North Conway Mountain Rescue, one AMC employee, and the caretaker of the Harvard Cabin responding, Benna said. She said the rescue went well, with great teamwork, and that it was completed by 12:30 a.m. Friday.
The injured were taken by ambulance to Androscoggin Valley Hospital in Berlin.
The party of 12, she said, was roped in teams of three. Benna said the group knew of the avalanche warnings in place on Thursday because a U.S. Forest Service snow ranger talked with them and made them aware of the hazards.
She stressed that anyone considering climbing in the area should check the daily reports at mountwashingtonavalanchecenter.org.
Since 1956, 12 climbers have died in avalanches in the Presidential Range, one of whom was 29-year-old Albert Dow in 1982. Dow was a member of the Mountain Rescue Service and was part of search party looking for two missing climbers when he was caught in an avalanche on Jan. 25, 1982.