Patrick Luk is bloodied and bruised but not bowed or broken, despite tumbling hundreds of feet down a steep gully on Mount Adams.
Luk, 22, said when he finally came to rest on the floor of Great Gully Monday afternoon, his first thought wasn’t about how fortunate he was to be alive, instead, “I was just thinking, ‘How the hell do I get out?’”
It took him more than seven hours of crawling in soft, untracked snow to reach the trailhead parking lot. There he was able to contact authorities, he said Wednesday via Skype from his home in Weare.
“I’m not going to let this stop me,” Luk said. “It’s an experience; I learned from it.”
The John Stark Regional High School graduate is currently taking a break from pursuing a bachelor’s degree in biology from Northeastern University.
Luk hiked up Mount Adams Monday morning and was preparing to ski down the gully within King Ravine around 4 p.m. when an ice slab broke and he fell and tumbled 600 to 1,000 feet to the gully floor.
Having skied Great Gully before, Luk said he was prepared.
He wore a helmet, multiple layers of clothing, had crampons on his boots to help in his ascent, and had an ice pick wrapped around one of his wrists when he was positioning himself for the descent.
“It was pretty extreme skiing in the grand scheme of things,” Luk said. “Basically, you’re skiing down a gully. It’s pretty steep stuff.”
When the ice slab broke, Luk said he tried to wedge his left ski upslope, but couldn’t. The binding released, soon followed by the binding on his right ski. Having raced competitively and fallen before, Luk said he knew that the safest thing for him to do was to “let it happen.”
“For the first few feet I was sliding. I tried to swing into the ground with my axe and it literally snapped off my wrist, off my ski pole. At one point I was thrown onto my back and felt weightless for what seemed like ten seconds. I landed back on the ground and went airborne again for quite a while and slid until I stopped.”
At the bottom, Luk realized that his skis, poles and axe were missing, although he did find his goggles nearby. He called 911, but managed to get the operator on the line for only three seconds, and then only when he was almost out of the gully.
Several hours earlier, Luk’s mother, Rebecca Stamp, concerned that he hadn’t contacted her at 5 p.m. as expected, alerted authorities.
A state trooper left a note on Luk’s Honda in the Appalachia trailhead parking lot. When Luk made it to his car about 11:30 p.m., he was able to call Troop F in Twin Mountain, just as a full-fledged search mission was headed out to Mount Adams.
Transported to Androscoggin Valley Hospital in Berlin, Luk was released on Tuesday morning.
He said he has some follow-up visits scheduled with his doctors. While his right knee is questionable, his hips are fine. His cuts and scratches are healing; not one of them even required stitches.
He plans to go back to Great Gully, saying he would not have done anything differently than he did on Monday.
“It was just bad luck,” Luk said. “Had that slab not released, had my binding not released, had I been on both skis, that would have been fine.”
Luk, who was wearing a helmet, sustained serious but not life-threatening injuries to his head and legs. He was taken by ambulance to Androscoggin Valley Hospital where he was kept overnight for observation. Luk was released on Tuesday morning and has since returned home, said Fish and Game Sgt. Mark Ober.
Luk, who was not available for comment yesterday, was fortunate to be wearing his helmet, which Ober said probably did save his life. Luk was also lucky, Ober said, in that he slid down the slope — between 600 and 1,000 feet, by Luk's estimate — rather than fall vertically, and also that an expected rain storm held off until he was almost to safety.
Ober said it's unusual for Fish and Game to get called out to Great Gully, which is in King Ravine, on the north side of Mount Adams, because, "in fact, it's pretty dangerous" to be skiing there, "and the only people who try it are those experienced in the endeavor. Patrick did tell me he's done it three to four times in the past, so it's not his first time doing it."
Seemingly unable to find companions as skilled as he was on Monday, Luk, said Ober, decided to go up by himself, but he was well prepared, carrying a full pack, an ice ax, crampons, skis, boots and poles. Luk began ascending the Airline trail around 11 a.m. Monday and had hiked to an elevation of 5,200 feet before "slabbing off-trail," said Ober, to access the top of the Great Gully. Around 4 p.m., Luk had just started skiing when the slab of ice broke away and he fell.
Unable to contact 911 and knowing that he was running out of daylight and that rain was coming, Luk realized he had to get out of the gully, Ober said. After making it to the Short Line trail, Luk was able to get back to his car at 11:37 p.m. from where he called State Police.
About an hour earlier, Ober and two other conservation officers as well as three members of the Androscoggin Valley Search and Rescue Team began looking for Luk after his mother contacted authorities to say she had not heard from him.
On Tuesday afternoon, Ober said he got an e-mail from Luk saying he was home, but Ober did not provide other details of the message.
Asked whether incidents like Luk's are common at Great Gully, Ober replied "knock on wood, no. There isn't a whole bunch of people who (ski there) so these incidents are rare. We've had incidents in the past where people are ice climbing and fell but as far as skiers who are doing this, it really takes someone who is experienced and has had some sort of training to do because it is pretty dangerous."
Accidents are also rare in Great Gully, Ober said. Few people go there because it's also so physically demanding and requires hours of climbing in exchange for just a five- to six-minute ski run.
Luk is "very, very lucky" that he wasn't more seriously injured, said Ober.
"This is a rare occurrence where someone is able to self-extricate," Ober added, noting that in his nine years on the job he could not think of another similar situation.