Another Cascade mountain avalanche,
two more dead
This time teen snowshoers near Alpental
February 27, 2018
Snow avalanche seen here in back country near Alpental ski area. Photo courtesy Benjamin Krause/Outdoorproject.com
CLICK TO ENLARGE: Map shows avalanche chutes outlined in red along the Snow Lake trail in the back country near Alpental ski area. Image courtesy Northwest Avalanche Center.
(ALPENTAL) – This time of year in the back country of the Cascade mountains here in Washington it is either nasty dangerous or can turn that way in an instant.
First, a weekend snow avalanche in Kittitas County killed a Bellevue man and injured others who were out for a fun day of snowmobiling. They were caught flat footed eating their lunch at the bottom of a snow slope that gave way.
Now, two teens from Bellevue have lost their lives in a separate avalanche in a different part of the Cascades.
The King County Sheriff’s office says the boys, 17 and 18 years old, were friends who went snowshoeing Sunday night in the back country of the Alpental/ Snow Lake area of Snoqualmie Pass.
“One of the teens was an experienced snowshoer, both teens were wearing avalanche beacons,” said a statement from the sheriff’s office. The parents of the teens called 911 around 10 pm Sunday night Feb. 25 after the boys had not returned home as expected.
The sheriff’s office said searchers were unable to search for them Sunday night “because of treacherous conditions including extreme avalanche dangers.”
Monday morning around 8 am King County Search and Rescue crews were able to start searching and with the help of GPS on one of the teen’s phones they were able to get a longitude/latitude of where they were generally located.
“At one point the searchers themselves had to pull out because of another avalanche that they were concerned would occur,” said sheriff’s office spokesman Sergeant Ryan D. Abbott. “When search and rescue was able to go back to the area a short time later they found the teens, unfortunately they were deceased due to an avalanche.”
Check back country conditions before you go
Authorities cannot stress enough the advice to check the danger level of back country conditions before you head out in the dead of winter like this to do any kind recreational activity be it snowmobiling or snowboarding.
Back country users are encouraged to check the website of the Northwest Avalanche Center (NAC) (https://www.nwac.us/) which usually begins issuing avalanche danger warnings about mid November of each year.
The NAC notes that the nearby mountains to our heavily populated Puget Sound region are inviting, nearby, and easy to access, which means it’s easy to get into avalanche terrain.
A posting on the NAC's website says:
“As newer hikers look for winter recreation opportunities, many are drawn to familiar summer trails, and they may overlook the dramatic changes that occur as winter settles in to the mountains—and underestimate the hazards involved.
To illustrate this problem, consider the Snow Lake trail in the Alpental Valley, by some counts the most visited in the state. Although continuous winter traffic may give the impression of a “trail”, following it engages the traveler in a series of large avalanche paths.
See image above right of the known avalanche chutes above the Snow Lake trail.
Red flags are red flags: The NAC says red flags are obvious signs that avalanche danger is present or increasing, and they are helpful even without an avalanche advisory. Back country travelers learn to recognize them as useful data requiring little interpretation. Red flags include:
• Recent avalanches
• Wind loading
• Heavy snow or rainfall
• Significant warming
• Signs of unstable snow (cracking or whumpfing)
When you see any of these signs, it’s a good idea to move to a safe spot and to check in with your partners and with your plans. Ask yourself if your route might expose you to avalanche hazard, and if there is a way to avoid it. If you aren’t sure, adjust your plans accordingly.