3 Killed in Washington in North America’s Deadliest Avalanche of the Season

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Colchuck Peak, Washington, avalanche
Colchuck Peak, WA. Credit: Summit Post

Three climbers were killed in an avalanche in Washington on Sunday in the nation’s deadliest avalanche of the season.

The avalanche occurred on Colchuck Peak at the South end of Colchuck Lake, approximately eight miles South of Leavenworth, WA, reports the Chelan County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO).

The reporting party, a 53-year-old Maryland man, reported the group he was with had attempted to climb Colchuck Peak on Sunday, February 19th. Six climbers were in that group, and the reporting party had stayed at their base camp that day. The lead climber triggered an avalanche while attempting to climb the Northeast Couloir of Colchuck Peak. Four of the climbers were swept down the couloir approximately 500 feet.

Three of the climbers died as a result of trauma sustained in the fall. They were a 60-year-old female from New York, a 66-year-old male from New Jersey, and a 53-year-old male from Connecticut. The fourth climber, a 56-year-old male from New York, sustained non-life-threatening injuries and could hike back to base camp with the remaining two. They were a 50-year-old male from New York and a 36-year-old male from New Jersey.

When they arrived at camp, they sent the reporting party for help. When Deputies took the report, a SAR coordinator started gathering resources. A total of 22 rescuers responded to the trailhead to assist with this effort. They were from Chelan County Mounty Rescue, Chelan County Volunteer Search and Rescue and OR V unit, Seattle Mountain Rescue, Tacoma Mountain Rescue, and Yakima Mountain Rescue. A group of four from Chelan County Mountain Rescue responded to the lake, driven part of the way by the CCVSAR ORV unit. They reached the base camp at approximately 1:30 pm. They determined avalanche conditions were too hazardous to continue to the deceased climbers. They escorted the surviving climbers back to the trailhead.

“A group of six climbers attempted to climb the Northeast Couloir route on Colchuck Peak. At approximately 1:15 pm, while ascending the route, the lead climber triggered a slab avalanche that caught and carried four members of the team approximately 500ft to the base of the climb. Three climbers suffered fatal traumatic injuries, and fourth sustained lower extremity injuries. The remaining climbers attempted to evacuate all individuals but were unsuccessful. Subsequent natural avalanches impacted the accident site in the hours following the event. The Chelan County Sheriff’s office was notified of the accident on Monday, February 20th. Chelan County Mountain Rescue traveled to the site and assisted the injured party member to the trailhead.”

NWAC Preliminary Investigation

Colchuck Peak, WA

Recovery efforts will be ongoing this week as weather and avalanche conditions allow. NWAC is working with Chelan County Sheriff’s office and will provide updates as more information becomes available.

Rescuers were not sent back to the scene yesterday due to hazardous conditions. CCSO continues to work with Northwest Avalanche Center to assist in a recovery plan.

Avalanche danger on Sunday was moderate above treeline, moderate at treeline, and low below treeline in the Colchuck area.

“Expect increasing danger on Sunday as a multi-day storm begins to affect the area. Wind slabs should grow in size at upper elevations near the crest, and could be reactive on a recently buried weak snow or a slick crust. Take a step back in your terrain selection, identifying large steep slopes in the wind zone that hold questionable stability.”

– Sunday Forecast

There have been nine avalanche deaths in the US this winter and nine in CanadaThey are the first in Washington this season. On average, the US sees 27 avalanche deaths a season.

Sunday’s avalanche danger. Credit: NWAC

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4 thoughts on “3 Killed in Washington in North America’s Deadliest Avalanche of the Season

  1. This is the sixth fatal incident this season, the ten year average is 12.89. The fatality count is 9 and the ten year average is 15.11. So overall it’s a below average season for avalanche fatalities. The ones that did occur this year have largely involved uninformed parties without self-rescue gear or training. (This is a statement of fact, not to judge that or fault these parties. Not everyone has the background they should. In this case they seemed unaware of local conditions and the sources of available information.)

  2. Show some respect. Someones mom, dad, brother, spouse, ect… was just killed. We all venture out into the mountain and risk being killed.

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