On Sunday, two skiers were caught in an avalanche on Mt. Baldwin, CA. After hiking up most of the way, they reached some unstable snow and decided to turn around. Before they could even get their skis on, they heard a loud noise and were hit by an avalanche. They were both dragged anywhere from 400′ to 800′ over multiple rock bands.
Luckily, they both ended up on top of debris and only suffered minor injuries. The duo was able to leave by themselves that night. If you’re out in the backcountry, make sure to monitor conditions and take all necessary precautions.
Two skiers left before dawn up the McGee Creek drainage, headed toward the Baldwin Cirque. The goal was to ski the SE Couloir of Mt. Baldwin, hopefully dropping before the height of the day given the warming and solar.
Arriving at the morraine around 9:45a, the group was a little late. Surprisingly, they found the snow in prime condition – cold, relatively untouched by the wind. The SE Couloir was in the sun but was starting to come back into the shade. Looking around, there were no signs of instability or avalanche activity. The group noticed that the sun was warming the snow up in the apron below the couloir, but there was little if any moisture in the top of the snowpack when skinning towards the couloir. The conditions caused the skiers to relax their sense of urgency to ski the line and be out before noon, which ended up being a critical mistake.
Inside the lower section of the couloir, the snow was cold and without a sun crust on the climbers left side. The climbers right side had a slight sun crust. After climbing the lower section, the group reached some breakable crust and started to wallow. With climbing/skiing conditions deteriorating and the day dragging on, the two decided to turn around and ski back to the car. This happened at the bend in the chute where it turns climers left and heads up to the ridge. Had the group continued above this point, this would likely be an even more serious post.
About to drop in, with one skier clicked in and ready to ski and the other still without skis on, they heard a loud noise from above. Looking up, there was a river of snow coming down – only enough time for two words “oh f*ck.” The two skiers tried to escape to the climbers right, but the attempt was useless. The snow hit them both, knocking the uphill skier (with skis on) forcefully into the downhill skier and carrying both down the lower section, off the rock walls multiple times, partially submerged for parts of the ride. The fall was somewhere between 400-800′ and the slide likely D2/R2. Luckily, both skiers ended up mostly on top of the debris with a few bruises and missing gear. They each had one ski and no poles, but were able to ski back to the trail and walk out in the dark.
While both skiers made it out safely and unharmed, this incident was a serious reminder of the dangers that exist above when booting a steep line. It’s also a reminder that even in periods of relative stability, avalanches that could easily kill a person can naturally trigger given the right confluence of loading/solar/thermal. It’s still unclear whether a wind slab in the couloir broke due to warming despite being in the shade, or if snow on the south rock wall that was still in the sun broke into the couloir and started the slide. Either way, the group is lucky to be alive and well.
We debated posting this, but in the end, believe that it’s best for the community to have the observation shared. We are not proud of the incident and are taking time to process what it means for our decision-making in the future.