Published DateBy Erik Eisele
CONWAY — A 64-year-old Texas man died on Saturday after falling more than 1,000 feet while climbing a snow gully on Mount Adams.
Richard Gabrielle, of University Park, Texas, "sustained significant injuries that killed him instantly," according to a New Hampshire Fish and Game Department statement. The statement said Gabrielle was "well equipped for his expedition," wearing crampons and helmet and using an ice axe. He was climbing Great Gully, a moderate snow route in King Ravine, with six others. They were not using ropes.
Great Gully is similar to Central Gully in Huntington Ravine where an avalanche sent three climbers to the hospital earlier this month. It is not uncommon for experienced mountaineers to ascend such routes unroped, but snow conditions this weekend were unforgiving.
The warm spell a few weeks ago followed by cold temperatures have turned the snowpack hard, according to Rick Wilcox, owner of International Mountain Equipment in North Conway and president of Mountain Rescue Service. "It's bulletproof out there," he said. Snow routes up high have "the no fall shine."
"If you're going to solo on hard snow like that," Wilcox said, falling is disastrous. "You just can't stop."
Those are the conditions Gabrielle and the rest of his team likely encountered as they neared the top of Great Gully around 1 p.m. "Four of the climbers had already crested the top of the Great Gully" when Gabrielle fell, according to Fish and Game. He was the last member of the group, so none of his teammates saw if he slipped, tripped, caught a crampon point or something else. The lead climbers "were out of sight and hearing due to the steady alpine winds," the statement said. "The remaining climber, Leo Freeman, a 60-year-old from Presque Isle, Maine, was closest to Gabrielle and realized he must have fallen as he had an unobstructed view of the gully and Gabrielle was no longer in sight."
Gabrielle fell over 1,500 feet and dropped 950 vertical feet before his body came to a rest.
The statement does not make clear where the seventh climber was when Freeman realized Gabrielle was gone. It does say Freeman descended after he was unable to communicate with the four members of the party above the lip of the gully. "Unfortunately evidence indicated that Richard Gabrielle had fallen the entire length of Great Gully, and hopes of survivability were remote," the statement said. "Freeman called 911."
Fish and Game officers were able to speak directly with Freeman as they began responding. Freeman kept looking for Gabrielle and soon found him, clearly not alive.
"There wasn't any effort to resuscitate him," according to Wilcox, who fielded calls on Saturday as authorities requested Mountain Rescue Service assistance in the recovery. Gabrielle's team descended and used a bivy sac to begin carrying his body out.
At the same time Caleb Jackson, caretaker of the Randolph Mountain Club Gray Knob cabin, and Androscoggin Valley Search and Rescue team member Mike Pelchat responded and were the first to arrive on scene, followed by Fish and Game personnel, more AVSAR members and Mountain Rescue Service volunteers.
"Richard Gabrielle was transported out and arrived at the Appalachia trailhead in Randolph at 7:02 p.m.," Fish and Game said.
According to Wilcox this is not the first such accident in King Ravine, but falls are less frequent there than in Huntington and Tuckerman ravines.
"It's not common," Wilcox said, but about 20 years ago a pair of climbers fell down Great Gully while roped together. "They were both seriously injured," he said, and unable to go for help. This was before the age of cell phones, he said. "They just sat in the snow all day."
Eventually the injured climbers heard someone passing on a nearby trail and were able to shout for help. Rescuers got them out late at night.