Published DateBy Erik Eisele
CONWAY — A New York man died in Huntington Ravine Friday when an avalanche swept him from the ice gully he was climbing, sending him for more than 1,000 feet.
James Watts, 24, was dead around 3 p.m. when a hiker found him near the floor of the ravine, according to a U.S. Forest Service statement, far below Pinnacle Gully, the moderate ice route he was climbing when the avalanche occurred.
The slide that killed Watts was one of two avalanches that caught people Friday, according to forest service officials, the other involving a skier in Tuckerman Ravine. No one was uninjured in that incident. Watts was climbing alone, without a rope or partner, and there were no other parties or individuals were in the area at the time of the accident.
Pinnacle Gully is a moderate ice climb, but it is one of the more difficult gullies in Huntington. Most parties use a rope to climb the 600-foot route, but it is not uncommon for experienced climbers to ascend it without a rope or a partner.
Watts' death comes two years after another solo climber, Michael Nadeau, was swept 1,300 feet from of the same gully in an avalanche. Nadeau, who was 31 at the time, broke his femur, his hip, his knee and his wrist in the fall, but he was able to call 911 and survive.
Watts was not so lucky. "Our sympathies go out to the family and friends of Mr. Watt," Chris Joosen, the lead Snow Ranger on Mount Washington, said.
Joosen has been leading search and rescue, and recovery missions, in the ravine for close to 26 years, and he was one of the four Snow Rangers who responded Friday. The hiker who found Watts was an emergency room physician, according to the forest service statement. The doctor checked Watts for vital signs, found none and called 911. The Snow Rangers arrived a short time later with a snowmobile up to carry Watts' body out. A member of Mountain Rescue Service who was skiing on the mountain helped with the recover, along with the caretakers from the Harvard Cabin and Hermit Lake Shelters. The operation took until 6 p.m.
The other incident, which involved a guide descending with a client from an overnight at the Mount Washington Observatory, occurred in Lobster Claw, a gully in Tuckerman Ravine. The guide skied a short way down the gully to an island of relative safety where he could watch his client descend, Snow Ranger Frank Carus said on Monday, but when the client began skiing the gully slid. "His slab was probably three to 10 inches [thick] and 50 feet or 60 feet wide," he said. "He was carried about 10 feet."
The two slides occurred on a day forecasted to have moderate avalanche danger, which means "natural avalanches are unlikely and human triggered avalanches are possible," according to the Mount Washington Avalanche Center's website.
"Those were the only avalanches that day," Carus said.
The Avalanche Center's weekend update called both incidents "human-triggered." Further analysis is expected in the coming days.