Forum Index > Trip Reports > Avalanche on McClellan Butte 12-10-06
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dicey
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PostSun Dec 10, 2006 7:40 pm 
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I hesitate in writing about this incident (not my proudest hour), but I consider myself to be amongst friends here, and hope others can learn something from this event.

Mark, Logan(dog), and I left Seattle around 6:45 this morning.  Our objective for the day was Mt. Kent.  We planned to use the McClellan Butte trail to the 4500 ft. point to access Mt. Kent.  The day started without promise - rain all the way to exit 38.  We planned on trying to drive up FS 9020 as far as possible to access the upper part of the McClellan Butte trail where it crosses the road.

We were able to drive to within 1.5 miles of the trail before deep snow and ice convinced us to park and continue on foot.  We booted up the road in a light mist to the trail, where snowshoes made the going easier.  We followed a snowshoe track to about 3400ft, then proceeded to break trail from there.

The McClellan Butte trail in the winter is notorious for avalanche danger, as it crosses 3 major and several minor avi chutes to gain the summit via the summer trail.  Years ago, I attempted to summit this peak in winter several times, always retreating at the chutes due to deep snow yet
oblivious to the danger.  I was dumb and lucky then...

I figured today would be different.  We weren't headed for the summit of McClellan Butte, and the snowpack had stabilized since the last real snowfall.  Avalanche danger was low below 5000 feet.  We crossed the gullies carefully and one at a time just to be safe.  No problems.  The sun came out, and we both noticed and mentioned how warm it was getting.  We made our way up to the final stretch where the summer trail crosses a scree field before making the loop to the west side of the mountain.  I was having trouble sidehilling in my snowshoes so Mark took the lead.  We talked about putting on sunscreen, taking off our jackets and so on.  Mark was making good tracks for me to follow and then, all of the sudden and without warning, I was falling!

The slope had suddenly disintegrated into a field of snow marbles the size of softballs and bigger, sweeping me off my feet and down toward the trees below.  It happened so fast, I didn't even have time to yell out.  I couldn't believe this was happening!  I kept trying to self arrest with my ice axe, but it wouldn't stick in the moving landscape around me.  It was absolutely unbelievable, and scary.  I was finally able to stop myself, as the snowball field continued into the trees below and stopped.  I got up, brushed myself off and told Mark, "That's it, I'm heading back to those trees".

It was over, as quickly as it had started.  Mark had some trouble reaching me as the slide had wiped out his tracks.  He had to take off his snowshoes to get back to where I was.  There was no question about turning around at that point.  The trip down was blissfully uneventful, and it was pouring rain by the time we reached the road.

My analysis:
This was a  point release avalanche originating on the slope above us. It was a spontaneous event caused by a rapidly warming temps.  The elevation was 4550ft, the time was 10:53am. The slope angle was approx 25-30 degrees with a SSE aspect. We should have been more cautious and  turned around when it got so freakishly warm so fast.  It was a pretty small slide, but it knocked me off my feet and carried me approx 50 feet downhill.  I feel pretty lucky to have gotten off as easily as I did.  We both learned that even small slides can render a person helpless, and happen so quickly that there is absolutely zero time to react.

This is the first avalanche I have ever been in, and I'd like to make it my last.

Mark will probably post some pics he took, as my camera no worky.

Please be safe out there folks!!

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I'm not always sure I like being older but being less stupid has advantages.
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Malachai Constant
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PostSun Dec 10, 2006 7:51 pm 
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Glad you guys are all OK but you really should have a long talk with Joan eek.gif

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"You do not laugh when you look at the mountains, or when you look at the sea." Lafcadio Hearn
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Newt
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PostSun Dec 10, 2006 7:52 pm 
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Wow. I'm glad you made it back. You are very lucky.

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It's pretty safe to say that if we take all of man kinds accumulated knowledge, we still don't know everything. So, I hope you understand why I don't believe you know everything. But then again, maybe you do.
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Backpacker Joe
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PostSun Dec 10, 2006 7:53 pm 
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Thank goodness youre alright.  I can appreciate you being humble as well.

Merry Christmas to you Dicey.  You recieved a good present today. up.gif

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"If destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen we must live through all time or die by suicide."

Abraham Lincoln
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Tazz
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PostSun Dec 10, 2006 7:55 pm 
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vent.gif  Don't do that again! eek.gif    I am so glad you two are safe. up.gif  up.gif  up.gif  up.gif  up.gif

Thanks for the write up. Again...happy you are safe.
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Opus
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PostSun Dec 10, 2006 7:56 pm 
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Scary stuff, glad you came out alright.  eek.gif
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Boots
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PostSun Dec 10, 2006 8:20 pm 
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Glad you are alright.  up.gif

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"Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold."
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Karen
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PostSun Dec 10, 2006 8:23 pm 
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Dicey,

Probably about the time you experienced this I was purchasing the 1977 Signpost Edition of "Understanding Avalanches", even though some of the material is out of date. I bought it because I collect "old" books but also because it is slender enough to put in a plastic baggie and keep in the pack at all times. In bold letters under "Weather" are the conditions that can cause avalanche and your mention of the warm temperatures today is typical of what can happen .so sudddenly .... even today with all the training and equipment at hand ....

....."A temperature increase of 6-8 degrees make snow extremely unstable" ....

I am so glad you are OK.

Karen

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stay together, learn the flowers, go light - from Turtle Island, Gary Snyder
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Tom
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PostSun Dec 10, 2006 8:39 pm 
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Yikes, good to hear you are ok. up.gif
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Randy
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PostSun Dec 10, 2006 8:56 pm 
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Dicey - glad things turned out okay! Thanks for taking the time to pen up this report as a reminder to us all to be aware of avalanche risks when traveling the mountains this time of year.
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jimmymac
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PostSun Dec 10, 2006 9:12 pm 
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Wow. Scary story. Glad you came out on top. Great write-up.

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"Profound serenity is the product of unfaltering Trust and heightened vulnerability."
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Scrooge
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PostSun Dec 10, 2006 9:14 pm 
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There's a small, steep slope on the tourist route up to Artist's Point that avalanches fairly regularly. It's so small that it's hard to take seriously. Your experience, today, is a reminder that even a little bit of nature is much bigger and stronger than we are.

Thanks, Dicey. Very, very glad you came out of that with nothing worse than a little more experience. ....... Considering that you started way ahead of most of us, it's pretty instructive.

David

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Something lost behind the ranges. Lost and waiting for you....... Go and find it. Go!
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seawallrunner
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PostSun Dec 10, 2006 9:17 pm 
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dicey, I am glad that you overcame your hesitation to write about the avalanche event - and that you shared the particulars with us.

Like everyone else who posted, I am so glad that you, Logan and Mark are OK after all this. Had the sun been shining on that aspect for a while before the slide happened, or did it happen just as you guys reached that point, sun came out, you delayered, and suddenly you slid?

Thank you for the reminder that these events happen very fast. Goodness.  As new snow beckons me to wander into the back country, I will keep your story at top of mind.
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ActionBetty
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PostSun Dec 10, 2006 9:20 pm 
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Holy sh##.. I am so glad you two are allright.  Danger Danger Danger.. paranoid.gif

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"If you're not living good, you gotta travel wide"...Bob Marley
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Riverside Laker
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PostSun Dec 10, 2006 9:53 pm 
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Time to dust the powder off this report that a friend of mine wrote up. Well more like unpile the hardpack snow from on top of it:

Mailbox Peak avalanche
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