Stranded climbers, March 18, 2017

At around 11:30a.m., a pair of hikers set out from Pinkham Notch to summit via Huntington Ravine. At approximately 4:45p.m., snow ranger staff were contacted by AMC front desk staff that there were 2 hikers stranded near Central Gully in Huntington Ravine. Scouting in the Ravine revealed that the pair of climbers were actually located approximately 500′ below the top of the rim of Huntington between Damnation Buttress (5.6 WI3- M2-3; 700′) and Damnation Gully (WI3, 1,000′).  Two snow rangers climbed to the pair while one spotted from below. Two snow rangers and a Mount Washington Volunteer ski patroller approached the top via snow tractor on the Auto Road while 2 more ski patrollers served in dispatch and radio communications roles. The pair was reached at approximately 7pm by the climbing team and led to the top with assistance from the other two snow rangers from above. Rescuers and the pair reached the waiting Mount Washington Observatory snowcat at 10:02pm and returned to Pinkham Notch by midnight.

Analysis: The party reported that they had inquired at the AMC Front Desk about whether they could make it through Huntington Ravine to the summit without ropes and indicated that they were told that they could. The pair had limited climbing experience but managed to climb through 4th and low 5th class terrain unroped, with crampons and walking axes but without harnesses or other technical gear. Regardless of the source of the miscommunication with the front desk staff, it is important to thoroughly research an intended route, to re-evaluate plans based on time of day, climbing difficulty, along with prevailing weather conditions and experience level of the party. Fortunately, the pair were properly equipped with enough clothing, food and fluids. Though the summit temperature was around 10F that evening, relatively calm SE winds in 20 mph range made for a merely uncomfortable wait rather than a more serious outcome. It is interesting to note that a party of three found themselves stranded in the same position in similar conditions several years ago. It seems that the same line-of-least-resistance appears attractive to summit bound hikers confronted with the illusion that the Huntington Ravine trail or Central Gully are more difficult. While both of those routes are comparable in difficulty and have equally serious consequences in the event of a fall, the hardest climbing appears near the start of those two routes where a hiker could receive more immediate feedback on their route selection.