At about 1130 hours on Wednesday a 38 year-old Littleton woman was buried and killed in an avalanche on St. Mary's Glacier. She and a friend were hiking along the steep left side of the glacier slipped and slid down the steep snow-covered slope. At the bottom of the slope, she stood up and started to climb back to her friend. She triggered the avalanche as she started up the slope. Her friend was some distance above and to the side was also caught. The slab avalanche swept both of them down. He was able to free himself quickly and started looking for his friend.
The survivor searched for about 30 minutes before other hikers joined the search. After about 40+ minutes, word reached the Clear Creek County Sheriffs Office and a rescue effort started. Rescuers found the victim about two hours after the avalanche. An arm and leg were protruding from the snow.
Searching avalanche debris is a very difficult proposition. Without avalanche rescue beacons and shovels, the search for a buried person is literally the same as the search for a needle in the hay stack.
The combination hard- and soft-slab avalanche released at an elevation of about 11,200 feet on a easterly-facing aspect. The fracture line ranged between 2 and 4 feet deep by about 600 feet wide. The avalanche ran about500 vertical feet.
The backcountry avalanche danger was rated at LOW below treeline; however, near and above treeline the danger was rated MODERATE. Human triggered avalanches were possible.