CAIC: Colorado Avalanche Information Center

2011/05/21 - Colorado - Torreys Peak

Published 2012/01/22 by Brian Lazar - Forecast Staff, Colorado Avalanche Information Center


Avalanche Details

  • Location: Torreys Peak
  • State: Colorado
  • Date: 2011/05/21
  • Time: 1:05 PM
  • Summary Description: 1 snowboarder caught and killed
  • Primary Activity: Backcountry Tourer
  • Primary Travel Mode: Snowboard
  • Location Setting: Backcountry

Number

  • Caught: 1
  • Partially Buried, Non-Critical: 0
  • Partially Buried, Critical: 0
  • Fully Buried: 0
  • Injured: 0
  • Killed: 1

Avalanche

  • Type: SS
  • Trigger: AR - Snowboarder
  • Trigger (subcode): u - An unintentional release
  • Size - Relative to Path: R2
  • Size - Destructive Force: D2
  • Sliding Surface: I - New/Old Interface

Site

  • Slope Aspect: SE
  • Site Elevation: 13800 ft
  • Slope Angle: 38 °
  • Slope Characteristic: Gully/Couloir

Avalanche Comments

Approximately a foot of fresh snow had fallen in the area in the 72 hours prior to the accident. Southwest to westerly winds had both top and cross loaded the terrain feature the group had decided to descend, building a small soft slab. The start zone has an east-southeast aspect and sits at an elevation of approximately 13,800 feet. The victim triggered a small soft slab avalanche on a slope with an estimated steepness of between 38 and 42 degrees. This caused him to fall and dragged him over a convex roll which steepened to approximately 45 degrees. The slab was estimated to be 30 feet across and 30 feet long, and 12 to 18 inches deep. The victim was not buried, but fell approximately 1000 vertical feet through terrain with many exposed rocks, at least one of which he hit with substantial impact force.

Weather Summary

A closed low brought a strong spring storm to the Colorado Mountains May 18 to 20. The nearby Loveland Basin SNOTEL site recorded 11 inches of snow, with 1.1 inches of water equivalent. Observers reported considerably more snow above treeline. Winds were initially light, but increased on the afternoon of May 20. High elevation weather stations recorded moderate to strong southerly and westerly winds for almost 24 hours prior to the accident. Search and Rescue personnel reported low visibility and whiteout conditions in the late afternoon. Snowfall picked up mid afternoon the day of accident. Snowfall began coming in around noon and by 5pm, several inches of new snow was on the ground.

Snowpack Summary

The upper snowpack consisted of a series of thin soft slabs which had formed from period of snow showers in the 3 days prior to the accident. The snow at these higher elevations was generally dry, but warm spring time temperatures and periods of sunshine allowed new snow to settle rapidly into thin soft slabs, which were showing signs of propagating distances of up to a couple hundred feet. Several natural and skier triggered slabs of a similar nature were observed in the area, occurring on the day of the accident and the following day. One of these soft slabs was a skier triggered slab on an east aspect above treeline on adjacent Kelso Mountain on Sunday. By Sunday, the day after the accident, lots of natural loose wet avalanche activity was observed in and adjacent to the site of the accident. Snowfall from Saturday and avalanche activity from Sunday had covered all signs of the avalanche responsible for the accident by Sunday afternoon.

Events Leading to the Avalanche

The road from Bakerville leading up Stevens Gulch was completely covered with snow. The 3-member group therefore departed from the trail head in Bakerville at approximately 6:30am. They reached the foot of the north face of Torreys, heading up Grizzly Gulch, at approximately 8:00am, at which point they began their ascent towards Kelso ridge. They were able to skin to approximately ½ way to the ridge, at which point they boot-packed until reaching scree, which they climbed for the final 200-­300 vertical feet to reach the ridge. Upon reaching the ridge at an elevation of approximately 13,800 ft, the group continued up towards the summit of Torreys, but did not climb up the ridge more than 50 to 100 vertical feet from where they gained the ridge. They did not spend much time on the ridge, and had a brief discussion of their descent route. They decided to stop short of the prominent knife ridge that leads to the top of the Dead Dog Couloir. They decided to drop into a line between some exposed rocks at this point. The line they descended was approximately 150 feet skiers left (east) of the Dead Dog couloir. Snowboarder #1 was the first member of the group to drop into the slope at just after 1:00pm. He began a low-angle traverse toward the summit of Torreys Peak and then made a hard left turn triggering an avalanche.

Accident Summary

Snowboarder #1 (the first person descended)caught in a small soft slab avalanche and swept around 1000 vertical feet through some rocky terrain. The second and third members of the group (two skiers) descended the same route to reach the victim. They arrived at the victim at approximately 1:25pm, and quickly realized they needed to go for help. They did not have cell phone coverage at the site of the accident, so Skier #2 traversed out and back to Kelso Ridge at 1:35 pm, and descended the north side of Torreys into Grizzly Gulch to make his way back to Bakerville where he was able to get cell phone reception. Skier #3 stayed at the site of the accident to attend to the victim. Skier #2 reached Bakerville and made the 911 call at 2:37 pm. Skier #3 began moving the victim down slope at approximately 2:00 pm. They had descended approximately 400 vertical feet before the first search and rescue members reached them at between 5:30 and 5:40 pm.

Rescue Summary

Search and Rescue (SAR) was alerted at 2:44 PM. The staff from the Clear Creek County Sheriffs Office arrived at the trailhead at 3:10pm, and SAR arrived at 3:30pm. They quickly determined that the weather would prevent any helicopter support. Rescuers used snowmachines to shuttle equipment and personnel up the road. The first team headed in around 3:45pm. Driving conditions were very challenging. Personnel and medical equipment were staged at several places along the road, including the summer trailhead. SAR was very concerned about avalanche conditions. Personnel chose routes to stay well away from Mount Kelso and other avalanche terrain. Rescuers observed one natural avalanche run while they were in the upper basin. The first SAR personnel reached the victim around 5:30 PM. They stabilized the victim and took over the evacuation. Unfortunately the victim succumbed to internal injuries during the evacuation. He died of internal blood loss resulting from injuries sustained in the avalanche. The Clear Creek County Sheriff, Alpine Rescue Team, Summit County Search and Rescue Group, and Flight for Life assisted in the rescue.

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