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Early Season Avalanches #2084
Back To Discussion List Written: 2008.11.11 by: Frank W. Baumann

It's just about that time of year again when avalanches need to become a factor in trip planning.

One of the earliest fatal avalanche accidents that I can remember happened on November 27, 1982 in the Mt. Sheer area, east of Britannia Beach. A party of youths and their leader were trying to hike up Mt. Sheer during an early winter storm when an avalanche suddenly came down and overwhelmed them. One teenager was killed and the others were rescued in a daring night-time operation. Soon after the survivors were air lifted out, a second major avalanche came down the same gully, burying the body that had been left there. Were it not for the brave actions of the helicopter pilot involved (Dave Van Patten), there would have certainly been more deaths.

You can start your avalanche refresher program by reading this article on Bivouac.

News Flash: A movement is underway to develop a comprehensive, low or no-cost Recreational Avalanche Course for mountaineering club members. Stay tuned!


#1096 - 2008.11.13 Frank W. Baumann - Avalanche Accidents in Canada, Volume 3
Ask and ye shall receive, Steve- this publication from the National Research Council (Avalanche Accidents in Canada, Volume 3, 1978-1984) describes the Mt. Sheer incident and a number of others- it is really a good one to read and learn from.

But this account doesn't give the whole story- it doesn't describe the fact that shortly after the group was rescued, a second avalanche came down and overwhelmed the accident scene, covering the body that had been left there. So the entire group would likely have been killed by the second avalanche if it hadn't been for the incredibly brave and skillful flying of helicopter pilot Dave van Patten from Squamish, who flew us up to Park Lane lake in the dead of night in a rainstorm, allowing us to find the boys and rescue them. Dave carried out a number of other amazing rescues with his helicopter- but never received any credit for his selfless acts of courage.

Sadly, despite their incredible educational value, these compilations of case histories stopped after Volume 3 and so far, there is no indication that the Canadian Avalanche Association, which has all the data and should be publishing these compilations, is planning to do so.

Many National Research Council/Geological Survey of Canada publications and maps are now available free on-line.

#1094 - 2008.11.12 Steve Grant - Thanks for posting, Frank.
The youth group was from Porteau Camp, I believe. I've tried to find information about this accident on the Internet. There seems to be nothing, likely because the accident happened before the Internet was well established.

We were at Mt. Sheer the following summer, and as we climbed Sheer I came across an ice axe. I knew why it was there, picked it up and used it as a walking stick without saying anything. Eventually, Robin and Betsy began wondering where I'd gotten an ice axe, since none of us had brought one on the trip.

I left it at the Mountain Lake Hut and phoned Porteau Camp to tell them where it was.

#1093 - 2008.11.12 Mitch Sulkers - I'll second that...
Just to second Frank's timely reminder, it's been a great fall for hiking and many people are still getting out regularly. With the great fluctuations in freezing levels, even during a singe day, there can be many different layers within this early winter snowpack. Combined with that will be very different snow conditions just a range or two away. Yesterday, off the Duffey, there was a very active 15-20cm layer of snow that was light underneath and heavier on top. This was deposited on a layer of light, feather-like surface hoar crystals that began to fail easily in the afternoon.

If you're still out hiking, now is definitely the time to think clearly about whether you're taking a summer hiking trail through winter terrain. Even small but steep slopes in the high country could cause problems if they slide. Summer hiking trails can be dangerous during winter conditions.