A man and woman from Montreal survived an avalanche while climbing the Trap Dyke on Mount Colden on Feb. 17.
The pair was in the upper portion of the climb when the snow let loose. Neither of them were injured.
A photo of the incident shows Caroline Jette partially buried in snow shortly after the avalanche occurred. She said her boyfriend, Sylvain St-Germain, escaped the path of the sliding snow by moving out of its way. Jette said she was able to dig herself out.
Montreal resident Caroline Jette is partially buried in an avalanche in the Trap Dyke on Mount Colden on Feb. 17. She escaped without injury.
(Photo — Sylvain St-Germain)
The Trap Dyke is a crevice in Mount Colden that is popular with rock and ice climbers and can be accessed from Avalanche Lake in the Eastern High Peaks.
Forest ranger Jim Giglinto, who investigated the avalanche, said the slide was about 100 feet long by 30 to 40 feet wide. Jette was carried downhill but landed on her feet. She released a large slab of snow that had been deposited by the wind, Giglinto said.
"They were extremely lucky that it wasn't a bigger avalanche, which would have taken both of them, and potentially slid them over some of the waterfalls and/or taken other people out below them," Giglinto said. "The size was relatively small, but it had the potential for serious injury or death because it is a terrain trap and ... it's a fairly significant burial. She's lucky her head was up and she wasn't the other way around, head down."
The incident was first made public on the Adirondack Backcountry Skiing website, which has a database that allows people to report Adirondack avalanches. Giglinto posted the report on behalf of the two Canadians.
The avalanche is at least the third involving people in the past three years. Two years ago, two backcountry skiers were caught in an avalanche on Angel Slides, located on Wright Peak in the Eastern High Peaks. Last year, two other skiers were in one that took place on the new slide created by Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011 next to the Angel Slides. None of the people involved reported any serious injuries.
The Canadian climbers had taken numerous climbing clinics, including one directly related to avalanches, in recent years, Jette said. However, they are relatively new to winter mountaineering, engaging in the activity for about three to four years. Jette said this was their second time in the Trap Dyke.
Jette told the Enterprise in an email that the pair "are cautious and we know the risks."
Before climbing the Trap Dyke, Jette and St-Germain followed the weather all week and consulted Internet forums, although they found little information on current conditions.
When they went on the trip, they did bring avalanche gear - beacons, probes and shovels. They didn't dig a test pit at the bottom, but they did evaluate the situation in the beginning of the trip, taking into account all the information they had gathered, Jette said.
But the mistake they made was letting their guard down once they got past some of the most difficult terrain above the frozen waterfall, Jette said. They dropped their "level of vigilance" because the terrain was easier.
"It's in this part that I did a wrong evaluation," Jette told the Enterprise in an email. "I went directly in the snow deposit area, rather than go to the left. So I made a bad decision at that time, even if I had the knowledge to recognize potential avalanche terrain."
Jette shared her story so that other people would learn from the incident and hopefully avoid getting caught in a similar situation. However, she and her partner didn't initially report the incident to DEC. The pair contacted the Adirondack Mountain Club and Giglinto found out about the avalanche from an employee at the ADK's High Peaks Information Center.
Giglinto then contacted the pair and got the information from the climbers. Giglinto said he encourages people to contact him or the DEC about any future avalanches. He reports them to the National Avalanche Center in Colorado and sees them as a useful tool that other backcountry users can learn from.
"I don't know if people are reluctant to say anything because of embarrassment or they think they are going to get in trouble, which they are not. People here tend to be reluctant to get this information out," Giglinto said.
Forest ranger contact information, including phone numbers, can be found on the DEC's website. Giglinto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.