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Hiker Survives Avalanche on Granite Mountain

Posted by Lauren Braden at Apr 11, 2010 08:15 AM |
Hiker Survives Avalanche on Granite Mountain

A view down the snowy south slope of Granite Mountain by timezra.

A hiker was buried in an avalanche on the Granite Mountain Trail on Saturday, and amazingly managed to access his cell phone to call 911. Search and rescue volunteers located the hiker around 7:30pm Saturday evening. The rescuers dug the man out of the snow and he was hypothermic but alive.

According to the Seattle Times, dispatchers were able to guess the hiker's location from the initial phone call he made.

The hiker called 911 on his cellphone about 3:15 p.m. Saturday, telling dispatchers he had been caught at the tail end of a long avalanche and knocked 100 feet off the trail, according to King County sheriff's Deputy Chris Bedker.

The hiker told a dispatcher that although he was stuck in the snow, he could see light.

From the man's description, rescuers concluded that he was near the main avalanche chute on Granite Mountain, which is on the west side of Snoqualmie Pass.

The hiker is extraordinarily lucky to be found alive. As more than one rescuer noted at the scene, most people stuck in avalanches don't make it. It's unlikely a person is able to move their finger in an avalanche, much less reach for a cell phone and be able to dial. 

A commenter on the Seattle Times article named "mountainguy" was a rescuer at the scene. He wrote:

The subject was buried 3-5 feet deep in wet heavy snow. Fortunately he was at the very toe of the slide, and an avy dog hit on him almost immediately (his voice was also audible topside). This man was extraordinary lucky - beyond virtually any measure chance - to have ended up in an air pocket not only big enough to sustain him for 3-4 hours, but with enough freedom of movement to get to his cell phone and call.

The main avalanche chute on Granite Mountain should never be crossed in snow, certainly not on a day with considerable avalanche danger as there was yesterday. The regular route to the summit of Granite Mountain crosses right through that chute.

There is a winter route, and it's described in detail in Dan Nelson's Snowshoe Routes Washington, which we have published here in our online Hiking Guide. In the past, WTA had flatly discouraged hikers from snowshoeing Granite Mountain, period. The reality, however, was that people were snowshoeing there anyway. So after much discussion we decided it would be beneficial to publish Dan Nelson's description of the somewhat safer winter route up Granite Mountain that avoids crossing the most dangerous avalanche chute altogether. 

Even on the "safer" route, Granite Mountain is a snowshoe route for highly skilled winter hikers only. In the Granite Mountain Snowshoe description that the author rates the Granite Mountain snowshoe route as "Backcountry." That means these routes follow topography rather than trails or roads. Skill with a map and compass is essential. A variety of conditions may be encountered along "Backcountry" routes, including steep elevation gains and losses. These routes require complete competence in winter survival skills, avalanche and snow condition evaluation and some basic mountaineering skills.

Some hikers maintain that there is no safe route up Granite Mountain in snow. Hiker JHamilton said this in a WTA trip report from February:

Given its steep incline and wide ridgelines, Granite is prime avalanche territory, and we agreed among ourselves that there is really no safe route to the top when avalanche risk is high despite any comments to the contrary in guidebooks.

If you do attempt a snowshoe of Granite Mountain, use the winter route. And remember to always check avalanche conditions for your destination before you hit the road to the trailhead.

As for the rescued hiker, his is a truly amazing story, and I hope he recovers very quickly. A huge appreciation goes out the search and rescue volunteers who responded to the call. Those folks are simply awesome.

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