June 8, 2010
Many of you have heard there was a significant avalanche on the Ingraham Glacier early in the morning Saturday June 5th. We have had some inquiries about this particular avalanche event and also about avalanche hazard on the mountain in general. Here are a few of the FAQs.
Was IMG involved in the avalanche?
No IMG clients or guides were directly involved in the avalanche. Our IMG climbing team had decided the night before not to make a summit attempt on June 5 due to high avalanche hazard.
IMG guides did respond to the avalanche accident and were involved in the rescue efforts along with other guides and NPS rangers.
Early in the morning of June 5th a number of independent climbers were ascending the Ingraham headwall enroute to the summit. A relatively large dry soft slab avalanche ran more than 1000 vertical feet. 11 independent climbers were involved. There were several complete burials, but due to great rescue efforts, all were recovered alive with the exception of one unregistered solo climber. This person was well ahead of the other climbing teams and remains missing. Everyone else was moved to safety and were treated for injuries. The victims along with rescue personnel (including 2 of our IMG guides) were evacuated by helicopter.
Is this unusual?
Avalanche hazard is a primary concern on Rainier. This objective hazard is particularly our focus early in the climbing season, when the upper mountain still has winter snowpack conditions.
Following the El Nino weather pattern that dominated the Northwest this winter we have experienced one of the wettest May and early Junes we have seen in a long time. This weather pattern has resulted in numerous storm and avalanche cycles.
Will I be safe on my upcoming trip on Rainier with IMG?
IMG has a stellar mountaineering safety record. Additionally, our guides have extensive training and experience in avalanche hazard evaluation.
The best illustration of that skill can be seen in the recent avalanche event on Rainier. Three out of the four guides on our IMG climbing team that day worked last winter in avalanche forecasting and control programs. The snowpack and weather evaluation they made led to the decision not to make the summit attempt that day.
After the avalanche accident occurred they were in a position to use their avalanche rescue and medical skills to assist. This was the 3rd time in as many weeks that our IMG guides have responded to other climbers in need of assistance on the upper mountain. Needless to say we are very proud of our guides and our company safety record.
Is my Rainier trip still on schedule?
Yes. We did adjust the itineraries of some of our recent climbs due to avalanche conditions. This is normal and it affected only a few climbs. Our current climbing teams on the mountain are proceeding without issue.
That said, our guides are continually evaluating all mountaineering hazards, including avalanches. ALL IMG guides (and the IMG owners) will continue to make adjustments to a program’s itinerary when deemed necessary for your safety.
What is the bottom line?
Avalanches remain one of the objective hazards that may be encountered on a climb of Rainier. No one can guarantee that a mountaineering accident will not happen and we are humble enough to recognize that it could happen to anyone.
The good news is that the current overall fatality risk in climbing Rainier is less than 2 per 10,000 climbers. Even though that risk is small the best way to further reduce that risk is to climb with experienced guides.
IMG stands by its safety record, which is second to none. We live by the adage “the summit is optional, returning home safely is mandatory”
The bottom line is there is nothing more important to IMG than your safety.
Where can I go from here to learn more?
For more information about this avalanche event check out a recent article in the Tacoma News Tribune.
For more information on avalanches here in the Northwest check out the Northwest Avalanche Center’s website
To learn about avalanche hazard evaluation and safe travel please consider joining IMG in an avalanche training course this coming winter
Please feel free to contact us at the IMG office if you have any further questions.