January 28, 2013

A skier in an avalanche.     Photo: Andrew Arseev/Shutterstock

2 Skiers Die in Separate Avalanches in the Tetons (Update)

Heavy snow destabilized conditions

On Sunday afternoon, two skiers died in separate backcountry avalanches in western Wyoming. Elizabeth Gray Benson, 28, of Jackson, Wyoming, was skiing with four other people in the Cliff Creek/Cabin Creek area west of Bondurant when a small avalanche swept her into the trees. The name of the other skier and the circumstances around the accident have not been released.

Officials say heavy snowfall and an unstable snowpack have made conditions particularly hazardous. From the news release:

Yesterday afternoon there were two separate avalanche fatalities in the mountains of Western, Wyoming. Both involved backcountry skiers who were caught and suffered fatal trauma in what are believed to have been small avalanches. Additional snowfall occurred overnight especially on the west slope of the Teton Range and the Continental Divide. Unstable conditions exist on steep slopes and even small slides have demonstrated the ability to kill. At this time Search and Rescue resources are focused on these two incidents and another involving an overdue group.

More information can be found at the Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center's website.

UPDATE: JH Weekly is reporting that the second skier has been identified as Nick Gillespie, an employee of Grand Teton National Park's summer trail crew. He and three other skiers were caught in a minor slide in the Berry Creek area of park. He was 30 years old.


Denali, Alaska

Denali, Alaska     Photo: Unhindered by Talent/Flickr

Lonnie Dupre Abandons Denali Climb

Forced down by -35 degree temperatures

Climber Lonnie Dupre retreated from Denali on Sunday after Arctic temperatures shut down his attempt to make a winter summit of North America's tallest mountain for the third year in a row. Dupre, 51, had spent Saturday, his 19th day on the mountain, in a snowcave at 17,200 feet, contending with temperatures as low as -35 degrees Fahrenheit, before informing his support team that he would be abandoning the attempt.

A press release from Dupre's support team explained the decision:

It was virtually a life-or-death decision for Dupre. Even if he had made the summit today, which would have meant a 12-hour or more travel day between 17,200 and the summit and back, he knew he would not have had the energy or means to survive back at the 17,200 camp. Monday’s predicted 50mph winds and cold temperatures would translate into a wind chill of -50 degrees F. Combined with an unfavorable long-term forecast and dwindling food and fuel supplies, Dupre knew his chance of survival would be minimal.

No one has ever summited Denali solo in the dead of winter, defined as December and January.


    Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Teen Found After 9 Weeks in the Bush

Was covered in leeches

An Australian teen missing for nine weeks and feared dead was finally found by two hikers Saturday outside the town of Westleigh, near Sydney. Matthew Allen, 18, was discovered covered in leeches and other insect bites, and suffering from gangrene in his feet and lower legs. He had lost half his body weight and has been rendered partially blind by malnourishment. Matthew was taken immediately by helicopter to a nearby hospital where he is recovering.

No explanation has been given for why Matthew entered the bushland in late November, but survival experts are in awe of his ability to subsist with virtually no food during a record heat wave. “He was not living under any shelter and was exposed to the full conditions,” said Glyn Baker of the Hornsby police. “Anyone who is missing for that length of time in those kind of conditions ... you wouldn’t expect to see them again.” Some reports have suggested that Matthew may have survived by eating small animals from a nearby urban runoff creek.

Glen Nash, of the Australian School of Mountaineering, believes Matthew could have survived on water alone:

The common rule of thumb in our industry is you can live for three minutes without air, three hours without shelter in extreme environments, three days without water and, depending on who you talk to, three weeks without food. Some people would say three months even. It's OK to have the water, but the human body needs minerals and salts and if you don't get those other elements you're going to be pretty sick. You're going to potentially even be dead.

Test your survival skills with this quiz.


    Photo: Philip Nelson/Flickr

2013 Winter X Games Wraps Up

White wins sixth straight gold

The 2013 X Games wrapped up yesterday at Buttermilk Mountain in Aspen, and, as is generally the case, Shaun White took gold in the men’s snowboard superpipe event. White easily won the premier and final event of the competition for the sixth straight year on Sunday with a score of 98.00. Ayumu Hirano, a 14-year-old from Japan—to repeat: born in 1998—finished second with a 92.33. White, who is 26, was the oldest person in the competition.

Some other notable results: 18-year-old American Nick Hoepper won gold in men’s ski slopestyle, while Norway’s 17-year-old Tiril Sjastad Christiansen, an X Games rookie, won for the women. American Kelly Clark—an X Games geezer at 29—won the women’s snowboard superpipe. White finished fifth in snowboard slopestyle, won by 19-year-old Canadian Mark McMorris, while 22-year-old American Jamie Anderson won the women’s event.

The snowmobile division featured some notable crashes over the last few days. Brothers Caleb and Colten Moore were both hospitalized with serious injuries on Thursday after making individual mistakes on the same jump. Later in the competition, Jackson Strong lost control of his sled in a spectacular miscalculation that could have ended very badly:

For complete results, check out the official X Games site.


The Vendee Globe is one of the most celebrated sailing races in the world.     Photo: Rona Proudfoot/Flickr

Sailor Breaks Vendee Globe Record

Circumnavigation in 78 days

Francois Gabart, 29, of France has won the Vendee Globe solo sailboat race in the record time of 78 days, two hours, and 16 minutes, shattering the previous record by six days. Gabart is also the youngest winner in the history of the race, which was first run in 1989.

The annual event begins in Les Sables, France. Sailors race down the east coast of Africa, across the Indian Ocean to Australia and on to Cape Horn, then sail up the west coast of South America and back to Les Sables. This works out to about 24,000 nautical miles.

French sailors have won the race every year—particularly impressive considering that only 100 people have ever finished. Breakdowns are common due to the stresses placed on the boats. This year, the fleet consisted of 20 competitors from five different countries.