1 Dead, 1 Missing in Avalanches

Slides strike hikers in Washington

Joe Spring

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A female snowshoer died hours after she was dug out of the snowpack on Saturday and a man remained missing on Monday after avalanches struck the Cascade Mountains in Washington following a heavy snowstorm.

A woman was hiking with her dog behind a group of 12 snowshoers when the avalanche hit. The snowshoers searched for the woman and found her after 45 minutes, buried under roughly six feet of snow. She was hypothermic, but conscious. Rescuers reached the woman after two and a half hours, but it took them roughly six hours to get her off the mountain due to difficult conditions. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

The other Saturday avalanche took place near Granite Mountain, according to the Seattle Times.

Officials knew for sure that a man was missing at the Granite Mountain site, where an avalanche caught three snowshoers, all from South King County, and carried them 1,279 feet at a top speed of 53 mph, said Sgt. Katie Larson of the King County Sheriff’s Office. That level of detail was available because at least one snowshoer was outfitted with GPS.

Two injured men, in their 30s, emerged from the snow, but their companion did not, Larson said.

About 50 rescuers with dog teams searched for the man, who is about 60. But they battled “horrible” conditions, Larson said, and wound up suspending the search sometime around 8 p.m.

Officials have indicated that the search for the missing man may resume Monday morning. More than 100 search and rescue personnel have been involved so far.

The Northwest Avalanche Institute rated avalanche conditions as “high” at Snoqualmie Ski Resort before the predicted storm.

“Because of the cold temperatures, the snow underneath is relatively well frozen and stable,” said Paul Baugher, director of the Northwest Avalanche Institute. “But there’s a poor bond between the new snow coming down and old snow, which is very hard and slippery. That produces soft slabs of very sensitive snow.”

The woman’s death is the first reported avalanche fatality of the season in Washington, and the 17th in the United States.

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