Saturday, 2:15 PM
Two men ride avalanche 800 feet down Mt. Washington
(US Forest Service)
A Mount Washington Avalanche Center diagram of where the avalanche began and where the climbers ended up.
By Martin Finucane, Globe Staff
Two New England men were caught in an avalanche and tumbled about 800 feet down a slope on Tuckerman Ravine at New Hampshire's Mount Washington last weekend but sustained only minor injuries.
Daniel Zucker, 46, of Danville, Vt., said he and climbing partner Tim Finocchio of Holbrook, Mass., were near the top of the Dodge's Drop gully at about 12:30 p.m. Saturday when the snow gave way. He described a terrifying ride down the slope and wondering, along the way, whether he would survive.
"There's this roaring sound that's constant. You're surrounded by snow. You can make out the shapes of things going by," he said. You're just being dragged like being dragged by a car."
Zucker and Finocchio were "incredibly fortunate," US Forest Service rangers said in an incident summary by the forest service's Mount Washington Avalanche Center.
"Ironically, the avalanche which caused their fall likely helped protect them from more significant injuries as they probably rode on the debris cushion to their resting point. … That they were able to walk themselves down from an incident such as this is remarkable to say the least," the report said.
Zucker and Finocchio, who were described in the report as "athletic and experienced mountaineers," were carried by the avalanche over a small cliff (Zucker told rangers it felt like he was airborne for "three heartbeats") and then into a treed slope below, where they came to rest on top of the snow in the trees.
Zucker and Finocchio
"They managed to pass through the rocky section of the fall unscathed, with the injuries being sustained only after being carried into the trees," the rangers reported.
The rangers estimated that the men had dropped 800 feet vertically. Zucker estimated that they had traveled 1,200 feet along the slope at speeds close to 40 mph. The whole experience lasted 20 to 30 seconds, he said.
Zucker said one of the worst parts of the ride was flying over the cliff because he didn't know where he was at that point, and it seemed as if he was airborne for a long time.
"I honestly didn't even know what I was shooting over. ... There's a huge feeling of despair that comes over you," he said.
The ride in the snow paled, however, he said, in comparison with the ride into the trees, which was hellish. The men caromed against the trees, and Zucker said he felt as if a bunch of people had been hired to stop him with baseball bats.
"You have absolutely no control. There' s nothing you can do. You just rag doll it," he said.
The men, whose injuries included a broken pinky finger, a sprained ankle, a bruised pelvis, and various lacerations and abrasions, were taken to a ranger cabin where they were more thoroughly assessed and treated, then back to their car so they could drive to a local hospital, the report said.