PINKHAM NOTCH, New Hampshire — Two climbers triggered an avalanche in Mount Washington's Tuckerman Ravine, prompting a search and rescue operation in an area notorious for its deadly avalanches, forest officials said Monday.
White Mountain National Forest authorities said the hikers, who both suffered minor injuries, were climbing in an area known as "The Chute" on Sunday afternoon when they detected an unstable snow surface and decided to turn back.
Officials say the slope above them fractured, launching a 100-foot-wide avalanche that swept both climbers and two nearby skiers to the base of the ravine.
Climber Michel Houde of Lorraine, Quebec, and skier Kaj Huld of Brunswick, Maine, were treated by national forest service snow rangers for minor injuries. The other climber was taken by snowmobile to the base and a waiting ambulance.
At least nine people have died in avalanches on Mount Washington in the past two decades, including two climbers who were among seven people swept more than 1,000 feet down Tuckerman Ravine in 2002.
The 6,288-foot peak is the highest in the Northeast and has some of the world's worst weather. A record wind speed of 231 mph was recorded on April 12, 1934.
New Hampshire leads the nation in the percentage of avalanche deaths resulting from trauma, according to the Mount Washington Avalanche Center. The state's terrain and low snowfall make it more likely that someone caught in an avalanche will be caught in trees and rocks as they tumble downhill, according to the center's site.
The night before Sunday's avalanche, White Mountain Weather Observatory reported 5.5 inches of new snow on the summit and overnight winds of 40-60 mph.
The avalanche center on Monday was reporting "considerable" avalanche danger in certain areas of the ravine, including the site of Sunday's avalanche.