Quartz Mountain - Where Did THAT Avalanche Come From?

From the time we entered the bottom of the gully, had the accident, provided first aid, descended, and had a lunch break at the bottom of the gully where we could still view the entire route, the ONLY snow activity of any kind was this small avalanche.
David Shema David Shema
Safety Committee Chair
February 13, 2018

Quartz Mountain, Middle Fork Snoqualmie River - January 21

WINTER SCRAMBLE LEADER REPORT

LEADER

We were attempting a winter scramble of Quartz Mt via the east gully. The approach was pleasant and without incident. The forecast was for moderate avalanche danger below tree line and considerable above. While the route was below tree line, due to the nature of the gully on our route, we thought the conditions were considerable, and we were on the look out for any surface activity.

Upon entering the gully, there was avy debris visible but upon inspection it was clearly at least 2-3 days old, most likely coming down before or during the rains 3-days prior. There was no recent avalanche activity, and the snow was quite solid and stable in the gully.

At approximately 3200' I asked the person in the lead to wait for the group, now fairly spread out, so we could regroup and have everyone start using ice axes, as the terrain was steepening. He waited for us above and to the right of an RV sized boulder in the middle of the gully. As I was approaching him, I heard a loud sound and he began shouting avalanche.

Running to the left and behind the boulder several of us began shouting to the group below to run to the sides of the gully and out of the way of the slide. The slide was primarily in a narrow 10'-15' wide stream down the middle of the gully but was preceded by large snow and ice chunks. The party was able to avoid the snow slide itself, but one person was hit in the head by a large snow chunk as she was traversing climbers left out of its way. Once the slide stopped (I would guess this took about 2 minutes for the snow to completely stop) the group immediately moved the injured scrambler to side of the gully and begin administering first aid.

Her injuries were primarily contusions and scrapes around her right eye. She was coherent and did not have any vision problems nor did she appear to have suffered a concussion.

After icing the injury, I instructed the group to descend keeping 30-40 yards between each person until we reached the bottom of the gully and were out of any potential avalanche danger. The descent down the gully and back to the cars went without incident.

LESSONS LEARNED

LEADER

This one has me stumped. From the time we entered the bottom of the gully, had the accident, provided first aid, descended, and had a lunch break at the bottom of the gully where we could still view the entire route, the ONLY snow activity of any kind was this small avalanche. Otherwise there was no recent activity in the last several days.

The slide did not originate in the gully. A party member  noted it came through the trees on the climbers left straight at him and then curved down the gully before reaching his position. Almost all rock faces/slabs that were visible from the gully were snow free, or mostly snow free. The conditions that day were not uncommon for  winter scrambles.

As best I can tell, this was just a fluke slide off a rock slab out of sight that somehow managed to not release days earlier when everything else did, and we happened to be in the wrong spot in the gully when it released. Had it released 30 minutes earlier we would have been too low for it to be a serious danger to the group and 30 minutes later we likely would have been entirely above it.

This route is direct and pleasant but should ONLY be attempted in moderate or lower avalanche conditions as it is a terrain trap for anything coming off the sides of both summit ridges.

Note: The photo used for this blog was taken during the summer on the same route. The route was quite a bit snowier during our January trip. 
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Mike Barber
Mike Barber says:
Mon, Feb 19, 2018 8:07 AM

Sounds like the exact same thing that happened on a trip two years ago that I was on. The avalanche originated from a side chute, climber's left, just above a garage sized boulder. It was a smaller slide but resulted in a few climbers suffering some lacerations, black eye and a concussion. I descended this gully earlier this winter after ascending the ridge to Besse-Quartz and there was lots of avilanche debris higher up. I will not go in that gully again. Besse-Quartz ridge goes without much avalanche danger but it is a long day and requires a fast group.

Mike Barber
Mike Barber says:
Mon, Feb 19, 2018 8:12 AM

Oh haha, I need to read the entire report before commenting. I think this is repost a year later. I was thrown off by the Feb 13, 2018 publication date. Still. If you want to do Quartz, go via the ridge leading to Besse-Quartz.