Five days after a Washington avalanche swept three climbers to their death, conditions remain too dangerous for recovery efforts, officials said.
The tragedy occurred Sunday on Colchuck Peak, located in the Cascade Mountains a few miles from Leavenworth, Wash. A six-member party was ascending the mountain’s Northwest Couloir when the lead climber triggered an avalanche, sweeping four of them 500 feet down the mountain, according to the Chelan County Sheriff’s Office.
Three climbers died from the fall, while the fourth sustained non-life-threatening injuries and hiked back to base camp with the remaining two, officials said.
On Wednesday, Chelan County officials identified the avalanche victims. They are Seong Cho, a 54-year-old Korean national living in West Hartford, Conn., Jeannie Lee, a 60-year-old woman from Bayside, N.Y., and Yun Park, a 66-year-old man from Palisades Park, N.J.
“The remaining climbers attempted to evacuate all individuals but were unsuccessful,” the Northwest Avalanche Center wrote in its accident report. “Subsequent natural avalanches impacted the accident site in the hours following the event.”
After the surviving climbers called for help, a group of 22 rescuers from a variety of local organizations arrived at Colchuck Peak’s base camp. They escorted the remaining climbers back to the trailhead, but “hazardous conditions” prevented them from continuing up the mountain to recover the bodies, Chelan County Sheriff’s Office said in a news release.
Rescuers Still Waiting for Chance to Recover Bodies
Later in the week, two experts from the Northwest Avalanche Center arrived at Colchuck Peak. They said conditions remained too dangerous to retrieve the bodies.
“Recovery efforts from this point forward will be based on avalanche and weather conditions, as well as overall rescuer safety,” the sheriff’s office said in the release.
The three surviving climbers include a 50-year-old male from New York, a 36-year-old man from New Jersey, and a 56-year-old man from New York, who survived his injuries from the avalanche, officials said.
According to a route description from SummitPost, Colchuck Peak’s Northwest Couloir is highly technical and dangerous, with a steep slope likely to result in avalanches. And the Northwest Avalanche Center had issued a warning Sunday for climbers to “expect increasing danger.”
A local guide from a Leavenworth-based guiding outfit told The Seattle Times that he was surprised to hear a large climbing party had attempted the route, given the snow and weather conditions.
“As a guide of 34 years, hearing someone was on that route was kind of a wow moment,” John Race, owner of Northwest Mountain School, said in the story. “It just seems like an incredibly aggressive route choice. I can say with great confidence that’s not a route that we would ever guide with six people.”
This season, avalanches have caused nine deaths in the U.S., and another nine deaths in Canada. But the tragedy on Sunday remains the deadliest single avalanche so far this winter.