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Three rescued from Mt. Washington avalanche

6:04 PM, Jan 18, 2013   |    comments
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MT. WASHINGTON, New Hampshire (NEWS CENTER) - An avalanche in Tuckerman Ravine on Mt Washington swept a group of twelve climbers off the side of the mountain, sending three people to local hospitals.

The group, which included a Marine who lost a leg while serving in Iraq, was about fifty feet from the summit when a wall of snow engulfed them, leaving them in a battle for their lives.

"I just kept moving my hands and swimming," climber Stephanie White explained while demonstrating her frantic attempts to keep from being buried. "I ended up being peeled off backwards through the snow and I was swimming and going, 'damn, is this my time?'"

The group, which goes by the name 'Ascents of Honor', was filming their climb for a documentary. The climbers all had extensive experience with winter and ice climbing, and were prepared for the extreme conditions on the mountain.

"We are professionals," stated Thom Pollard, a film maker who was documenting the journey. "We've climbed many mountains around the world collectively, and were prepared for anything that could happen."

Pollard says he was at the head of the group when the avalanche started. The climbers were tied together in teams of three and all used ice axes to try and keep from being dragged down the mountain.

While nine of them were able to keep from being swept away, one three-man team did not emerge with the others once the snow settled.

"When everybody stands up after the avalanche and looks around to see what happened, the initial feeling is one of fear, ultimately, for the three you can't see now," said Pollard.

The nine remaining climbers worked together to stabilize their footing, then proceeded to climb down the slide to look for their colleagues.

"I was just thinking about what if he hadn't made it, and it was really emotional, but we had to keep it together," recalled Pollard.

The group tried to use their satellite phone to contact rescuers, but were unable to get a connection. About three hours after the avalanche, they were able to see lights off in the distance, which were those of rescuers who had been summoned by the three men who were swept away.

The men, Andy Politz, his son JP, and Iraq War veteran Keith Zeier, were rescued and brought to area hospitals to receive treatment for their injuries. They are all expected to recover from their various bumps and bruises, with the most serious injury, amazingly just a broken leg.

"The mountain spirits were good to us," declared White. "We were a very fortunate group, very fortunate."

"For such an event, it is amazing that most of us just ended up with bruises, minor frostbite and just exhaustion," she added.

An avalanche warning had been issued on Thursday by the Mt. Washington Avalanche Center. Tuckerman is a glacial area that slopes eastward on the southeast face of Mt. Washington.

An avalanche warning had been issued on Thursday by the Mt. Washington Avalanche Center. Tuckerman is a glacial area that slopes eastward on the southeast face of Mt. Washington.
It's popular with climbers and extreme skiers and is prone to avalanches this time of year. The group consulted with the US Forest Service Snow Rangers and adjusted their plans due to the warning, but made the ascent slower than expected and conditions changed more than they had anticipated.

The climbers say they were able to reach safety on their own, and appreciate the assistance of the rangers in helping recover the injured members of their group and assist them in getting down to the base of the mountain.

They say their experience, and preparations made the difference during an adventure which nearly took a tragic turn.

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