Report tells story of ‘traumatic fall’ after fatal Colchuck avalanche

Mar 27, 2023, 10:51 AM


Colchuck Peak (Photo from Flickr @Eric)

(Photo from Flickr @Eric)

According to the final report from the Northwest Avalanche Center, a fatal avalanche at Colchuck Peak near Leavenworth in late February was especially deadly due to “the extremely steep, sustained nature of the terrain.”

The avalanche itself was likely relatively small, about a D1.5 on a D5 scale, according to the report, but the “long and traumatic fall through exposed rocks, short cliffs, and narrow walled chokes” made the small avalanche deadly.

Body of man recovered from Colchuck Peak avalanche

“The unforgiving terrain of the Northeast Couloir route of Colchuck Peak resulted in the loss of three lives despite the small size of the avalanche. Due to steep slope angles, extensive vertical relief, and frequent terrain traps, climbing routes are particularly susceptible to avalanche hazards,” the report said.

The accident happened Feb. 19 just southwest of Leavenworth and involved a group of six backpackers. Three members of the group — who were all from out of state — were buried and died in the incident. One sustained injuries. One of the three survivors was able to hike to Leavenworth to get help, but the Chelan County Sheriff’s Office told KIRO Newsradio’s Heather Bosch conditions were too dangerous to pursue recovery efforts Feb. 21.

The lead climber triggered an avalanche while attempting to climb the Northeast Couloir of Colchuck Peak, according to the Chelan County Sheriff’s Office’s report. Four of the climbers were swept down the couloir by approximately 500 feet. Three of the climbers died as a result of trauma sustained in the fall.

A body from the avalanche incident, according to the Chelan County Sheriff’s Office, was identified as Seong Cho, a Korean national residing in West Hartford, Conn.

Snohomish County HRT made additional search attempts for the remaining two climbers, according to the Chelan County Sheriff’s Office, but have been unsuccessful so far. Jeannie Lee, a 60-year-old female from Bayside, N.Y., and Yun Park, a 66-year-old male from Palisades Park, N.J., were identified as the other avalanche victims.

The fourth climber, a 56-year-old male from New York, sustained non-life-threatening injuries and was able to hike back to base camp with the remaining two. They were a 50-year-old male from New York and a 36-year-old male from New Jersey. When they arrived at camp, they sent the reporting party for help.

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Fluctuating temperatures, varying at about a 4,000-foot snowline, meant the snowpack may be heavy or potentially upside down in nature for most elevations. Upside down, according to the Northwest Avalanche Center (NWAC), means lighter, dryer, low-density snow sits underneath heavier, wetter snow — a recipe for high avalanche activity.

“You get this heavy, wet snow up on those steep slopes, and, simply put, gravity is going to play a role here,” KIRO Newsradio meteorologist Ted Buehner said.

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Report tells story of ‘traumatic fall’ after fatal Colchuck avalanche