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Outdoors/Adventure

13 UAF students and staffers survive Interior avalanche

  • Author: Ben Anderson
  • Updated: July 7, 2016
  • Published March 29, 2016

Thirteen University of Alaska Fairbanks students and staff members participating in a mountaineering course near Canwell Glacier over the weekend were caught in an avalanche that buried some and later sent at least two to the emergency room, though all were able to walk away.

According to an Alaska Avalanche Information Center post from Mark Oldmixon, director of UAF's Department of Recreation, Adventure and Wellness, the slide occurred Saturday on a slope along the glacier in the Alaska Range, about 3 miles east of the Richardson Highway. The avalanche was "climber-induced," according to Sam Braband, outdoor recreation manager at the department.

All 13 people -- nine students and four staff members -- participating in the introductory mountaineering course were at least knocked off their feet by the slide, with some buried and others immediately rushing to their aid, Braband said.

The avalanche came near the end of the three-month course, which offers "basic understanding of avalanche safety," among other Alaska backcountry competencies, according to the course description. Braband said the students and faculty were "extremely prepared" for what to do immediately after the avalanche.

"Climbers who were free of the snow swiftly assisted those whose faces were covered and were able to uncover their faces and ensure they had an airway within about 20-30 seconds," Oldmixon wrote in the post. "The team worked to dig out all of those who were in the snow and set up a safe staging area where they performed first aid on small cuts and bruises, checked vitals and warmed those who were stuck in the snow the longest, and prepared hot drinks for the team."

The class decided to ski out from the area that day, cutting short what was supposed to be an overnight trip to climb McCallum Peak. The climbers whose faces had been buried in the avalanche noticed pain in their chests during the trip back.

Two climbers went to the emergency room but were released a short time later, Oldmixon wrote.

Braband said everyone had recovered physically from the avalanche, but the emotional impact may be more difficult to assess, especially for a group of relative newcomers to Alaska's backcountry.

"Our No. 1 mission right now is to give everybody the tools and the resources and the necessary means to unpack that stressful situation," he said.

The course's final day was slated for Friday, and Braband said there were no additional trips planned as part of the course.

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