Lolo Peak Avalanche Accident

Preliminary information. A more complete report will be posted at a later date.

June 14, 2001 Lolo Peak Avalanche Accident

On Friday 6/18 a request from the Missoula County Sheriff Mike McMeekin was made to Missoula Dispatch to arrange for a helicopter to fly Steve Karkanen to the site of a possible avalanche accident to assess the site for avalanche safety and find a nearby helispot. Cloud and fog conditions at the site prevented flying until 1430 when 38MA, a call when needed helicopter, was launched to perform the mission. We were unable to land but I was able to easily see that the site and adjacent steep chutes had slid either during or after the snow that came in on the 17th and that the site was not threatened by further avalanche activity. This information was passed along to the rescue party on the ground and Blade 48, the National Guard helicopter. Coroner Mike Dominick was hoisted into the site by a National Guard helicopter to perform the recovery.

According to Dominick’s report, on Monday 6/14/2010, Christopher Spurgeon was skiing a steep north facing chute off the top of the north summit of Lolo Peak when a small avalanche released, entrained Christopher in heavy wet snow and carried him 1000′ down the chute and through approximately 300 feet of exposed rock talus until he was stopped by larger rocks at the base of the chute. He did not survive his injuries.

This chute is extremely steep (north facing, 30 degrees at the entrance and 50 degrees mid-track) and doglegs away from large rock talus at the bottom. A skier would have to turn hard left at the bottom to avoid the rocks. Chris was found in the rocks with multiple injuries. He was not wearing a helmet or avalanche transceiver. There was avalanche debris around Chris but he was not buried.

Coordinates for the site are: 46 41.028N X 114 14.325W.

The weather the day of the accident was not unusual for mid-June. Temperatures at the Savage Pass SNOTEL station (30 miles south west of Lolo Peak at 6100′) ranged from a low of 38 at 0400 to 65 at 1600. The accident site is at 8500′ so it would have been a few degrees cooler. Chris was found in a short sleeve shirt confirming that it was a nice day. Several inches of rain fell the previous few days so the snowpack was saturated with water which may have contributed to the avalanche. A significant storm on Thursday 6/17 complicated search activities as several inches of snow fell over the search area. 9” of new snow was recorded at Stuart Peak SNOTEL at 7400′ and searchers reported up to 2 feet in some wind loaded areas, hence the concern about avalanche conditions.

I was amazed at how quickly the backcountry community rallied to offer help. Colin Chisolm with help from other close friends of Chris were instrumental in finding him. He would not have been found from the air and a ground search would have been very, very difficult.

Our thoughts and prayers are with Chris’s family and friends during this difficult time.

June 22 Missoulian news story.