Monday, March 07, 2011

The Snowslide of March 7, 1911 (100 Year Aniversary)

(GPS: N38° 03.260 W119° 10.485)

AKA Nature Does Not Play By Rules

The time has come. This is one I have waited some years to post about going back to the beginning of the blog. In fact, I remember thinking a few years ago that March 7, 2011 was so far away. Well, here it is. This is the anniversary of a tragic event that happened on the night of March 7, 1911.

The people of Lundy Canyon were busy mining and safe most of the year. The big problem they always had was during the winter they were vulnerable to avalanches. While we often talk about the violence in these old mining towns because of what you see in westerns, but those isolated events tended to be rare and a temporary concern compared to other environmental factors that could wipe out a whole town.

At around 12:01 AM on March 7, 1911 a series of snowslide avalanches struck near the entrance to Lundy Canyon and in Lundy Canyon as well. The most violent damage took place at the Jordan hydroelectric station. At the time it was constructed it was thought the station and the two concrete living quarters were far enough away from the nearby mountains that it was safe from the avalanches. The Lundy Canyon area had been the victim of previous avalanches, so it was well known that this could happen. It turned out that much snow had built up during the winter.

In the distance you can see the modern Jordan plant. The older plant was just to the right and Copper Mountain is further to the right slightly out of picture. The main destructive avalanche came down from the Copper Mountain and wiped out the concrete facility and homes.
From the above picture I just turned around to show you the cemetery built for this tragedy. We hiked out here from HWY 395. Most of the people buried here are from the Jordan avalanche.
The first graveside is dedicated to H.M. Wier. He was an electrician from Pasadena, CA.
D.O. Knowlton. This is the one gravesite where of a person who was killed in the avalanche in Lundy Canyon and not at the Jordan avalanche.
You will notice that during the summer it is nice and warm here for the guardians.
R.H. Mason. His wife actually survived being entombed for 60 hours before she was rescued. It is said that the family dog kept her warm.
Patrick Stromblad. There are two markers here with different spellings of his last name. At the time of his video I assumed the right marker was added with corrections, but now I am not sure about that. I will list a link below that talks about him.
There are a few more markers. In the video I briefly cover them all and probably butcher a name or two, but you will get the point. This is with my back to the cemetery gate from the other side.
I do not talk about this too much, but there are usually a few deaths each year in the High Sierra. Normally, this happens when people underestimate the snow conditions, but tragic events like this can happen at any time. Even for those with experience in the backcountry.

Part of why I like being in the backcountry is because, in one sense, there are no rules. Some people who I have experienced in the big city love to talk about their accomplishments, but if you take them out their comfort zone they would be humbled very quickly. The mountains and wilderness can be a very beautiful place, but one where humility can come and with tragic results. I usually feel safe when I go out in the backcountry, but have had my share of falls and other minor mistakes. So far so good, but all it takes is that one big mistake.

So no matter where you are, keep these things in mind. The video:

A few links: