In the News -
Friday, FEBRUARY 1, 2008
this week's FRONT PAGE (PDF)
killed in avalanche
For as long as anyone who works in or lives around Sequoia
National Park can recall, there has never been a fatality related to an
avalanche. That is until Monday, Jan. 28, when a snowslide on the Pear
Lake Trail in the upper Tokopah Valley swept two skiers more than 200
yards down a steep slope on the west side of the trail section known as
Hikers out of Wolverton or Lodgepole may recall that the
area just below The Hump, at about 9,200 feet in elevation, is steep,
mostly tree-covered, and traversed by a series of switchbacks. Apparently,
the two backcountry skiers, traveling in whiteout conditions, had temporarily
lost the trail when the tons of snow and ice suddenly swept the two men
Details are sketchy as to what happened next but rangers
reports indicate that Morgan Cowles, 39, of Santa Barbara was buried in
the slide and died after being pinned near a large tree. Jason Gardner
of Fresno, the man’s companion, later told rescuers that he was
able to uncover Cowles but the victim was deceased by the time Gardner
The bizarre series of events began Sunday when the two skiers,
after having spent Saturday night in the Pear Lake Ski Hut, attempted
the return trip as scheduled on Sunday. The backcountry skiers were soon
in the midst of a violent storm accompanied by high winds, lightning,
thunder, and extremely heavy snow.
After traveling slightly under two miles of the six back
to the Wolverton trailhead, the duo stopped at Heather Lake. The men had
a tent and waited out the worst of the storm by camping overnight.
By late Sunday the men were reported overdue and Sequoia
Park rangers began a search for the skiers Monday morning. After approximately
five hours, the search party located Cowles’s body in an area where
the snowpack was estimated to be six to eight feet.
The searchers were able to locate Gardner a short time later,
off-trail and in difficult terrain, but attempting to ski out for help.
Due to the stormy weather and unstable snow, Cowles’s body wasn’t
retrieved until Tuesday when it was transported out via helicopter.
Rangers reported that both men were experienced winter wilderness travelers
and knowledgeable about the danger of avalanches. Each was equipped with
an avalanche beacon, a small transmitter-receiver that is used to locate
a buried victim.
The warm rain that preceded the weekend’s storm set
the stage for the tragedy by forming an unstable ice sheet atop the previously
existing snow. When the men encountered the accumulation of fresh snow
in the steep area below the ridge, the entire layer of several feet of
new snow swept the skiers down an avalanche chute.
Cowles worked in the Davidson Library at the University of
California at Santa Barbara.
In the winter of 1968-69, prior to Mineral King becoming
a part of Sequoia National Park, a contractor for the Walt Disney Corporation
was killed in an avalanche in that area. In that incident, the man suffocated
after being buried inside the dining-room cabin of the small resort that
formerly operated at road’s end in the upper Mineral King Valley
near the current Eagle and Mosquito lakes trailhead.
Rain and snow
When the current rainy season began, forecasters weren’t
sure what to expect. Most of the long-range outlooks contained a wet January
but were very sketchy about February and March in years like 1995 and
1998, among the wettest months on record.
It appears now that the current season will be very much
like two of the last three but with some jolts of intense energy to keep
the experts guessing. One of those high-energy storms swept through Tulare
County and the southern Sierra on Sunday, causing widespread power outages,
knocking down trees and power lines, and dumping 18 inches of new snow
on an existing pack that may be the foundation of some impressive water
At 7,000 feet, Sunday’s swift- moving storm became
an epic battle between warm, stationary air and a hard-charging cold front
that was quickly filling in behind the frontal edge. Round, tightly packed
ice crystals pelted the entire Lodgepole area shortly after 12:30 p.m.
but soon became more a powdery, typical snowfall.
As the system made its way up and over the Great Western
Divide, thunder cracked overhead and numerous lightning bolts flashed
an eerie glow within the extreme whiteout. The rate of snowfall at 7,000
feet was three to four inches per hour.
In Three Rivers, the rapidly moving system was experienced
first with high wind gusts up to 50 mph, followed by several scattered
showers that contained some heavy rain for brief periods. The latest round
of storminess brought January to a close with a season total of 12.40
inches of rainfall in the Three Rivers environs.
That January total pales in comparison to the El Nino years
but appears to be on track with 2006 (12.62) and 2005 (14.02) and more
within what could be considered normal. Last year (2007), one of the driest
on record, Three Rivers had recorded on 4.59 inches of rainfall on January
Ash Mountain, in nearby Sequoia National Park, has recorded
14.63 inches of rainfall in the current season and received one inch of
snow on January 24. There is currently 68 inches of snow in Lodgepole
at 6,800 feet.
The snowpack isn’t going anywhere soon as daytime highs
at Lodgepole have remained below freezing. Nighttime lows have consistently
been dipping into the teens and have been flirting with single digits.
The on-again, off-again storminess is expected to continue
at least throughout the weekend. The regional forecast calls for scattered
periods of sunshine, good air quality, and some of the best winter snowplay
conditions in years.
DUI a factor in North Fork crash;
motorcycle down on Dry Creek
Few sounds are more distinctive than that of crashing metal
and the shattering of glass that occurs as a result of a vehicle rollover.
That’s what several North Fork Drive residents heard after a 2000
Saturn, driven by a 29-year-old Three Rivers woman, left the roadway then
The crash occurred shortly after 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan.
29, when the northbound driver failed to negotiate the bend at Pierce’s
Corner, on North Fork Drive near its intersection with Kaweah River Drive.
For no apparent reason the driver veered onto the narrow shoulder then
overcorrected, causing the vehicle to flip onto its roof.
After gathering information at the scene, the CHP investigating
officer determined that driving while under the influence was the primary
cause of the solo vehicle accident. The driver complained of pain and
was transported to Kaweah Delta Hospital in Visalia where she was later
arrested for DUI and charged in connection with the accident.
The woman was not taken into custody and allowed to remain
at the hospital for further treatment. The condition of the two passengers
in the car was not immediately made public.
“Driving on these
mountain roads, especially at night, requires the driver’s total
attention,” said one CHP investigator. “Add alcohol to the
mix and you’ve got an accident waiting to happen.”
In an unrelated incident, a motorcyclist was injured during
the afternoon of Saturday, Jan. 26, in a solo spinout on Dry Creek Drive,
six miles up from the Highway 216 junction. A Tulare County Fire Department
engine, the first responder on the scene, was flagged down by a motorist
who had the injured motorcyclist in the back of his truck.
The injured man, who was conscious at the scene, said he
was riding alone when he tried to pass another vehicle and lost control
on the rain-slick road. He complained of neck pain and numbness in his
right arm, so he was transported via ambulance to Kaweah Delta Hospital
Chamber to host
After several months of meeting with community groups and
individual citizens in Three Rivers about the proposed new sign design
for the entrance to Three Rivers, the Sequoia Foothills Chamber of Commerce
published information about this project in the January 4 edition of The
Since then, Chamber board members have received lots of wonderful
feedback from members of the community, along with some concerns. The
Chamber wants the Three Rivers entrance sign project to result in a product
with which the entire community can be happy. And while it’s not
always possible to please everyone, we’d like to try!
Now is your chance to be part of this exciting community
project. If you are interested in the design and installation of a new
entrance sign for Three Rivers, please join the Sequoia Foothills Chamber
of Commerce on Tuesday, Feb. 12, at 5:30 p.m., at the Chamber office/Three
Rivers Museum, 42268 Sierra Drive.
If you have any questions or would like to submit comments
or concerns in writing in advance of the meeting, contact Johanna Kamansky,
Chamber President at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 679-9066.