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In the News - Friday, FEBRUARY 1, 2008

—See this week's FRONT PAGE (PDF)

 

Skier 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 “The Hump.”
   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 downslope.
   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 reached him.
   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

in weekend forecast

   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 content.
   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 31.
   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 rolled over.
   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 for treatment.

Chamber to host

entrance-sign meeting

   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 Kaweah Commonwealth.
   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 bigtreesmarketing@gmail.com or by calling 679-9066.


 
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