"Terrifying": Home video of Rainier avalanche aftermath

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by OWEN LEI / KING 5 News

NWCN.com

Posted on June 7, 2010 at 11:16 AM

Updated Monday, Jun 7 at 9:42 PM

 REDMOND, Wash. -- Bryan Nash has a few cracked ribs and is sore all over, but he's glad to be among family and friends after being buried alive under a shelf of snow on Washington's highest peak.

Nash recorded his weekend journey with a consumer camcorder, and you can hear the excitement in his voice just minutes before the avalanche.

"There's the upper mountain, groups ahead of me," he narrates in his own video. "Feeling great, I'm loving this. It's going to be a gorgeous day."

Nash said he and a friend had reached Camp Muir the night before as part of their plan to ski down from the summit.  But his friend got sick, so before daybreak Saturday, Nash set off alone.

"It wasn't terribly icy, pretty good footing, so I was able to make good time," said Nash, who is a veteran mountaineer and skier who grew up in the Puget Sound area and currently lives in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

It was around 4:30 a.m. when Nash recorded his last pre-avalanche clip.  He has just passed a guided group slowly making its way up the Ingraham Direct Route, a glacial path up Rainier's southeast slope.  He said he was nearing another group of climbers, and could see the headlamp of a solo climber higher up on the glacier.

But around 4:45 a.m., "I heard everyone start to yell, and I looked up," Nash said. "It was just a giant white cloud covering my view of the upper mountain."

It was the avalanche heading right at him.

"[I] put my head down and just hoped for the best, and within a second of plunging my ice ax into the slope it hit me like a train, ripped me right off the mountain, right off my spot, and I tumbled for what I would guess was a hundred yards," he said.

When he stopped tumbling several seconds later, "my left arm was pinned, my whole body was pinned."

But his right arm, miraculously, was free, he said.

"I clawed at my face to get my face free of snow, my mouth was full of snow, my nose was full of snow," Nash said, describing the moments as "terrifying, but extreme relief once I was able to breathe."

Guides from Rainier Mountaineering Inc., who were leading the group he had passed earlier, helped dig Nash out.

"After getting my upper body out, asking several times if I was all right, they said, 'You know, we're going to look for the other people' and I said, 'Absolutely, I'm fine.'"

In all, 11 people were buried in the snow.  Two injured men were airlifted off the mountain, and as of Monday, one man was still missing.

"Initially, when the avalanche hit me, it was, you know, 'This is it, this is how you go,'" Nash said, comparing the experience to being submerged in a wave of cement.

Nash also recorded the eerie aftermath of the slab avalanche, which park officials estimated was at least 300 feet wide, more than three feet thick, and slid more than 1,000 feet down the mountain.

"Fifteen minutes after the last filming that I did, this happened," narrates a slightly out-of-breath Nash as he points the camera at a now sun-lit landscape.  In the video, people are walking around helping others, and Nash points out one man lying "semi-conscious," who was pulled from the snow.

"A big section ripped off... wiped me out," he adds.  The avalanche tore apart Nash's backpack, but he was able to recover his skis.  Nash said he managed to ski back down to Camp Muir on his own.  It wasn't until later that he realized he had broken bones.

Despite all that, Nash said he will try to summit Mount Rainier again later this summer.  He said he believes with his safety gear, his avalanche beacon, and his experience, he's prepared enough to continue his passion for mountaineering and skiing.

As for his video, the clip ends with Nash saying he's scrapping this particular trip to the summit.

"Pretty unreal," he says before shutting off the camera.

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