It was a sorrowful moment Thursday night when I got a call from The Gazette's night news editor asking for a picture of Patrick Niedringhaus, a high school student who died Thursday in an avalanche near Greys and Torreys peaks. Some of you may have seen his story in The Gazette Friday morning.
When the night editor first called, I couldn't think of why I would have a picture of the guy, then I remembered: He and I had snowshoed up a mountain near Alma with a Colorado Mountain Club Group in April.
I was working on a story about the long, warm days and stable snow conditions of spring that make for idea climbing. He and a friend were just learning the ropes of winter mountaineering. They were excited to find out as much as they could, and peppered me with questions about ice climbing, avalanches, and climbing big mountains.
The two obviously continued pushing into the backcountry, and Patrick was caught.
Neither of them had avalanche beacons, so when Patrick was buried under six feet of snow, he effectively disappeared. No one found him until a trained avalanche dog showed up.
It's easy, easier than most people think, to get buried in a massive avalanche. Traveling in the backcountry without avalanche beacons is foolish, but even more foolish is traveling in a group that includes only young males who are just psyched as can be to be out in the mountains and interested to find out how much they can push themselves. In a case like that, someone with experience is always helpful. If you can't find one, a common avalanche safety nugget, given only half in jest, is to bring a girlfriend.
They're more sensible, have better intuition, and statistically, are more helpful than a beacon.
I wish all the best to Patrick's family.