Mt. Wash hiker plummets to death

by Amy Semet | 5/4/94 5:00am

Cheryl Weingarten, a senior honors student at Tufts University in Medford, Mass., plunged to her death when she fell into a 70-foot-deep chasm Sunday at Tuckerman's Ravine on Mount Washington.

Many Dartmouth students, on their own or on trips with the Dartmouth Outing Club, travel to Mount Washington for skiing and mountaineering. The mountain is located about one and a half hours north of Hanover.

Rebecca Oreskes, U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman, said Weingarten died Sunday afternoon of a broken neck. Her body was recovered from the bottom of the chasm, which had been made by a waterfall, 18 hours later on Monday afternoon.

Weingarten, 21, of Hewlett, N.Y., slid on ice and snow over the ravine's famed headwall and fell into the chasm, which is located about 30 feet below the top of the ravine.

Weingarten was scheduled to graduate with high honors in French on May 22 from Tufts University, located just north of Boston, said Rosemarie VanKamp, Director of Communications at Tufts.

Oreskes said Weingarten and two friends had hiked to the mountains's 6,288-foot summit and planned to ski down the natural slopes. There are no ski lifts on the mountain.

Ten rescue experts from the Forest Service went to the crevasse on Sunday, but could not retrieve the body because of darkness and fog.

On Monday morning, Fish and Game Lt. Jeff Gray put on a diving suit and spent about 45 minutes in the icy water to recover the body.

Joe Lentini of the Mountain Rescue Service said Weingarten was not prepared to hike on the ice.

The ravine, located about a mile below the summit, is a natural bowl on the side of Mount Washington that fills up with snow in the winter.

The Dartmouth Outing Club leads trips to Tuckerman's Ravine during the spring, according to Craig Sakowitz '93, the administrative assistant for the DOC. It is the only place on the East Coast with avalanche terrain.

"During the winter and spring, the trail is filled with skiers and snowboarders who make the two-hour ascent to the bottom of the bowl," said Tony Field '97, who has made the trip before. "Climbing this hill is more like climbing a ladder than walking up a mountain."

Thatcher Wine '94 said the main attraction of Tuckerman's Ravine at this time of year is skiing.

The 800-foot drop over the headwall lands skiers on a snowfield that reaches an incline of 55 degrees at its steepest points, according to an Associated Press article.

More than 100 people have died in climbing, hiking and other accidents on the mountain, which is the highest in the Northeast, the article stated.

"It is during the winter months that the dangers of freezing to death, avalanche and frostbite are highest," Wine said. "After the snow starts to melt on the ravine, it is safe to ski around mid-April."

Other Dartmouth students go to Tuckerman's Ravine for more than the exercise.

"You go up there for the whole experience: the hike, the sun, the friends, the skiing," Matthew Holstein '95 said. "It is an extremely beautiful and fun place to do some mountaineering."

"The people who ski it are looking for something outside of the tame resort experience," said Jonathan Hodgson '96. "It's a rite of passage for the New England skier."

Despite the risks, Dartmouth skiers and hikers still give high marks to Tuckerman's Ravine.

"People die just about anywhere there is skiing. Perhaps a little more frequently at Tuckerman, but that's the nature of the challenge," Hodgson said. "I don't think it does any good to think about the dangers too much, since then you are likely not to ski your best, and you will be more likely to hurt yourself."

Other students said they have witnessed accidents at Tuckerman's Ravine.

"I did see a few people at the bottom of the ravine who had cut their faces fairly badly by sliding down a few hundred vertical feet," Field said. "I understand how deaths can occur, but the worst collisions I saw were person-to-person collisions."

Theodore Sorom '96 said, "Accidents occur when people aren't good enough skiers to ski the terrain, when they try to do crazy stuff to impress the crowd, or as a result of natural things."

The DOC recommends students to contact the Appalachian Mountain Club before skiing or hiking to inquire about weather conditions on Tuckerman's Ravine.

The world's highest recorded surface wind -- 231 mph -- was measured on Mountain Washington, according to the AP article.