The Avalanche That Practically Killed Coombs
Avalanches come unexpected causing many deaths in the icy mountains. Sudden storms are one of the major causes of this natural disaster that leaves no chance for people in its path for survival.
Colby Coombs was one of the very few people who have survived an encounter with avalanche. He practically rose out of the void and survived the deadly experience. It was in June 1992 that 25 year old Colby Coombs went on a vacation with his friends Tom Walter and Ritt Kellog in the Alaska Range. He was an instructor with the National Outdoor Leadership School.
They chose Mount Foraker for their hike and chose the direct finish on the new Pink Panther route. The three of them headed for this 17,400 foot mountain with great enthusiasm. They started off on their journey too and everything went on well till they were close to their destination.
As they were eagerly looking forward to finish their climb, a sudden storm let the entire mountain loose. They were in the midst of an avalanche panic stricken and with no time to react. Coombs and his friends were thrown off their feet. They started falling on one side of the mountain directly 800 feet down.
It was six hours later that Coombs regained consciousness. When he woke up he was in excruciating pain having broken a shoulder blade, fractured vertebrae in his neck and fractured his ankle. Dangling from his rope, he swung to the side where he could see Walter.
On close scrutiny, he found that Walter, who was also dangling on the rope was dead his face masked completely by ice. Coombs trudged along for one whole day before finding out that Kellogg, his old college roommate was also killed by the avalanche.
Fighting back tears and making a superhuman effort to keep the faces of his dead friends from entering his mind, he started his journey back hoping to be rescued. For four days he started moving down the mountain ignoring the pain and keeping his eyes open. Coombs reached the base camp after a long struggle.
His laborious journey was not over yet. From the base camp, he still had to cross the dangerous Kahiltna Glacier. This glacier was all of five miles and if anything happened and he fell into the crevasse, there was no way he could be rescued. Coombs who now lives in Talkeetna, his hometown and runs the Alaska Mountaineering School, somehow made it after many challenges. Against all odds, relying only on his luck, Coombs managed to survive the ordeal and reach help.
He is 37 years old and in all his AMS courses he gives great emphasis on the safety aspect. Coombs hardly ever narrates his horrifying experience and his survival of one of the deadliest natural disasters. He tells his story only when required in his classes. According to Coombs, if you are ever in such trouble, it is necessary to eliminate any aspect that may come in way of success such as pain, fear and emotion.