January 18, 2013

Avalanche halts, injures Mount Washington climbers

The Associated Press

PINKHAM NOTCH, N.H — An avalanche has halted an attempt by a retired Marine and amputee to climb the Northeast's highest peak, but if his past comments are any indication, he'll likely try again.

Retired Sgt. Keith Zeier was in the hospital Friday, a day after he and two fellow climbers were injured in an avalanche on Mount Washington. The climb was part of a project called Ascents of Honor and was the latest of several grueling challenges the 26-year-old has taken on to raise awareness and money for the families of special operations forces killed or wounded in action.

"In the middle of anything that is difficult, we have the option of quitting, slowing down or changing course. My life has been about ignoring that option," Zeier wrote last month on the Ascents of Honor blog.

According to an update on the group's Facebook page, Zeier was part of a 12-member crew trying to reach the 6,288-foot summit Thursday evening when a slab avalanche broke loose and swept three climbers to the bottom of Huntington Ravine. Zeier and the other injured climbers were able to slowly make their way to rescuers who assisted them off the mountain, the group said.

One of the injured climbers, J.P. Politz, was released from the hospital Friday. His father, Andy Politz, also was injured; his condition was not available. Zeier's mother said Friday morning she had not yet spoken to her son but his doctors said his prognosis was promising, and a nurse told her he was in stable condition.

Before his leg was amputated several years ago, Zeier ran several marathons to raise money for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, his mother said. Last summer, he climbed Washington's Mount Rainier and was looking forward to Thursday's climb, she said.

Tiffany Benna, public affairs officer for the U.S. Forest Service in New Hampshire, said there was a "moderate avalanche advisory" in effect for Huntington Ravine, meaning the likelihood of a naturally occurring avalanche was nil but a human-triggered avalanche was possible.

According to the Ascents of Honor website, the group was keenly focused on safety and had assigned one climber to oversee safety decisions ranging from gear choice to navigation. The group plans to produce a film that will inspire viewers to contribute to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation and do whatever they can to help veterans in their communities.

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