Over 100,000 avalanches fall every year. Moutaineers call them ‘white death’ and every year the death toll rises. Confrontations are sudden and dramatic, the odds of survival remote. White Death is the story of the collision between one such avalanche and 5 young mountaineers on Mount Cleveland, and the desperate efforts to rescue them.
The mystery of the high mountains, the source of their dreadful attraction, is their legendary danger. In C15th mountain travellers were led through the Alps blindfolded because the high places were thought to contain visions that would drive them mad. Atop the Matterhorn, it was believed, was a ruined city inhabited by the souls of the dead. Dragons were thought to live in the high altitudes. The dragon’s roar expressed itself all too clearly: as an avalanche. White Death is the story of avalaches, told through the tale of one group of mountaineers who climbed high into the northern Rockies of Glacier Park in January 1969. Mount Cleveland is not the highest mountain in the world but it’s one where the dragon roars most frequently and with the greatest ferocity: avalanches 10 or 15 times a day have been recorded. And avalanches have awesome force: one in Alaska contained a million cubic yards of ice and fell 10,000 feet in elevation, travelling up and over a three thousand foot mountain en route and throwing up a plume of ice into the air that was visible from 100 miles away. Five young men and a lot of snow and ice collided fatally on Mount Cleveland. The men vanished. Despite a huge rescue and recovery operation their bodies were not released by the snowfield that entombed them for 188 days.