Two Montana mountain climbers were killed when an avalanche swept them off Sphinx Mountain near Ennis, MT, Madison County officials said Sunday.
The victims were identified as Nathaniel Stevens and Bryan Nelson, both 25, of Missoula.
"The slide took them down," said Sheriff's Deputy David Clark. "They weren't totally buried. They took two 30-foot falls." advertisement
Witnesses said the men fell 30 feet to a ledge and then fell another 30 feet to the bottom, Clark said.
A third climber, Justin Elliott, also of Missoula, was not caught in Saturday's avalanche because he had stopped to tighten his boot, Clark said.
The three men were intending to ice climb and were traversing the north side of the mountain, which is in the Lee Metcalf Wilderness southeast of Ennis in the Madison Range.
Clark said the avalanche occurred about 9:30 a.m. Saturday during a snowstorm, and it may have been triggered by overhanging snow cornices breaking off. Clark said authorities were notified about three hours after the accident.
Four separate parties were on foot in the area intending to ice climb. One of them included an emergency medical technician, who was able to reach the victims and determined they were dead, Clark said.
Air and ground attempts to retrieve the bodies Saturday failed, Clark said, and officials used horses on Sunday to bring out the bodies.
U.S. Forest Service officials said some areas had heavy snow and strong winds on Thursday night. "That's what created the current avalanche conditions," said avalanche scientist Karl Birkeland of the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center.
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