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Avalanche survivor: it felt like ‘the whole earth was moving’

Conor Lodge sensed the avalanche coming, but by then it was too late. Moments later, he and a friend were swept downhill, plunging 80 feet across rocky terrain and tumbling down another several hundred feet atop the snow.

That was Saturday, Dec. 28. Lodge, SSH’14, a fifth-year English major at Northeastern, was hiking on Mount Washington in New Hampshire with his older brother Tristan and two other friends—all of whom hail from Martha’s Vineyard. As dusk approached, Lodge and his friend Adam hustled ahead to reach the summit and return back to the tree line before sunset. Upon their descent, they passed by Tristan and the fourth man, RK, and agreed to wait for them to reach the summit and return to that spot.

Lodge and Herman held out for about 30 minutes but were compelled to slowly make their way back down in the face of dipping temperatures and whipping winds. Along the way, they followed a set of footprints and mistakenly veered onto the incorrect trail. They soon realized this but figured they’d eventually get down to the bottom. They ventured forward about 100 yards through snow one to two feet deep, with visibility as low as only 10 feet ahead as the intense winds blew snow everywhere. That’s when it happened.

“I remember the horizon of snow in front of me. It felt like a tectonic plate shifting, like the whole earth was moving,” Lodge said. He doesn’t remember much of the next half hour, though he recalls hurting his left leg while sticking it out toward a large rock to brace his fall. And he’s sure he hit his head at least once; later at a local hospital, he was diagnosed with a brain bruise.

Both men lost their boot spikes and ice axes in the fall. Tristan and RK eventually found them and went to get help. Five and a half hours later, two rescuers arrived and waited with them for two more hours until four more appeared and brought them back down to safety.

As they waited for help, Lodge drew on his yoga experience to help focus his breathing and keep the blood flowing. He and Adam also kept talking to keep the other awake and alert.

Conor Lodge

Though Lodge’s dizziness subsided a few days after the ordeal, his leg continues to ache and it’s still painful to bend or walk on it. Prior to a phone interview to discuss his experience, Lodge was taking an ice bath to help reduce lingering inflammation.

A lifelong Vineyarder, the senior is an outdoorsman at heart. He’s a member of the Northeastern Sailing Team and also windsurfs in his spare time. While he said this experience hasn’t scared him away from hiking or other outdoors activities, he’s determined to be more cautious.

He regretted that the foursome split up during the hike and expressed his gratitude to the rescuers for risking their own lives to save him. “If not for them I wouldn’t be here,” he said.

“I was very lucky to have survived and with so few injuries,” he added. “I’m no longer afraid of little things in life that we constantly worry about. This has made me more appreciative of life. I realize how easily it can slip away.”