Scott Sandberg, an environmentalist who transformed the recycling program at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, died Friday in an avalanche while climbing New Hampshire’s Mt. Washington. He was 32.
“It’s sad and ironic given that there is no one out there who’s safer than Scott. It’s just forces beyond his control,” said Nicolas Jimenez ’02, who knew Sandberg from work at the Institute and had gone rock climbing with him. “He just loved to be out there, and knew so much about the sport.”
Experts say that the mountain’s Tuckerman Ravine, one of the Northeast’s most beautiful climbing destinations, is also one of its most dangerous, even for the best-prepared climbers.
Chris Joosen, a snow ranger for the U.S. Forest Service, said Friday’s avalanche started after a group of three other hikers reached the steep, icy crest of the bowl-shaped ravine, up a 1,000-foot slope.
Sandberg and his climbing partner Richard Doucette of Watertown were hit by the avalanche while still at the base of the ravine, as they were putting on their ropes in preparation of ascending, Joosen said.
Doucette survived, shielded by a rocky outcrop, but Sandberg was carried away by the snow and buried in a field of debris that stretched 400 feet.
Sandberg was found just two to three feet below the surface of the snow, after a two-hour search. He died from massive head and neck injuries, a medical examiner’s report showed.
At least 130 people have been killed on Mt. Washington since 1849—more than on any other mountain in North America—and even experienced hikers aren’t immune to danger on the mountain, said Nicholas Howe, author of Not Without Peril: One Hundred and Fifty Years of Misadventure on the Presidential Range of New Hampshire.
Howe said even trained rescue workers have been killed on the mountain.
“The fact that you’re experienced does not protect you from trouble,” he said. “Accidents are exactly that. They happen when you’re not expecting them.”
Avalanches are common in the area in winter—the White Mountains see about 100 every year—and a moderate avalanche warning was posted at the ravine on Friday morning. Most avalanche deaths occur in moderate avalanche hazards, Joosen said.
Those that worked with Sandberg at Radcliffe praised his inovative spirit.
John Horst, the Institute’s facilities director, praised Sandberg for his “creative ideas” as the building services coordinator at Radcliffe.
Sandberg, who worked at Harvard for four years, improved the recycling program at the grassroots level, going from desk to desk to convince employees of the importance of recycling.
He also replaced wastebaskets with recycling bins.