WOMEN SURVIVE AVALANCHE

March 14, 2002 12:00 am

By Gary Fletcher

Observer Staff Writer

JOSEPHTwo skiers caught in an avalanche Saturday 12 air miles southeast of Joseph are now home after the harrowing experience.

Sharon Nall, who suffered a brain contusion and other injuries, was discharged Wednesday from St. Mary Medical Center in Walla Walla, but her recovery is expected to take several weeks.

Nall was skiing with Diane Dee Wilson Hamman of Enterprise, who said she either hit a softer tree or have a harder head, because she escaped with major bruises on her legs, shoulder and neck. Hamman and her husband, Mike, work for Larry Nall, a self-employed forest consultant.

Sharon Nall suffered damage to her facial bones, around her eyes, fractured when she was swept into a tree, her husband said. The brain contusions appear to be healing on its own, Larry Nall said.

Dee Hamman said, I was pinned up against a tree. My upper body was facing downslope with my legs wrapped around the tree. I started digging myself out, but I was really relieved to see Sharon there. Her face was covered with blood (from a large head laceration), but she was calm, cool and collected, Hamman said.

Sharon Nall was upright with her head and shoulder above the snow. An EMT and yoga instructor, Nall, in spite of her injuries, was able to dig herself out and ski down to Hamman.

Sharon said she found me because of my dogs, Emmy and Denali, Hamman said. Im a little disappointed they didnt try to dig me out.

Sharon was able to dig me out. It was the scariest thing Ive ever lived through. I hope I never have to live through something like that again.

Hamman is not sure what happened. It was a clear, windy day, just after noon, with wind gusts whirling here and there from several directions. The two women were ascending the standard access route to the south bowl of Wing Ridge in the Wallowa Mountains.

They were around 8,000 feet elevation, just below the ridge, with only 30 feet to go. Then they were going to remove the climbing skins from their skis and ski down.

It was really unexpected, Hamman said. Sharon was standing behind me and suddenly we were swimming.

I finally came to a stop pinned against a tree. We were yelling back and forth. After a couple minutes, the yelling stopped.

The two skied back down to the car and Hamman drove Nall to Wallowa Memorial Hospital in Enterprise. She was treated, her head stitched, and she went home.

By early Monday morning she began displaying other symptoms. Larry took her back to the hospital. A cat scan revealed the brain contusion.

Bad weather prevented Air Flight from responding, so Nall was transported by ambulance to Walla Walla.

They were both pretty tough and fortunate, Larry Nall said.

A key factor in their not being stranded at the site of the accident, where they could have suffered from exposure, was that their skis were not swept away, Larry Nall said. Hammans skis had not released and Nalls were still hanging by the safety straps.

Within the past three years, other skiers escaped unharmed from an avalanche in the Wing Ridge area. About 20 years ago, a woman died as the result of an avalanche a few miles west of there in the Aneroid Lake vicinity of the Eagle Cap Wilderness.