American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Northern Cascades, Washington: (1) Monte Cristo District.

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1948

Northern Cascades, Washington: (1) Monte Cristo District. On the morning of 13 September 1947, a party of four young members of the Mountaineers of Seattle left Monte Cristo by trail to climb the three Wilmon Spires. According to one of them, “This was a feat never yet done in one day.” They climbed the two west Spires and debated the advisability of going up the east Spire as it was already between 5.00 and 6.00 P.M. Some of the party did not feel it was wise to go on, but one who had climbed there before assured them it would go quickly. The climb took longer than they had expected. According to reports, they by-passed three pitons left by an earlier party in places where the stances were questionable. The top was reached after dark. Jim Wells rappelled off last, and at the bottom of the rappel, for undisclosed reasons, untied the belay rope. The end of his 100-foot rappel was still 12 feet above a spacy ledge. After pulling the rope down and dropping it to the others, Wells started to climb down the remaining 12 feet unroped, while the other climbers were coiling the two ropes. Apparently he got into difficulty, and at 8.15 he slipped. The ledge failed to stop his fall. He landed on talus 175 feet vertically below, and was killed.

Source of information: The Mountaineers rescue personnel.

Analysis. This tragedy demonstrates that the leader, be he first man up or last man down, must protect himself. This is especially important at night, when it is difficult to see. Of course, anyone who deliberately allows himself to be caught out at night, on steep and difficult terrain, is asking for trouble. If Wells had worn his belay rope while he was climbing down the last 12 feet, he could have been secured quite easily. All members of the party had taken the Mountaineers’ climbing course. Darkness and fatigue from a long, severe day undoubtedly contributed to the fall. Certainly they were overzealous in trying to climb the three peaks in one day. Here was the place for the leader to say, “Let’s try it tomorrow.” Here also is an illustration that, while mountaineering clubs themselves cannot control the activities of members, certainly they can do much to indoctrinate them in the principles of safety.

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