American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

General Comments

  • Feature Article
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1948

The Committee thinks it desirable, before making specific recommendations, to point out certain conditions pertaining to mountaineering in our time which may have had unfortunate effects. These comments are not based exclusively on the foregoing list of fatal and near-fatal accidents, but rather on a review of all known accidents in 1947 regardless of outcome. Some of these considerations are advanced for critical examination in the belief that if they have not already directly caused accidents they may all too easily do so in the future.

These are the major factors of concern:

(1) The number of persons interested in mountaineering, but lacking in climbing experience, has grown vastly. This growth may be due in part to the phenomenal development, during the past decade, of the related sport of skiing. A proportionate increase in the number of accidents would be logical. Indications are, however, that the increase has been greater than might have been expected.

(2) Solo climbing appears to have spread alarmingly. Possibly some of the causes are attributable to World War II. It has been said that there was a similar wave of solo climbing after World War I.

(3) The alpine training of mountain troops in the Army introduced many persons to mountaineering. Although on the whole excellent, this training was often so brief, and provided such limited indoctrination in leadership, that it alone could not fit all men for mountaineering under varying conditions and responsibilities. A period of service with these troops—much of it spent, perhaps, awaiting orders in the lowlands of Texas—could develop an unwarranted sense of experience and overconfidence.

(4) Some of the younger enthusiasts, left at home during the War when mature rope leaders were away, were denied the guidance necessary to sound indoctrination.

(5) So much spectacular publicity has been given to mountaineers and their climbs that many youngsters—and some older persons —see only the glamor, and fail to perceive that real success on a difficult climb connotes careful planning, hard work, proper technique and constant attention to the principles of safety.

(6) During the War, American climbers lost immediate contact with established Alpine tradition, which for many years has had a salutary influence in North America. Previously, many Americans had received valuable indoctrination at climbing centers abroad, from guides and from accomplished amateurs. The great distances in America have hindered the effective growth of a coordinated alpine tradition on this side of the Atlantic. And now “budding extremism,” in some sections, if not controlled, could influence adversely the “conservative” doctrines of our sport.

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