American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

New Hampshire: Mount Washington

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1950

New Hampshire: Mount Washington. On 1 May 1949 Dr. Paul Schiller, a Harvard research associate and Hungarian scientist, plunged into a water-filled bergschrund on the top of the headwall of Tuckerman’s Ravine. A crew of eight found the lifeless form on a rocky ledge about 50 feet down from the “lip” of the crevasse. The accident occurred in the early afternoon, and there were many eye-witnesses to the tragedy. Schiller apparently hadnot seen notices posted that morning in a near-by Forest Service shelter. These stated that avalanche conditions probably existed on the lip of the headwall. He was skiing above the headwall and, while traversing to the left above it, fell and began slowly sliding down. Persons who saw him fall say that he could have stopped himself, but he must have failed to realize the danger. He slid slowly over the top of the headwall and through a sizable waterfall, and disappeared into a bergschrund which the waterfall had opened between the rock wall and the snow slope. A number of persons immediately converged on the scene, and several tunnels were dug through the snow some 18 feet below the top, but Schiller could not be found. Late in the afternoon, rescue attempts were abandoned, it being thought that he could not have survived the combination of the fall and the exposure to the ice water. A long line of men had been formed to the headwall, up which they passed blankets, Stokes stretchers, shovels, ice-axes and ropes. The body was found the next day. A coroner reported the death was caused by a “basal skull fracture.”

Source of information: newspaper accounts, and members of the rescue crew.

Analysis. This accident, although it happened to a man on skis, is included in this report because it is the sort of thing which could easily happen to a careless mountaineer climbing or ski-mountaineering on slopes above a bergschrund or waterfall. The accident suggests that on such slopes one must be doubly careful, whether on skis or on foot, and that the inexpert should avoid climbing or skiing there at all. Also, as in the case of the Welk accident on Mount Hood, it is only too clear that one must regain control of oneself as soon as possible after slipping on a slope before one has slid too far.

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