California, Sierra Nevada

Publication Year: 1951.

California: (1) Sierra Nevada, Two 17-year-old youths, Christopher S. Reynolds and Steven R. Wasserman, left a camp camp on 7 August 1950 to climb the east face of Mt. Whitney, with only very light clothing and tennis shoes, they started up the buttress route, an extremely difficult climb. They fell, it seems, from a sharp pinnacle above the buttress and were killed instantly. Intensive searching included a complete descent of the route and other very difficult climbing nearby. One body was reached August 13th; the other, August 15th.

Source of information: report by G.B. Harr, one of the search party; newspaper accounts (especially Owens Valley Progress-Citizen, Lone Pine, California, August 18th), and the Mountaineering Committee of the Sierra Club.

Analysis. Inexperience, overconfidence, and the lack of proper equipment combined to result in the death of these two 17 year old boys. After the identification of his son, Mr. Wasserman said:

I hope that this tragic happening will serve to convince those parents who take pride in bringing about courage and determination in their sons and who desire to instill independence and initiative in them, that they also must have the insight to drill home the necessity of proper training for the job to be undertaken.

The accident is a horrible example of youthful overconfidence and unpreparedness. Some climbing in the States and a successful guided ascent of the Matterhorn do not make one an expert, ready to attack climbs of the utmost difficulty. The two boys had “practically lived and breathed scaling Mt. Whitney the hard way” during their month's period of work in a nearby gold mine just previously. A photograph was found in their pack sacks; this showed the proposed route, which in fact went up two separate parts of the mountain in different portions. The youths clearly had no real conception of what such a climb really entailed. Possibly, above the buttress, they were afraid to descend and thought it easier to attempt going on to the top. A safe rule to follow before attempting a climb on unfamiliar mountain terrain is first to consult men who know the area. In the case of young Wasserman and Reynolds, they should have consulted the forest rangers.