New Hampshire, Mt. Washington

Publication Year: 1951.

New Hampshire: Mt. Washington. On 15 October 1950 three young men who had just entered Harvard, J. M. Forbes, Harry Francis and John Humphreys, started up the Pinnacle of Huntinton Ravine. Forbes, having climbed it the year before, was leading. They had sneakers, but because of the wet and icy rocks, were climbing in nails. Forbes was in army surplus boots with hard round-topped nails, which felt untrustworthy. The climbers were tired from having climbed Mt. Lafayette the day before; they had not returned to camp until midnight. At one point about two-thirds of the way up the Pinnacle,and four hours after leaving camp, Forbes led up the face to the right, as it appeared to him to be the obvious route. (The usual route goes to the left here.) Apparently he was not the most experienced member of the party but was leading because he had climbed here before. Above a chockstone he turned to the left over a bulge; this is the last he remembers. Francis was belaying with a piton found in the rock. He could not see Forbes until he fell; he pulled in slack, and stopped him with a dynamic belay. Forbes’ skull was cracked; and he suffered a cut on his left wrist which caused considerable bleeding. (He did not regain consciousness till a month later, but after an operation he has recovered fully since.) Humphreys gave Forbes his coat for warmth and stayed with him while Francis descended for help. A rescue crew of 12 men arrived 2½ hours later. They lowered Forbes down the rocks on a stretcher with ropes and got him to the road at midnight, 11 hours later. This meant that the major portion of this rescue operation was carried out in almost total darkness since the party had only one flashlight with which to pick its way over the rocky slopes and the narrow trail leading to the road.

Source of information: members of the party; newspaper clipping.

Analysis. This is a case of an inexperienced climber who, having once done a climb easily, apparently became overconfident and failed to realize the tremendous difference the condition of the mountain and the party can make in a climb. The climbers were tired from the previous day’s climb and, feeling somewhat insecure, should have turned back before an accident could happen.

It might be mentioned that the rescue operation was skillfully conducted under the direction of Henry Paris, chief of the Mt. Washington Volunteer Patrol of the National Ski Patrol System.