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Accidents in American Mountaineering, Report of the Safety Committee of the American Alpine Club, 1952

This is the fifth annual report of the American Alpine Club Safety Committee and the most encouraging report which the Committee has been able to publish. This Committee has attempted to describe and to make constructive comments on the causes of mountain accidents reported to it each year. At the same time, it has endeavored to impress upon the regional climbing groups the vital importance of providing sound indoctrination for potential and beginning climbers and of developing in climbers of all ranks an awareness of the dangers of mountaineering and the precautions and attitudes by means of which such dangers may be minimized. The Committee acknowledges the enthusiastic cooperation of the regional groups, and believes that the result of these joint efforts is reflected in the steady decline of fatal accidents since 1947. The special cooperation of the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service is likewise gratefully acknowledged.

A total of eighteen mountain accidents in 1951, involving four fatalities, was reported to this Committee. The number of fatalities was by far the lowest reported during the five-year existence of the Committee. Only in two of the past five years has a lesser number of total accidents been reported, and in both of those years the proportion of fatalities was very much higher. Of the four fatalities in 1951, fortunately only one may be termed a direct consequence of mountaineering, and only four of the total number of serious accidents occurred to experienced or moderately experienced climbers. Out of the five-year total of 108 mountain accidents reported, only 24, or 22% of the total, occurred to experienced or moderately experienced climbers. These relationships are set forth in the following table, which is an extension of a similar table in last year’s report.

Year

Total number of fatalities reported to the American Alpine Club Safety Committee

Number of fatalities reported which may be termed direct consequences of mountaineering

Number of fatalities involving mountain hikers, unwary scramblers, etc.

Number of non-fatal accidents reported to the Safety Committee & deemed rep- resentative enough to ana lyze

Out of to Acc

(A) Involving experienced or moderately experienced mountaineers

tal reported idents

(B) Involving novices or uninitiated persons



1947



11

10

1

4

8

7



1948



15

7

8

13

7

21



1949



9

4

5

8

2

15



1950



8

7

1

22

3

27



1951



4

1

3

14

4

14



Total



47

29

18

61

24

84



In analyzing the mountain accidents reported, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between true mountaineering accidents and accidents occurring in mountainous places to persons not engaged in the sport of climbing as practiced by mountaineers. This Committee considers that 66 of the 108 accidents summarized in the above table were mountaineering accidents in the stricter sense, or in a few cases, related accidents of particular significance to mountaineers. A detailed analysis of these 66 accidents has been made. The limits of space do not permit a full discussion of this analysis, but the more important findings are noted below. It is believed that we have now sufficient data over a long enough period to justify certain conclusions regarding the causes of accidents in American mountaineering. The elimination of over 40 nonclimbing accidents from the reported total produces results of greater statistical validity for the consideration of climbing groups in their safety and training programs.