Oregon: (2) Cascades

Publication Year: 1952.

Oregon: (2) Cascades. On 3 June 1951 a party of 12 members of the Trails Club of Oregon climbed the South Side Route on Mt. Hood. Climbing conditions were excellent. The party was preceded by a group of about eighty Mazamas. After an hour on the summit, the Trails Club party started down from the summit via the snow-filled chute. The Mazamas had strung a hand line down the upper two-thirds

of the 900 foot-Chute, but the bottom portion of the line had been removed prior to the descent of the Trails Club party. At the end of the hand line, this party made its way cautiously down toward the rocky saddle between the Chute and Crater Rock. The party was not roped. Seven of its members had reached the rocks and the other five were descending the remaining few feet, when Mrs. Nancy Tarter twisted her foot and pitched forward on the snow slope. Upon falling, she attempted to assume the self-arrest position, but the point of her ice axe shaft caught on her pocket, making it impossible to put sufficient weight on the axe head to effect a full stop. Three members of the party, Jake Kopp, Walter Luchs and David Wagstaff made valiant efforts to stop Mrs. Tarter. Kopp was knocked off his feet by Mrs. Tarter, and Luchs was knocked dcwn by a falling rock which hit him in the leg. Wagstaff ran down the slope at an angle to Mrs. Tarter’s line of fall and was able to arrest her uncontrolled slide seven hundred feet below its point of origin. Wagstaff’s feat appears outstanding.

Morphine was administered by a doctor in the Mazama party, and a stretcher was improvised from ice axes, alpenstocks and parkas. A dozen men carried Mrs. Tarter down the remaining three or four hundred feet of the gully and a quarter of a mile farther to a point where they were met by a snow tractor which had been summoned from Timberline Lodge. Plasma was administered at the Lodge. Within about four hours of the accident, Mrs. Tarter was hospitalized in Portland. There it was discovered that she had suffered a dislocated shoulder and bruises from head to foot. She was released from the hospital two days later, and was completely recovered one month afterward.

The large number of climbers present near the scene of this accident caused considerable confusion and no little danger following the fall. While carrying Mrs. Tarter down the gully, the rescue workers were constantly pelted with rocks dislodged by curious climbers who stepped out on the upper end of the slope to observe the proceedings.

Source of information: report of Climbing Committee Chairman, Trails Club of Oregon.

Analysis. Faulty crampons appear to have been the immediate cause of Mrs. Tarter’s slip. Her crampons were a borrowed pair in such condition that several temporary

repairs were necessary during the ascent. In the above source report, it is assumed that one of her crampons broke and caused her to fall. On the subject of crampons, there is a strong feeling among many authorities that novice climbers should not be introduced to the use of crampons until they have had one or two good seasons on snow and ice without these aids. Advocates of this point of view hold that early use of crampons causes undue reliance on them, and prevents adequate development of step-cutting ability and other aspects of sound snow and ice technique, including the ability to detect unstable snow overlying hard ice. Climbers without crampons, cutting steps in the underlying ice, are immediately aware of such snow conditions, whereas a party accustomed only to the confidence which crampons may impart could walk across the same slope unaware of the danger. In any event, poorly fitting or otherwise inadequate crampons are a positive menace, as illustrated by Mrs. Tarter’s accident.

In retrospect, it may be said that such a party should have been roped, or at least that relatively inexperienced persons in such a group should be roped to one or two of the more experienced climbers. The scene of this accident was potentially dangerous, as shown by the length of the fall. As pointed out in similar incidents in the 1951 Report of this Committee, a greater awareness of the dangers of steep snow should be impressed upon novices and experienced climbers alike by all our organized mountaineering groups. There is clearly a need for more frequent use of the rope on snow than is customary in much of our present day practice.