American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Washington—Mt. St. Helens

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1953

Washington—Mt. St. Helens: On May 18, 1952 a party of four, three with limited climbing experience and graduates of the elementary climbing course of the Seattle Mountaineers and the fourth a good skier but with no climbing experience, were on descent. The two skiers were preceding with each interval of the downward course. The two on foot followed, unroped. Arthur Jessett (20) carrying the only rope stepped through a blind crevasse and fell out of sight under a curved profile. He was apparently in good condition except for bruises and talked cheerfully with the remaining members of his party. The two skiers proceeded down for help, one intercepting a descending ski party of 6, three men and three women. The other went to nearby “Timberline Cabin” for rope; finding it locked he skied down 3½ miles to Spirit Lake where he picked up his own 120 foot nylon rope. He also advised the forest service and called Seattle, telling the parents of the party of the accident.

Back up on the mountain another party, two novice climbers, had joined the rescue group. Two ropes had been procured from “Timberline Cabin” by the ski party who had keys. In preparation for letting one man down they enlarged the hole through which Jessett had fallen. Judging the two ropes too badly worn to be safe they elected to lower a man on a doubled rope. About 80 feet down the walls of the crevasse had converged to about shoulder width and a snow bridge extended from wall to wall, and was heaped with the snow which had been chopped free while the access hole above had been enlarged. Hearing muffled groans and not being able to see or locate their source the lowered man asked to be let down 15 or 20 feet more. Informed that there was not enough rope remaining he was subsequently hauled back up to the surface. Considerable discussion followed after which the rescue party broke up with some disagreement; finally all the various members retreated down the mountain. At “Timber- line Cabin” they were met by the other members of the original party together with the reporter and a forest service man. Jessett’s body was recovered by a rescue party the next day.

The accident happened at about 12:30. The forest service was notified together with the parents at about 2:30 P.M. The access hole was enlarged about 5:00 P.M. The rescue attempt was abandoned about 7:00 P.M.

Source: Members of the party and Mountain Rescue Council group.

Analysis: Party climbing unroped over glaciers.

Other parties climbing a major peak over glaciers without having any ropes in the party.

While Forest Service was notified and the parents advised of the accident about 2:30 in the afternoon no request for Mountain Rescue Council help was made until 10:30 that night. Although the ropes procured for the original rescue attempt were worn the Mountain Rescue Team who recovered the body were of the opinion that either of these ropes would have sufficed. Tied end on end they would have provided a total length of about 200 feet of rope.

All the members of the rescue party left the scene of the accident at 7:00 P. M. to return home. Jessett had conversed with the party as late as 5:00 P. M. that evening!

(With all deference to private property) a man sent for rope needed to save a life did not obtain it because it was in a mountain cabin and the door was locked.

It is hard to understand how some of those involved, who had 25-30 years climbing experience including 10-20 years in Europe, were not able to effect the rescue.

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