American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Alaska—Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1954

Alaska—Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes: (The U.S.G.S. has requested that the person’s name involved in the following accident be omitted out of consideration for the family.) W. J. (24) left the U.S.G.S. Camp on the south bank of Knife Creek just north of Broken Mountain at 9 a.m. on 31 August 1953 on one of his customary solo geology field trips. When he failed to return as expected a week later, search parties were organized and an extensive and well-organized search was undertaken. His pack was found by the bank of a river and from the amount of mildew on the food and the quantity of food still in the pack it was estimated that the accident had occurred on the 1st or 2nd of September. The position of the pack implied that it had been placed and not thrown. The river was carefully searched below the site where the pack was found but no body was recovered. It is presumed that W. J. slipped while attempting to cross this river or while investigating the geology of the area. The river below the spot where the pack was found ran quickly into a short but steep canyon with turbulent angry waters.

Source: Report of Robert S. Luntey to Director National Park Service, U. S. Dept. Interior.

Analysis: The person involved in this accident was accustomed to make extensive field investigation alone in pursuit of his specialty, geology. He was in excellent physical condition and was a “strong” person in the field. His tremendous energy and endurance permitted him to visit large areas and because companions were unable to maintain his pace he preferred to travel alone, often through extremely rugged and mountainous territory. Occasionally he carried a rope and ice axe and he frequently used crampons on steep snow and ice slopes while alone, since this allowed him to take short cuts and to visit areas otherwise closed to him. He travelled along big braided glacial streams and forded anything he could stand up in without hesitation. In view of his ability his extreme self-confidence did not seem unfounded.

This accident demonstrates the dangers of travelling alone and especially the dangers of glacier stream crossings which are best done with a companion and a rope being used. The best technique is to use a long pole and face upstream. The force of the water helps to hold the pole in place and the pole then gives support to the individual crossing the stream. As one moves across the stream the pole is moved into a new position. In this manner some of the larger streams can be crossed. It must be emphasized

that solo trips of this sort are extremely hazardous and it would seem proper that the U.S.G.S. should require a minimum of two persons in each field party.

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