American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Mount Rainier National Park (1)

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1955

Mount Rainier National Park (1)—At approximately 1:00 p.m. on July 15, 1954, a summit party led by Mountain Guide, James Whittaker, was descending the Cowlitz Glacier, just below the Beehive, to Camp Muir. About 12 inches of snow had fallen 10 days before. That morning the snow was so hard that crampons did not penetrate beyond the points. Later in

the day when the party was coming down from the summit, the snow was mushy. There were two ropes of four persons each. The first party of four had traversed a steep snow and ice slope when an avalanche broke loose about 100 feet above the second rope (Whittaker’s rope), knocking all off their feet. Each member of this rope attempted to stop themselves but the moving snow continually kicked their ice axes into the air. The avalanche carried the party over an offset crevasse, the lower lip of which was about 10 feet below the upper lip. Three of the party landed on the lower lip while the fourth fell into the small crevasse where he was buried waist- deep by the snow. Members of the other rope ran to their assistance although it was not needed. Three members of the party sustained minor injuries. Mr. Rod Reid received a sprained knee; Martin Popelka, Jr. received a cut on the right knee and abrasions on the right arm; and guide, James Whittaker, strained muscles in his back.

Source: Report of Preston P. Macy, Superintendent, Mt. Rainier National Park; the Mountaineer 47:4, 1954 (Dec.).

Analysis: This avalanche was unexpected and its occurrence surprised the park rangers and experienced guides; this in turn points out the need for great caution on all potential avalanche slopes.

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