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Accidents in American Mountaineering, Ninth Annual Report of the Safety Committee, The American Alpine Club, 1956

This is the ninth annual report of the Safety Committee of the American Alpine Club and presents the known mountaineering accidents that occurred in the United States and Alaska in 1955. In addition, an accident that occurred in late December, 1954 is included and the statistics for 1954 have been corrected accordingly.

A summary of the reported accidents and number of deaths for the past nine years is presented in Table I. It would appear that the number of reported accidents is leveling off. The number of deaths, however, was low and this past year most satisfactory in respect to the number of serious accidents. The number of accidents reported probably is not all that occurred and many that were reported and included are of a relatively minor nature. It is these minor episodes, however, which may lead to more serious events.

In one of the accidents reported a climber drove a crampon spike into his leg. Given the proper situation, a climber could trip himself during a descent by such a procedure and possibly fall to his death. Another point that should be re-emphasized is the desirability of wearing a plastic helmet to protect the head from falling rock in areas where this danger is present. This has become a standard practice for some rock climbers in the Yosemite area.

The tragic Mt. Temple (11,636) accident on July 11, 1955, in which seven boys died in an avalanche deserves comment. Ordinarily this report is not concerned with mountaineering accidents in Canada, but since this involved Americans it is felt attention should be directed to some of the apparent causes and what might be done in the future to prevent similar situations. This accident involved eleven boys who attempted to climb Mt. Temple. Newspaper accounts indicate that they were improperly equipped and inadequately clothed for such a climb; the rope used was ¼-inch manila; all eleven were roped together; they wore summer clothing with inadequate shoes. The two men who were the leaders did not go on the climb. The oldest member of the climbing party was 16 years old and inexperienced in mountaineering. It is obviously important that young, inexperienced, inadequately equipped parties should not attempt to climb major peaks.

Furthermore, the party was attempting to climb a relatively steep snow slope which had been exposed to the sun for a number of hours. Slopes of this sort, while still covered by a considerable amount of snow, are particularly likely to avalanche. Another point that should be emphasized for rescue groups is that a number of the boys may have died of exposure rather than from their injuries. It is therefore imperative that warm clothing and/or sleeping bags be carried to an accident area as quickly as possible. This same point is made in the report of the Ford accident on the Grand Teton described below.

Certain other general statements concerning leadership and group responsibility are also pertinent at this point. The leader of any expedition should be the member who has the greatest experience and knowledge combined with sound judgment and an ability to command respect. He should expect that his rules and regulations will be obeyed. This does not imply that he should make all decisions alone. Certainly a good leader will work out problems by group discussion so that all are familiar with the plan and what is expected of each member. It is also the duty of the members of any expedition to follow their leader’s direction and not to go off as a splinter party. This only weakens the whole, diffuses the effort, and usually leads to general confusion.

Insufficient data on man mountain days was collected this year to include a calculation of the accident rate and mortality rate. It is hoped that by simplifying the questionnaire we will be able to obtain more regular information on this important aspect in the future.