American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Wyoming, Wind River Range, Mt. Sacajawea

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1956

Wyoming, Wind River Range, Mt. Sacajawea—On July 20, 1955, Thea Welsh, Tony Prauses (34), and Damon Phinney (27) left their camp in the Titcomb Lake Valley below Fremont Peak at 6:00 a.m. to climb Mt. Sacajawea. Their route was a steep couloir up to the ridge between Sacajawea and Fremont. The first half of the 3,000 foot climb was over talus, grass, and easy slabs. The next thousand feet or so was in the couloir and they stopped for lunch before attempting to climb over the steep walls just below the ridge. A rope had been used twice on short pitches to bring up a second man. Otherwise they were climbing unroped. Between the left side of the buttress and the wall of the couloir a narrow chimney presented itself. This chimney opened out into an inside corner which ran upward from the top of the buttress to a large chockstone 20 feet above when the corner became a chimney again. Above the chockstone the climbing appeared to be easy scrambling. Up to the chockstone it looked like rather easy climbing. The pitch was close to being vertical and badly exposed. Phinney led this route. After climbing only a few feet above the lunch spot, he fell. Apparently all the rocks on which he was standing and to which he was holding came loose. The dislodged rocks swept the platform where they had lunched. They knocked Prauses off his feet, and Welsh was thrown down the ledges to their right. Welsh recovered herself within a few feet. Phinney fell about 100 feet. He suffered cuts on his head and left knee and a broken right arm. The others administered first aid. Phinney could walk but climbing down was difficult so he was roped down the rock pitches. They reached the valley floor at dark. Final evacuation was by horseback two days after the accident.

Source: Damon Phinney.

Analysis: Damon Phinney.

“I fell because I did not properly evaluate the condition of the rock. It was not suitable for climbing. In retrospect it is obvious that I should have been roped before starting the pitch. Satisfactory belay positions were available and, in fact, Thea had recommended that I do so but I ignored her good advice. My companions reacted coolly and competently, applying the necessary first aid and getting me back down. This argues for the importance of a knowledge of first aid and general climbing competence in people who may find themselves in small parties on high mountains.”

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