American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Washington, Mt. Adams

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1958

Washington, Mt. Adams—On June 30, at 2:15 A.M. a party of six men from Yakima, Ellensburg, and Toppenish started the ascent of Mt. Adams by the Adams Glacier. Bob McCall (35) and Don Jones (19) comprised the first rope; Mike McGuire (20) and David Bishop (21) the second; while Ralph Uber, M.D. (36) and Robert Swenson (42) formed the third rope team. Most of the climbers were members of the Cascadians.

No real difficulty was encountered until the party reached the 9,500 foot level on the icefall, where they had to go over a snow cliff 18 feet high, drop into a crevasse, and climb out the other side. At this point, as the party approached the 10,000 foot level, the glacier became very icy and steeper. An ascending traverse on the steep (45 degrees) verglas covered slope of the ridge just west of the icefall was attempted. McCall and Jones climbed this slope first, but Uber and Swenson did not follow their exact route. Most of the party were inexperienced in the use of 12 point crampons and found the climbing very fatiguing. Each time they stopped, a step or platform was cut in which to rest. While doing this Uber apparently slipped and fell. As he attempted to make an ice axe arrest the handle of his ice axe broke where it joined the metal 4 inches below the head. Swenson was belaying him about the head of his ice axe and brought Uber to rest after he had dropped about 80 feet. McCall and Jones were out of sight and not aware of the difficulty so they continued to the summit.

McGuire and Bishop, who were below Uber and Swenson, traversed to the nearest rock ledge and spent the night. Uber and Swenson continued to the summit of Mt. Adams, arriving at approximately 11:00 P.M. They descended by the northeast ridge, arriving at the base at about 7:30 in the morning. They sighted a rescue party which was preparing to search for the climbers who had not returned the previous day.

Mountain Rescue had been notified by a hiker at the base of the mountain, who had observed no movement of the climbers at the 10,000 foot level. Mountain Rescue personnel from Yakima, Seattle, and the Hood River Al- pinees, as well as members of the Crag-Rats, Mountaineers, and Casacadians composed the party.

Gene Prater of Ellensburg and Marcel Schuster of Yakima led a rescue team up the northwest ridge in search of Bishop and McGuire. They found these two men anchored to the rock ledge where they had been left the night before by Swenson and Uber. McGuire and Bishop remained on the rock ledge because of fatigue, perhaps intensified by the shock of witnessing Dr. Uber’s 80 foot fall.

Source: Ralph L. Uber, M.D., Gene Prater, newspaper accounts, MOR- ESCO Bulletin, 15 July 1957.

Analysis: Uber’s slip on ice, probably due to improper use of crampons and ice technique, resulted in a fall which he was unable to stop with an ice axe self-arrest. However, his rope team partner, Swenson, proved his good belay technique by stopping the fall, and these two climbers were able to continue to the summit.

The fact that this party of six separated into three groups, one of which required rescue, shows improper mountaineering procedure. A further indication of the lack of organization was the fact that there were three sets of

steps cut in the ice in a 100-foot space. If these six climbers had stayed together and helped each other the rescue effort would not have been necessary.

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