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Washington—Cascades, Forbidden Peak

Washington—Cascades—Forbidden Peak—On 25 August, Stan Johnson (31), Barry White and three others set out to climb Forbidden Peak by the conventional route. They reached the summit ridge by the way of a steep ice couloir at 1:00 P.M. The other three decided to turn back while White and Johnson went on to the summit. They left their ice axes and crampons at the top of the couloir. Johnson had not had crampons but he borrowed a pair from one of the others who was returning. The climb was more difficult than expected and they did not reach the summit until 5:00 P.M. They stayed only a brief time on the summit. Mist closed in and visibility was reduced to about 30 yards. They roped down the difficult sections but lost about 20 minutes at one point when the rope snagged on a rock belay. The col was reached at 7:00 P.M. and they moved together to the couloir, where they put on crampons. The borrowed pair for Johnson did not fit well and one was quite loose. Also Johnson had not used crampons for a long time. They moved together down the couloir, but after 40 feet of descent Johnson suggested glissading the rest of the way. His loose crampon was bothering him so he removed it. White then glissaded on a tight rope to a convenient belay spot 50 feet lower. As he jammed in his ice axe the ferrule broke off and he shouted to Johnson to wait until he could establish a proper belay. Almost immediately he heard Johnson cry out as he slipped on the 50 degree slope. Things happened fast. Johnson slid past White who was pulling in the rope as fast as he could. White established a belay and waited for the tug as the rope was snubbed. There was no strain, just a dull thud. He shouted out but received no reply. White then cut steps down to a wide bergschrund into which Johnson had fallen. Johnson was in a sitting position with blood pouring from a head wound. White knew little first aid but did try to stop the bleeding, using a first aid kit in the pack. He realized there was little he could do. He laid out the contents of the pack and then started down the couloir calling for help. He finally met one person. It was pitch dark. They started back up but the flashlights were weak. Part way back near the crevassed section a sudden snow storm occurred which reduced visibility to 5 yards. This made them decide to turn back. They reached camp at 2:00 A.M. the next morning exhausted.

A rescue party was organized by other members of the group and members of another group nearby. When they finally reached Johnson he was dead. Death was attributed to a fractured cervical veretebra and massive hemorrhage from scalp lacerations.

Source: Leon Blumer and Barry White.

Analysis: This again presents the difficulty of small parties that suffer an injury. It is doubtful whether an earlier rescue would have saved Johnson. Certainly a night out under such conditions is not safe. In retrospect it would have been better if Johnson had descended with a belay since his crampons did not fit properly. Incidentally, the loose crampon was found imbedded in his back—the other was on his foot. Then White who had good crampons could have descended with a belay from below. It is easy to point out what might have been done and in White’s account he mentions the general care with which Johnson climbed and also that Johnson had ascended the couloir without crampons. Johnson’s limited previous experience with crampons, however, should have dictated his descending first. This two-man party lacked effective support from the other climbers. The party also lacked proper equipment, sufficient experience for this peak, and knowledge of first aid.