American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Washington, Mt. Rainier—Success Glacier

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

Washington, Mt. Rainier—Success Glacier—George Sainsbury (32), Ray Barker and Arnold Bloomer, all experienced climbers, two of them members of the Mountaineers, planned to climb Mt. Rainier by the then unclimbed ridge between the Success and Kautz Glaciers. On Aug. 24, after turning back at 8000 feet the previous day due to bad weather, the climbers were again seeking an approach to the ridge. They crossed the Kautz Glacier and climbed in fog up steep ice into a maze of an active ice fall which appeared to be the pressure ridge separating the Kautz and Success Glaciers. Because visibility remained limited, the party decided to retreat to the base of the ice slopes and then find simpler terrain. They descended, crossing a narrow corridor between two crevasses. The first two men on the rope passed through, and the middleman, Arnold Bloomer, was belaying the last man, George Sainsbury, by means of a natural belay. As he was descending a three or four foot high steep ice pitch just at the upper end of the corridor, Sainsbury slipped suddenly and unexpectedly. Steps cut in the ice may have given way, but the victim thinks the prime reason for his fall was due to his leaning into the slope. The belay rope was taut when the fall occurred. Sainsbury pendulumed down across the corridor, dropped over the upper lip of the crevasse and hit the lower lip some six or seven feet below with considerable force. He then slid a few more feet down the comparatively flat lower inner wall of the shallow crevasse and came to rest suspended two or three feet above its bottom. When Sainsbury slipped the middleman skidded down the slope a few feet so as to shorten the rope. Sainsbury’s fall was stopped without difficulty since the rope tended to pull upward on him.

Sainsbury suffered a compound dislocation of the tibia at the ankle. He was left in a comfortable position inside a tent pitched at the crevasse bottom, while his two companions roped and descended the ice fall and crossed the Kautz Glacier. One man went for help while the other returned to aid the victim. The party believed that it was safer and easier for a lone climber to climb back to the site of the accident from the edge of the glacier, than for a lone climber to descend through the same difficult terrain. Also the victim was in good condition and in a tent in a safe location. An efficient rescue was accomplished by the Park Service.

Source: G. R. Sainsbury; Mountaineer 50: 6, Oct. 1957. Albert D. Rose, acting superintendent, Mt. Rainier National Park.

Analysis: Sainsbury’s analysis points out the hazard of leading into a slope. This strong experienced group with adequate emergency equipment demonstrates how the serious effects of accidents can be minimized.

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