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Washington, Cascades, Snoqualmie Pass Area

Washington, Cascades, Snoqualmie Pass area—On October 5, Gerald Burns (25) and two companions were hiking across country to a lake for fishing. The terrain was generally steep but with adequate ledges for safe travel. While crossing a steep gulley, a rock about the size of a 2 quart jar fell without warning from above and struck Burns on the head. The companions gave assistance and then ran for help. They met three hikers on the trail, telling them of the location of the accident, and then continued to Snoqualmie Pass. A Navy helicopter, a second helicopter, and the M.R.C. proceeded toward the spot where Burns lay in a semi conscious state. Amazingly, the three hikers had also found Burns three hours earlier weaving on his feet in a rather precarious position. He was lowered in a stretcher down the gulley and carried to a flat area that night. On the following morning a ’copter was able to get in amid heavy clouds and evacuate the victim. The brain injury was serious and after three weeks Burns was still unconscious (Oct. 30).

Source: Pete Schoening and Dee Molenaar.

Analysis: This might be considered a freak accident. However, experienced climbers usually keep a constant vigilance for falling rock from above, especially in couloirs. The accident displays again the need for a minimum party of four persons—one person to stay with the injured person. In this case both companions left the injured person alone. Miraculously the hikers were able to find Burns with only a general description of his location. Had they not found Burns it is highly possible that Burns, in his semi conscious condition, would have toppled down the gulley before the rescuers could be guided by the companions to the site some three hours later. Fortunately no one was seriously injured by falling rock in the gulley during the evacuation and the weather remained mild. Peter Schoening received a slight cut on one leg when working down the gulley with evacuation litter and victim. George Senner, also in the rescue party, stated that the two climbers attempted to cross the rock couloir higher up but loose rocks made them decide to cross lower down. Burns was possibly hit by a rock they had loosened higher up. This suggests the need for greater care in travelling below recently loosened rock areas.