American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Oregon, Mt. Thielsen (North Face), Cascade Range

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1959

Oregon, Mt. Thielson (North Face), Cascade Range—On September 7, Charles Carpenter (20) and Gerry Honey (27) were attempting to climb the unclimbed north face of Mt. Thielson. At about 1:30 p.m., while still several hundred feet below the summit, the climbers decided the route would not go and started their descent. At a point about 300 feet above the base of the face, Honey descended a steep couloir and traversed about 20 feet to the left, taking up a belay stance under the protection of an overhanging rock, and using a piton for safety. Carpenter then descended the couloir, pulling the four pitons as he came. Upon reaching the bottom, Carpenter discovered that he had left his pack on the ledge above. He then reclimbed the couloir, using no pitons, picked up his pack, and started to descend. About 40 feet from the bottom of the couloir, a large boulder which Carpenter was using for a hold dislodged, causing Carpenter to fall. Carpenter tumbled and rolled out of the couloir, taking the boulder with him and rendering himself unconscious. Honey, executing a dynamic belay, stopped the fall with only 10 feet of rope remaining. The climbing rope was not through a piton, (although Honey was anchored to a piton) so the arresting force was taken by Honey’s body. Honey received third degree burns on his hands in stopping the fall. Then, using the remaining rope, Honey lowered Carpenter to a ledge a few feet below. Rappelling to this ledge, Honey administered first aid. The accident occurred about 5:30 p.m. Carpenter regained consciousness and rappelled the remaining 100 feet to the scree with an upper belay. Carpenter was placed in a sleeping bag and Honey went for assistance. The following day Carpenter was carried down the scree and by trail out to the road by U. S. Forest Service personnel. It was determined that Carpenter had suffered a deep cut above the left eye, requiring stitches, a sprained right ankle, a sprain of both knees, several bruised ribs, and many minor cuts and abrasions, requiring several days in the hospital.

Source: Dave Hitchcock.

Analysis: This accident shows the great danger of climbing on unstable rock. Even though Carpenter had climbed this couloir and descended once before, certainly pitons for safety were called for. Had the original pitons been left in place, there would have been two pitons between the belayer and the climber, and the fall would have been less serious. Carpenter was most fortunate in having so skilled a climbing partner. At the time of the fall Carpenter was wearing a G.I. hard hat which upon later examination showed much damage, and it is the opinion of both climbers that Carpenter’s injuries would have been much more severe without the added protection of the helmet.

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