American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

California, Mt. San Gorgonio

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

California, Mt. San Gorgonio—A party of 11 boys with C. L. Finch (a school teacher) as a leader, was visiting Big Falls Canyon. Finch warned the boys to stay in a group, but Donald Burns (13) and one other boy, either failing to hear the order or disobeying it, went ahead to explore the ground at the head of the falls. There was snow along the trail and ice on the ground near the falls. Burns slipped on the ice, fell into the river, and fell a hundred feet with the water, landing on a ledge; the water pushed him off and he fell another two hundred feet. He crawled to cover and waved and signalled for help. He was lightly dressed; the day was foggy, with some snow flurries. A rescue party was organized, with personnel from the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Office, Norton Air Force Base, and the Forest Service. The rescue party found that they had no ropes long enough to lower a man into the canyon to reach Burns, or to lower from a helicopter which was available. On the day following the accident a group of seven climbers from the Los Angeles area (organized as the Sierra Madre Search and Rescue Team) reached Burns by orthodox climbing methods and recovered his body. It was twenty-six hours after the accident; the boy died of injuries and exposure.

Source: Newspaper account; David Harrah.

Analysis: Winter conditions can alter an otherwise easy route to one of extreme difficulty. Furthermore there was apparent failure to follow the directions of the leader.

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