American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Washington, Cascades, Bill's Peak

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1961

Washington, Cascades, Bill’s Peak—On December 3, a party consisting of Bill Prater (34), Gene Prater (31), Gay Ingalson (21), and Fred Durham (18) were making a winter ascent of Bill’s Peak in the Mt. Stuart region of the Cascades. Bill and Gene are competent mountaineers and have had considerable experience in winter climbing. The other two members of the party are relatively inexperienced. There was about 5 feet of snow on the ground with below freezing weather and gusty showers in the air. The party was travelling on snow shoes with complete climbing equipment and clothing for the conditions anticipated. Early in the afternoon, as they neared the summit of the peak, showshoes were abandoned. The party was unroped with the Prater brothers kicking steps up a steep snow gully. Just at the summit, a snow pocket in the gully avalanched, carrying the Praters down.

As it fanned down through a group of trees, both men were battered and bruised. Since the avalanching snow was confined to the pocket area, the other two climbers, who had remained back about 50 feet easily avoided it.

Bill was severely battered and unable to walk. Gene had a badly bruised thigh, but was able to move about without too much difficulty. Bill was then wrapped in down parkas and a light tarp; a fire was built, and Gene snowshoed out 4½ miles for help. The other two of the party remained with Bill. The Central Mountain Unit of the Mountain Rescue Council was called and by 11:00 p.m., 23 men together with Bill’s wife, Barbara, had left the road-head. Bill Prater was brought out by toboggan, reaching the road-head by 6:00 a.m. the next morning. After doctor’s examination and several days in bed, the paralysing effect of Bill’s battering wore off, leaving no apparent ill effects.

Source: J. Alex Maxwell, and Anthony Hovey.

Analysis: The interpretation of avalanche conditions even by experienced persons can be difficult. Constant vigilance is required. The incident also demonstrates that a well-equipped party under experienced leadership can minimize the dangers following an accident. It further demonstrates that four persons is a minimum number for winter climbing.

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