American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

California, San Gabriel Mountains

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

California, San Gabriel Mountains (2)—On November 19, Joseph High- cove (18), and Walter Reber (18) left Icehouse Resort, in the San Gabriel Mountains, for a climb up Icehouse Canyon to Icehouse Saddle. From there the pair planned to climb any one of a group of peaks accessible from that location, depending on conditions. The weather was fair and windy, and the climbing conditions were ideal.

In the afternoon the boys deviated from the improved trail and set out directly up the canyon walls for the saddle. This proved to be their undoing inasmuch as meltwater from the snow that had fallen a week previously had frozen over some of the rocks. The boys were not experienced mountaineers, and were improperly prepared both in equipment and ability to cope with verglas on steep rock.

At approximately 3:30 p.m. Highcove slipped and slid down a steep chute to the canyon floor, breaking his leg. He called to Reber above, advising him that he was injured. Reber, in attempting to reach Highcove, slipped on icy snow and practically duplicated Highcove’s fall, resulting in numerous cuts and bruises and a possible broken ankle.

Other hikers in the canyon heard the boys’ calls and summoned help. It was approximately 7:30 p.m. and well after dark by the time the San Bernardino County Mountain Rescue Team reached the scene. After first aid was administered and the boys were made as comfortable as possible in sleeping bags, it was rather late. Inasmuch as the boys were in no danger, it was felt advisable to delay the evacuation until morning, as the route would be quite hazardous on a moonless night. The following morning the evacuation was completed without incident and the boys removed to a hospital for treatment. Both will recover fully.

Source: Robert C. Gardiner, Altadena Mountain Rescue Squad.

Analysis: Snow and ice conditions in a mountain range that is dry nine months of the year poses a particular hazard. For the most part, local climbers have little experience under such conditions, and thus accidents are more prone to happen. In the case of this accident the boys used poor judgment in choosing their route, not realizing their lack of equipment (no ice axe or rope) and lack of experience would make a difference.

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