AAC Publications - http://publications.americanalpineclub.org

Washington, Olympic National Park, Mt. Olympus

Washington, Olympic National Park, Mt. Olympus. On September 3, a group of climbers had reached the summit pyramid. There was light rain and fog. One rope team was starting up the summit ridge with another rope team moving on the snow along the base when a rock estimated at 200 lbs. slid after a climber removed his hand from it. The rock fell 15-20 ft. striking a member of a rope team below on the head and the right shoulder. The injured climber was dazed and felt that his shoulder was broken. He was given immediate first aid and made warm. Due to the fact that he seemed well oriented and able to travel, he was shifted to the center of the rope and started almost immediately back down from the High Cirque to Snow Dome to the Geophysical Year hut. This trip took about an hour and a half and the patient had to traverse several difficult areas. Two doctors were present in the party and second aid was administered and the patient was flown out the following morning when weather conditions permitted. His injuries included a large scalp laceration, skull fracture, and a severe concussion as well as a comminuted fracture of the right upper humerus and paralysis.

Source: Charles B. Andrews.

Analysis: Several points are worthy of comment. This injury could have been reduced if the climber had been wearing a hard hat despite the fact that this is generally considered a snow climb. A predetermined route to escape rock fall might have helped him avoid injury.

The evacuation of the climber was facilitated by having him move under his own power. Medical opinion at the accident believed that the patient would do himself less damage by moving himself than would have occurred had evacuation by litter been necessary. The fact that a patient with a head injury is often able to navigate rationally for a period of time following even a severe head injury may allow evacuation to a safer area. The severity of the head injury in this patient was not immediately appreciated by a number of persons trained in first aid as well as two doctors. As a general rule, all patients with head injuries should be handled as not being able to care for themselves despite the fact that they are able to help in their own evacuation. The importance of getting an injured climber to a warm, dry area, and prevention of further exposure, however, cannot be overestimated.