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Accidents in North American Mountaineering, Eighteenth Annual Report of the Safety Committee of the American Alpine Club

This is the eighteenth report of the Safety Committee and the fifth in conjunction with the Alpine Club of Canada. Data about accidents that occurred in 1963 but had not been previously reported have been included in the tabular material.

The committee that is testing hardware has made some progress, but does not believe it has adequate data to warrant a report at this time.

The standards for hard hats that were published in last year’s report have been found not to be completely appropriate for hard hats that are used by mountaineers. In order to establish a proper set of standards a group of interested and qualified experts in this field plan to meet this spring in California. The results of this conference will be published in next year’s report.

The number of accidents and number of persons involved was lower this year than in the two previous years. One must not jump to the conclusion that our safety program has necessarily done this. We would like to think it has, but there are many other factors that influence these data. One of the most important is the adequacy of reporting. Again we would like to emphasize the need to report all accidents, even the minor ones. Only by doing this will we be able to see the accidents in proper perspective. Accidents that result in a fatality are probably reasonably well recorded since they tend to become a part of the public record. The minor and less serious ones are all too often not reported. The reasons for this vary from forgetfulness, from not wishing to see one’s name in a report, from fear of justified or unjustified criticism, or because the individuals believe that such reports give mountaineering a bad reputation. I believe we must face the facts and report the accidents. Most of us who have climbed have slipped at one time or another. If good techniques have been used little or no injury has resulted. Accidents of this type must be reported to demonstrate this in a positive manner, rather than to say it in a negative way when poor technique or equipment was used and serious injury resulted.

It has been pointed out by Bradford Washburn that most expeditions in the field do not carry an adequate sized container to thaw out a frozen foot. He suggests carrying a five gallon can that can be used to carry other gear. He has also emphasized that the container in which the frozen foot or hand is to be thawed should not be placed over the source of heat. The reason is that temperature control is too difficult and it is very likely that the recommended temperature of 108°F (42.2°C) will be exceeded and damage will be done to the tissues. A rack to keep the foot off the bottom is not recommended. A thermometer is also a necessary piece of equipment. Water should be heated up and be ready to be added to the large container as the temperature falls. Water should be removed from the large container in which the foot is thawing and new heated water at 108°F should be added. This must be done frequently and a large amount of water will be necessary. The large five gallon container offers a good reservoir of heat. It must not exceed the critical temperature of 108°F.

Two similar accidents this year deserve attention. One occurred near Durham, North Carolina, the other on Middle Cathedral rock in Yosemite, California. In both pitons were being driven into a crack behind a flake. In one instance the flake was pried loose and fell; in the other the crack was widened so that the direct-aid pitons pulled out causing the climber to fall. Similar instances have been reported in the past and this appears to be a sufficiently common event that climbers should be aware of this possibility.


Benjamin G. Ferris, Jr., Chairman

Weston, Massachusetts

William L. Putnam

Springfield, Massachusetts

Arnold Wexler

Washington, D.C.

Harold Walton

Boulder, Colorado

Wilbur Arnold

Beulah, Colorado

Thomas O. Nevison

Albuquerque, New Mexico

Ross Petrie

Portland, Oregon

Frank C. Fickeisen

Seattle, Washington

David Harrah

Riverside, California

Al Steck

Berkeley, California

William Davis

Anchorage, Alaska


Paddy Sherman

Victoria, British Columbia


George Austin

Portland, Oregon