American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

New Hampshire, Mt. Washington

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1966

New Hampshire, Mt. Washington. On 14 March Craig M. Merrihue (31) and Daniel E. Doody (32) were climbing the fourth pitch of Pinnacle Gully in Huntington Ravine, a steep and difficult ice climb on water ice. Dan Doody was presumably in the lead when a slip occurred. Dan fell. It is assumed that Dan was leading at this time because when the bodies were discovered he was wearing only a sweater while Craig had on his windproof jacket. Also, Dan’s ice axe came down with him, indicating that it was around his wrist. When he fell, the short ice screw that they were using came out. Craig was pulled off and they both fell some 1,400 feet to their deaths. The severely damaged bodies were still roped together with the bent ice screw and Chouinard carabiner attached to the rope. Craig had lost his ice axe and crampons on the way down. Doody was dead when the rescue group arrived and Merrihue died shortly thereafter.

Source: Michael Garlock, Earle R. Whipple.

Analysis: (Garlock) The accident was witnessed by no one. Climbers on the slope below and on the neighboring gully (Central) saw the two bodies rolling down the snow slope, hitting the rocks, bouncing off, and finally coming to rest by the large boulder in the center of the ravine. Several known facts indicate that Dan was leading at the time. First of all the sleeves of his sweater were rolled up. It was a fairly warm day, there was no wind. This would have been reasonable as he was working at the time. Craig, on the other hand, was wearing his windproof jacket, indicating that he was belaying. Secondly, Dan’s ice axe came down with him while Craig’s did not. This would indicate that Dan’s axe was on his wrist. This is very important because it also possibly indicates that only one screw was used to belay, the anchor being an ice axe belay. From where they were on the climb, with most of the difficulties behind them, it is assumed from the facts at hand that Dan had tried to crampon up the ice, which was hard and relatively dry. He was belayed by Craig’s axe. As further protection he had placed a short ice screw (Marwa 20-21 cm long, 7 mm diameter). As the screw was bent almost in half approximately half way down the shaft, it appears that it was not well placed. Dan evidently slipped, the screw came out and Craig, with his ice axe belay, was unable to hold him. As a result they both fell some 1,400 feet before stopping. Also, on the rope, which was still attached, there were no overhand loops which further substantiates the fact that Craig used an ice axe belay, and consequently, was not tied in at all. It is not unreasonable to assume that Dan had tried to crampon up the ice. There are spots on the fourth pitch where it is possible to do so. Both men were very able and experienced climbers. One main thing that could possibly have prevented the accident was the use of tubes instead of ice screws. Another factor was the ice axe belay. On ice such as that even a short fall would have been impossible to hold. Another factor involved was the fact that no hardware was discovered either on the bodies or on the snow slope. It is possible that, if they were carrying extra hardware, it could have come off during the fall. However, it is just as possible that if it was securely tied on by slings it would not have come off. Unfortunately, the nature of the accident lends itself to endless conjecture. No one will ever know exactly what happened up there. One can only assume certain things from the small body of knowledge at hand.

Analysis: (Whipple) The Marwa piton was bent by the fall and then extracted out of the ice by the “pulley effect.” This piton, distrusted by many people for many reasons including fragility of the corkscrew, is deadly for belaying the leader and probably also for tie-ins, although useful for artificial aid. The high pressure loading on the ice, due to the small cross-section of the piton, can and certainly did cause fracturing of the ice surface which encouraged the further bending and failure of the piton, a flimsy object to start with. (Fig. 2 — see page 11)

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