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California, Sierra Nevada, University Peak

California, Sierra Nevada, University Peak. On 29 May, Peter Young (30) and four companions had successfully climbed University Peak (13,632) and were descending the North side of the Northwest ridge. At about the 11,500 foot level, deep soft snow was encountered. In order to avoid the snow, the group was traversing a snow-free scree slope when Peter Young apparently lost his balance. He attempted to regain control by taking a step down the slope, but the condition worsened and a wild, tumbling fall ensued. During the course of the fall he attempted to arrest the fall by grabbing a 3 foot diameter flake, but the rock pulled out. Young finally came to a stop face down in the snow field approximately 50 feet below the starting point of the fall and immediately rolled over on his back. The rest of the group was slow in getting to Peter because of the extreme looseness of the material on the slope which was angled about 50° from horizontal. However, treatment for shock and multiple abrasions about face and neck was begun within five minutes. Young was conscious, but very disoriented at first. He complained of severe pain in his upper left arm, but no broken bones could be found so the arm was merely immobilized with an elastic bandage. Peter was able to walk with help and the party arrived at camp about 7:30 p.m. where further treatment was administered. He was evacuated the following day; partly by horse, and partly under his own power. Subsequent medical examination revealed no injuries other than those already treated.

Source: S. C. Granger, Jr.

Analysis: The injured party was not wearing a hard hat, nor would a hard hat have prevented any of the injuries. However, Young should have had head injuries, so a hard hat would ordinarily have prevented damage. Various cuts above and below Young’s right eye may have been caused by his sun glasses.

The accident was the second of this type that our climbing group has had this year and should serve to point out the extremely treacherous nature of scree slopes, especially on descents where the group is tired and moving fast. Both falls were severe enough to have been fatal, and except for extremely good fortune, would have been. All climbers should take note and exercise greater caution during the descent.