American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Washington, Cashmere Crags, Razor Back

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1968

Washington, Cashmere Crags, Razor Back. The Mazama party climbing in the Cashmere Crags, May 27 - 30, consisted of five club members; Jim Craig, leader, Verner (Pete) Setala, assistant leader, Elmer McCor-

mick (41), William Pratt, and Scott Arighi. McCormick had registered for the climb by mail a month or so earlier but on telephone check of the party members during the week preceding the climb he had indicated doubt as to his going due to a case of flu which had kept him home from work for several days. Another telephone check with him on Friday morning still indicated doubt, although he felt much better. It was agreed that he would not ride up with the leader as planned but that if he decided to go he could contact Pratt who was leaving from work in Portland at midnight Friday. The drive to the end of the trail near Leavenworth, Washington was approximately seven hours.

The party assembled at the end of the trail on Icicle Creek Road Saturday mornng and left the cars (approximately 1,500 feet) at about 9:00 a.m. Pratt and McCormick had arrived shortly before that time. McCormick had napped some during the drive. After approximately one mile, McCormick requested that the party go ahead so that he could proceed at his own speed. The trail was snow covered from about 4,000 feet to Nada Lake at 5,000 feet. At Nada Lake, Pratt found he had left his camera at a rest stop on the trail and went back to look for it, with the understanding he would meet McCormick and help carry his gear to the lake if needed. Camp was made by Craig, Setala and Arighi at about 4:00 p.m. at 6,200 feet, above the “waterfalls,” on the route into Temple Basin. Pratt arrived about 5:30 p.m. and McCormick a short time later. The entire party retired prior to 8:00 p.m., after a leisurely meal, and slept until 6:00 a.m. Sunday. The party left camp at 7:00 a.m. on Sunday morning (28 May), after breakfast, equipped with ice axes, two 120 foot nylon ropes, rock hardware and some with hard hats (including McCormick). The weather was warm, and the sky had a high overcast which broke open occasionally to let the sun through. The group traveled over snow to arrive at 7,200 foot Temple Basin at 8:00 a.m. A group of Seattle climbers was camped at this location and were still there.

Mt. Temple (8,400 feet) was approached via a steep slope on the North side. It had not frozen the previous night. Craig and Pratt kicked large bucket steps up the slope to the west saddle at 8,350 feet. McCormick again asked to proceed behind at his own pace, but due to the slowness of the step-kicking he was with the party at the saddle at 10:00 a.m. After lunch the rock pinnacle was ascended and the party returned to the saddle at 11:20, just as the first of four of the Seattle group arrived under the leadership of Chuck Schaeffer. It had been agreed that time would permit the party to climb one or more of the pinnacles immediately to the east of Mt. Temple, and that Arighi was to lead the first one which was to be Razor Back Spire (8,200 feet). It was to be climbed by the conventional route from Temple Basin to the ridge at the west side of the summit pinnacle. This involved dropping down the Temple snow slope several hundred feet, traversing across the basin to a band of rocks at the base of Razor Back and ascending these rocks across another short snow slope and onto a final series of rock ledges leading to the ridge at the west side of the pinnacle. The rocks were grey granite with good holds and generally dry, although partially covered in some places with a remnant of snow or ice.

Arighi led the party down the snow slope off Mt. Temple and across the traverse. Some of the party glissaded the lower portion of the snow descent. McCormick did not and started across the traverse last, but shortly passed Craig when he stopped to put on sun glasses. The five climbers were together again as they arrived at the lower rocks below Razor Back. Two other climbers from the Seattle group, Jim Mitchell and A1 Errington, were met at this point. They were planning to climb Razor Back Spire from the ridge at the east side of the pinnacle and it was agreed that the two parties would not have any difficulty in making their climbs at the same time. The two parties followed the same general route up this first rock band and across the snow with some variations by some of them to avoid possible rock fall from higher climbers. In this general area Craig passed the Mazama climbers to a place behind Arighi, and the Seattle group moved generally to the left to approach their saddle east of the pinnacle. On the upper snow slope, McCormick stopped to take a picture of the Seattle party then on the summit of Mt. Temple and told Pratt to move on by him while he did so. At 12:10 p.m. all climbers were at about 8,000 feet on the last series of the rock ledges leading to the ridge below the pinnacle. Arighi had ascended a short pitch up a sloping ledge which had a thin coat of granular snow on it and was climbing a wide crack on the last pitch to the ridge. Craig had ascended the same pitch via a crack two feet to the west of the sloping ledge and was standing in the bottom of the crack which Arighi was climbing, watching for rocks from Arighi. Setala had followed Craig to the right of the sloping ledge and was on the ledge below the last pitch. The two Seattle climbers had found some difficulty in their more easterly approach to the ridge and had traversed back into the line of climbing of the Mazama group and were near Craig and Setala, above the sloping ledge. Pratt had just finished climbing the sloping ledge, McCormick was on the sloping ledge previously climbed by Arighi and Pratt. None of the seven climbers were roped at this point. Arighi and Pratt were carrying the two Mazama ropes. The rock and holds were good and the climbers were not following any particularly designated route as yet, but each was picking his own way toward the ridge, watching for possible rock fall from above.

It is believed that McCormick slipped while climbing the sloping ledge. Setala saw his head pendulum backward above the large rock which afforded the hand holds above this ledge, as if he had lost a hand hold. He made no outcry but others of the party heard him slide off the ledge and one of the Seattle party shouted “there goes a Mazama.” He apparently pitched off head first and landed on his left forehead on a rock ledge approximately 20 feet below, then tumbled loosely onto the upper snow slope of the basin and slid approximately 200 feet. Considerable blood was lost down both snow slopes. He was dead when Craig reached him about 20 minutes later and the nature of the injury indicated death came instantly at the first contact with the rock ledge.

Within a short time the other climbers of the Mazamas and the two Seattle groups gathered and Setala and Pratt left at 1:35 p.m. to obtain help. Chuck Schaeffer and Jim Mitchell very efficiently took general charge of the operations at the scene and the body was taken to the lower part of the Temple Basin to await removal. Setala and Pratt arrived at the cars at 6:55 p.m. and reported the accident to the Sheriff

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