Accidents in North American Mountaineering, Twenty-Second Annual Report of the Safety Committee of the American Alpine Club

Publication Year: 1969.

This is the twenty-second report of the Safety Committee and the ninth in conjunction with the Alpine Club of Canada. Paddy Sherman has resigned as the representative of the Canadian Alpine Club. His contribution is gratefully acknowledged. The job he did is manifested by the fact that he has been replaced by four persons who are geographically distributed. This is similar to the geographical distribution in the U.S.A. It should share the load, and we welcome the new representatives from Canada.

Data from accidents not previously reported have been obtained. Some of these are reported in this issue. The rest are included in the statistical tables.

Regrettably time did not permit a more detailed examination of the statistical tables. This is still planned, however.

Hard hats are still indicated. In a number of the accidents described hard hats minimized the injury. In others, the wearing of a hard hat might have reduced the injury or even saved a life. In some instances, as with a massive rock fall, hard hats do not offer protection. These are rare, whereas the less severe are more common and represent situations in which hard hats offer considerable protection.

There are also some additional comments in the reports that deserve emphasis:

When two ropes are tied together the knot should be very carefully checked, not only by the person tying it but also by a companion. Salz- berg’s accident in Yosemite could have been prevented.

Rappel slings that have been previously used should be carefully examined for evidence of wear or tear and burns resulting from the removal of a rappel rope. Nylon material can be weathered by sunlight so that it becomes severely weakened. These conditions are demonstrated by the Mt. Waddington accident and Milburn’s fall in Yosemite.

It is also advisable to have adequate knots at the end of rappel rope. This is exemplified by the Madsen accident in Yosemite and Sharp’s accident in the Tetons. In the first instance a more adequate knot would have prevented his falling off the end; and in the other instance, an adequate knot saved Sharp’s life.

The failure of a Jumar ascender is reported in the Gerughty accident in Yosemite. Apparently similar failures have occurred in the past.

High altitude pulmonary edema is still a problem. Pat Chamay an experienced climber succumbed to this condition. He is an example of a person who had had considerable previous high altitude experiences but had lost his high altitude adaptation. It also indicates the need for other members in a party to be alert to the problem and to be willing to retreat promptly.

Exposure to wind, cold, and wet must not be underestimated. Hypothermia can develop and, in essence, the individual “freezes” to death at temperatures above freezing. Four instances of this occurred in the past year: Mr. Reddick on Rainier, Mrs. Anderson on Rainier, Miss Una Davies on Old Snowy Mountain in Washington, and Robert Patterson on Mt. Hood. These demonstrate the need for adequate food, clothing, good physical conditioning, and a willingness to turn back when confronted by bad weather. The Old Snowy Mountain episode demonstrates the insidious nature of hypothermia and the need for constant vigilance by all members of the party.


Benjamin G. Ferris, Jr., Chairman

Weston, Massachusetts

William L. Putnam 

Springfield, Massachusetts

Arnold Wexler

Washington, D.C.

Harold Walton

Boulder, Colorado

Thomas O. Nevison 

Albuquerque, New Mexico

Ross Petrie 

Portland, Oregon

Hal Foss

Olympia, Washington

David Harrah

Riverside, California

J. Vin Hoeman 

Anchorage, Alaska

Al Steck

Berkeley, California


Dick Culbert

Vancouver, B.C.

J. G. Kato

So. Edmonton, Alberta

Helen Butling 

Nelson, B.C.

R. D. Lyon 

Calgary, Alberta


Jack Baldwin

Portland, Oregon


Paul M. Williams, Chairman

Seattle, Washington