American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

California, North Palisades

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1969

California, North Palisades. During the middle part of March Alan Leeds (21), Wayne Inman (20), and a third man spent several days camping and hiking in the area of Glacier Lodge. On March 20th the third man left to go skiing, and on Thursday the 21st Leeds and Inman started up the trail towards the Palisades. At this time, daytime temperatures were in the twenties at the Lodge (8000 feet) and there was considerable snow on the ground.

On the afternoon of Saturday the 23rd, Leeds was noticed by several people on the road leading from Glacier Lodge to the town of Big Pine. Leeds had not stopped in at the Lodge, nor did he attempt to stop any of the cars that passed him. About 4:30 in the afternoon, he was offered a ride into town, which he accepted. Upon reaching Big Pine, Leeds notified the sheriff that Inman had been injured by a fall and that he was on North Palisades. Within an hour the first of the China Lake Mountain Rescue Group arrived in Big Pine by helicopter followed closely by others in cars. They found from Leeds the location of the injured climber on the mountain and continued by helicopter to the Palisade Glacier. The pilot was unable to make a full landing, but dropped the group from a hover into the snow on the glacier. Air temperature at this time (as reported by the pilot) was minus ten degrees F. at the elevation of the glacier, something over 12,000 feet. By continuing to climb until ten or eleven that night, the rescue party was able to reach the U Notch (13,900+ feet) at the top of the snow approach.

Leeds had described the accident as occurring on the second rock pitch of the climb. Inman, leading, had used a piton for protection after about twenty feet, continued for another twenty feet, and then fell when a block pulled out. Leeds cut the climbing rope (he had been anchored to a piton) in order to be able to reach the injured man by climbing down a short distance. Although suffering from obvious facial injuries and bleeding from the ear (he had not been wearing a helmet), Inman was able to sit up and help put on a down jacket. He was also able to talk, at least to the extent of asking not to be left alone. Of course this description of the fall and the location and condition of the climber immediately afterwards are based solely upon what Leeds said.

When the rescue group found the body on Sunday, it was located some distance beneath the place described by Leeds. The rope had been cut, the body was not tied in, but Inman was not wearing a jacket. Instead, the jacket was spread over the body. It is difficult to understand why anyone would have removed a jacket under such conditions and spread it over himself.

On Sunday afternoon, Leeds was informed that his partner was dead. Only at this time did Leeds make it known to anyone that the fall had occurred on Friday, not Saturday, and that the China Lake Mountain Rescue Group had not been alerted until over twenty-four hours had elapsed. When asked why he hadn’t come directly down to the road after the fall occurred (2:30 p.m. Friday), Leeds said that he had been exhausted. Upon his return to the climbing camp on the moraine, he had eaten dinner and then slept until morning. This was despite the fact that there was their own snowshoe trail to follow, and that even if it had become dark there was a good moon. This seems puzzling as well as the fact that Leeds did not make for the first available help (Glacier Lodge) when he did descend, continuing on foot some four miles down the road without attempting to flag cars. If the climber did, indeed, live for some time after the fall it might be expected that food and water would be left for his use. Leeds explained that he was unable to do this because he was shaken by the accident. If Inman died in the fall or was near death from it, the considerable effort and risk made by the rescue team might have been lessened by accurate reporting … at least to the extent of making known that over a day had passed.

Source: Hugh Lantz.

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