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Alaska, Mt. McKinley

Alaska, Mt. McKinley. On 29 April Jerrold Smith (27) and John Lutz (21) were descending on fixed line West of Kahiltna Notch. Either Smith or Lutz slipped and pulled the other off. There is no evidence that they were actually clipped to the fixed line at the time of the slip. Most probably they were simultaneously off the line to bypass anchors. They were not within sight of each other at the time. The fall was from 13,000 feet to approximately 11,000 feet. Both were killed.

Source: Stephen Wennstrom and Grace Hoeman.

Analysis: There should have been more careful communication and procedures while travelling on fixed line. Irregularly spaced anchors should make simultaneous unclipping impossible. All rope teams in the party should have equal length ropes so that anchors can be spaced appropriately. Extra obstructions in the fixed line, i.e. knots, should be avoided whenever possible.

Comment by Wennstrom: . . a little beyond the anchor where one member had to unclip, a knot was found, maybe the climber walked without being fixed to the line for more than usual distance.

Comment by Hoeman: . . in the past it has been observed that Jumars may come off the fixed line when angle with the rope occurs. This theory was tested by Wennstrom and Schaefer and they found no evidence of tug and recoil in the snow surrounding the anchor site. Yet, the potential of Jumars slipping off should be tested.