Yukon Territory, Mt. St. Elias

Publication Year: 1972.

Yukon Territory, Mt. St. Elias. On 31 July an eight-man party was descending Newton headwall below Russel col and had 700 feet left to drop to glacier. Avalanches had been active in past few days and made great changes in terrain. Descent was down a very large field of debris; snow relatively soft. Ascent had been in a less direct line further north to avoid large crevasses which were now plugged with debris. Party was halted by crevasse about three feet across—no apparent bridges in sight— so decided to jump. Steve Heim (24) went first, jumping about 4-5 feet horizontally and dropping 3-4 feet vertically. Snow at point of impact was much harder than it appeared or than anticipated—lighting was very flat. Steve was wearing crampons which were used higher up on slope. As he landed, the weight of his body and pack shifted him forward, but right foot was dug into slope by crampon. His leg broke above inner boot causing a spiral fracture of tibia. Upon x-ray at hospital, it was also learned the fibula was broken below the knee.

Four party members were several minutes behind so while awaiting them, a hot brew was made for Steve and he was given 100 mg Demerol (meperidine) by Alice Culbert (nurse). Also a small platform was leveled for him and a temporary tarp-shelter to protect him from wet snow. When the others arrived, it was decided Alice would stay with Steve while some members went on to re-establish advance base at 9,300 feet and the others would return with skis cached below headwall to transport Steve down. A message was later sent up to Steve and Alice that all ski equipment had been hopelessly lost under the mounds of debris and all six were going on to advance base.

Meanwhile, anticipating a long wait, and not liking their location under an avalanche chute, Alice built a trail to a less undesirable spot and assisted Steve in moving. It took about one hour to move about 100 yards over uneven ground.

At 0500 (just after another injection of 100 mg Demerol), three men arrived to take Steve down. A sled was constructed by lashing a Kelty pack-frame to the three-foot handle of a large aluminum snow shovel. Steve’s legs were properly splinted together then he and an ensolite pad were put into his sleeping bag, another pad was folded onto the shovel scoop, then Steve was belted onto the “shov-fram,” legs extending up the handle. He wore a chest harness from which slings were attached to the pack-frame to assist him in sitting upright. On either side of the frame, one fellow walked to control the speed. They were attached to the frame by a short sling, adjustable with Jumar. The third man acted as anchor.

Descent was about 700 feet down and one-quarter mile all through massive debris; then another one and a half miles clear to camp.

When party was almost at camp, a jet ranger helicopter flew in and evacuated Steve, about 0930.

Source: Alice Culbert

Analysis: 1. Could have taken time to follow crevasse to north and skirt it some distance along. (This idea was rejected due to uneasiness of being on avalanche slope.) 2. Could have removed crampons before jumping, probably throwing pack across first.