American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

British Columbia, Northern Selkirks

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1974

British Columbia, Northern Selkirks. On August 12th Phil Koch and Christopher Winship, both of the Dartmouth Mountaineering Club, were attempting the west face of Mount Adamant. This was Winship’s second attempt on the route. A week earlier he and Peter Gilbert had climbed two-thirds of the face before being stormed off. At noontime Koch and Winship were just below the high point of the previous attempt. Winship led a long, easy, unprotectable traverse, followed by a difficult inside corner (about 5.8). He took a fall of about six feet in the corner. After regaining the rock he climbed above his previous highest protection, a nut. While attempting to place a higher nut, he slipped. The nut below him failed, and he fell about seventy feet. He stopped forty feet above his belayer. After resting for half an hour, they set up a rappel and descended about 100 feet. Winship was unable to continue down because of pain in his leg. They called for help from their D.M.C. friends Brinkman, Davis, and Gierke, who appeared on the Adamant Glacier below at that time. Koch left Winship on a ledge and fixed ropes for the rescuers. Sleeping bags, clothes, food, and medication were brought up that afternoon. The leg was splinted and immobilized with tent poles. The next morning Brinkman and Koch went for help. They found a party led by William Putnam camped at Fairy Meadow, four hours and 5,000 vertical feet away. Meanwhile, Davis and Gierke started the evacuation. Winship sat in a diaper-chest harness on one man’s back; they descended on rappel while belayed from above. That afternoon, as the rescuers neared the bottom of the face, they were joined by members of the Putnam party. A helicopter summoned from the Bow company arrived, and Winship was flown to Golden hospital. Pelvis and leg injuries kept him in the hospital for a week and on crutches for a month. (Sources: D.M.C., David Jones.)

Analysis: Winship believed that the placement of the nut was extremely secure, though he supposed that a piton might be more secure. The climb had been done “clean” thus far and he wished to continue in that style. Apparently he did not check the nut after his first fall to see if its placement had been affected. If he was thinking in terms of substituting nuts for pitons, he possibly did not take into account the need to use more nuts per pitch to give the same protection as pitons. When an apparently “extremely secure” nut placement fails, the error lies more in the experience and judgment of the climber than in a shortcoming of nuts. In this situation —difficult ground, high on the mountain, far from assistance — Winship might have done better from a purely safety-minded viewpoint to resort to pitons if he was more familiar with their virtues and vices.

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