American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall into Crevasse—Alaska, Mt. McKinley

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1977

FALL INTO CREVASSE—Alaska, Mt. McKinley. Ian Wade (30), Jen Jern (28), Mathew Wells (29), Ray Smutek (39), Robert Redmayne (32) and James Roscoe (25) were ascending the East Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier planning to climb the Cassin Ridge. Approximately 1/4 mile below the planned campsite (at 10,700 feet) the group stopped for a rest. Two members started on up ten minutes later; Jern led off following the tracks made by the previous two. Jern was on a rope with one other climber. He led out approximately 70 feet, then fell into a crevasse and took a 70-foot free fall to the bottom of the crevasse landing on his buttocks. He was partially buried by ice blocks. Ian Wade descended the crevasse and dug Jern out and then all members began to haul Jern out of the crevasse. Three hours after falling into the crevasse, Jern was finally pulled out very hypothermic and unconscious. (Source: Bob Gerhard, McKinley Park.)

Analysis. It is a very common practice for climbing parties to leave a rest stop and let the slack rope lie while the leader walks ahead. In the same manner, rope teams congregate at a rest stop by simply coiling the rope between them. To prevent the accident from being as serious as it was, Jern’s second should have belayed the rope out to him while he left the rest area. Or else the party should not have congregated at one stop for a rest. Getting together for a rest while traveling on a glacier is done all the time. Jern did not get away with it. (Source: Bob Gerhard, McKinley Park.)

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