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Fall/Slip on Snow, Unroped, Inexperience—Washington, Mt. Olympus

FALL /SLIP ON SNOW, UNROPED, INEXPERIENCE—Washington, Mt. Olympus. On March 21, 1976, Kris Robertson, Mike Kalvelage, Bill Hansen and I left the Hoh River road on a scheduled six day attempt on Mt. Olympus. We camped the first night just below the Hoh River bridge 12 miles from the road. Conditions required snowshoes for most of that distance, although the trail had been broken by a group ahead of us. The following day we pushed on to Elk Lake, arriving at 4:00 p.m. We could see a fresh trail going up the ridge toward Glacier Meadows and assumed the group ahead had left that morning.

At 6:00 p.m. we noted two figures descending the trail. It was snowing lightly, with temperatures at 38° F. When they arrived the two individuals reported that there had been an accident in their Wilderness West party, which consisted of eight young adults, 16 to 18 years of age, and their leader, Steve Stocksteder. The remainder of the party arrived in half an hour. They reported that the victim, Mark Landerville, had fallen down a steep avalanche gully about 1-1/2 miles from Elk Lake. He was crossing on a fixed line, not clipped in, when he slipped, lost hold of the rope, slid over a small cliff, and disappeared from sight down the gully below. Stocksteder and a companion searched the first 800 feet of the gully, but were forced to retreat due to continuous avalances. They then decided to return to the lake and continue the search the following morning.

We sent Mike Kalvelage and Bill Hansen out for help at 8:30 p.m. with a complete accident report form. They arrived at the Hoh Ranger Station at 8 a.m. on the 23rd and notified the ranger. Kris Robertson, the Wilderness West party, and I left Elk Lake at 6 a.m. and arrived at the accident scene at 9 a.m. Steve Stocksteder decided not to allow any of the Wilderness West group to take part in the search due to the weather, snow, and the party’s general condition, and they returned to Elk Lake while Kris and I descended a steep ridge that paralleled the gully. The gully avalanched at 15 to 20 minute intervals, and the ridge was so steep that we had to rappel the majority of the way. We held little hope for Mark.

The rib ended in a cliff near the bottom of the gully. From this point we could see fresh snowshoe tracks leading into the woods. With great haste we crossed the gully and followed Mark’s tracks down Glacier Creek for about half a mile. Here the tracks ascended the ridge again, out of the avalanche hazard. We reached Mark bivouacked at 2 p.m. Though he had a snow shovel with him, he was laying on the snow in a tube tent. Even with his poor bivouac he was in pretty good shape, with a minor abrasion on his head and a bruise on his side. He had lost his glasses in the fall, and had had a hard time seeing which way to go and reading his map. At the time we reached him the temperature was 40° F with a 10-15 mile wind.

We began the hike back to Elk Lake and at 3 p.m. Kris was able to reach the Park Service with his CB radio on Channel 9. He notified them that Mark was OK and that we would be able to hike out without assistance. We reached Elk Lake at 4:30 p.m., greeted by a happy Wilderness West party. We took two days to hike out from Elk Lake, arriving at the Hoh River road on the 25th. (Source: Donald J. Goodman)

Analysis: The Wilderness West group has since cancelled their much publicized Bi-Centennial climb of Mt. McKinley, concluding that they are not yet ready for a major expedition. (Source: Donald J. Goodman)