American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Loss of Control, Involuntary Glissade – Washiington, Big Four Mountain

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1978

LOSS OF CONTROL, INVOLUNTARY GLISSADE—Washington, Big Four Mountain. I was the leader on the July 9 climb which included six other climbers, three of whom were experienced and three of whom were basic students in the 1977 Everett Basic Climbing course. Dave Moffat (50) was one of the experienced, having climbed for many years.

At no time prior to the accident were there any indications that any of the party were either mentally or physically tired. At the time of the accident, the visibility was approximately 100 feet, with the temperature in the 50° range.

The party had been on the upper snow slope of Big Four which has an approximate angle of 30° when the accident happened. It was about 2 p.m. and the elevation was approximately 5800 feet. The party had been descending on the snow for about five minutes when Dave slipped onto his buttocks. I noticed that he stuck the spike of his ice axe into the snow (as if he were glissading) before he rolled over to attempt an ice axe arrest. His attempts at arrest appeared futile; he lost his axe, and he tumbled from my sight into the mist.

The party subsequently got to him, first aid was administered, and his rescue by helicopter was done the next day.

He had been wearing crampons when the accident happened. Three others of the party were wearing crampons while I and two others were not. The snow was firm, but not so firm that plunge stepping was ineffective. (Source: Bill Kuln.)

Analysis: Two factors contributed to the accident. The arrest attempt was not immediate, nor was proper technique employed. Dave told me a few days after the accident that his arms were out in front of him and the pick was not under his shoulder. (Source: Bill Kuln.)

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