American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Ice, Climbing Unroped – Washington, Mt. Rainier

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

FALL ON ICE, CLIMBING UNROPED—Washington, Mt. Rainier. On July 31, Leslie-Ann Smith (23), a Tacoma resident, was climbing down the Fryingpan Glacier after a climb on the Little Tahoma Ridge with a party of four. While at the edge of the glacier the climbers stopped while one of them went ahead to check the descent below them.

Even though a fairly experienced climber, Leslie-Ann unroped at that time and when her friend from below called instructing the group to find an alternate route she turned to face uphill and tripped on the rope at her feet.

She fell on the thin and soft layer of snow that covers the sheets of ice and slid down the 60° slope for 200 feet and then crashed and tumbled over another 50 feet of rocks. Witnesses who studied the tracks left on the snow as she skidded down the glacier said that there were points along her fall line where there were no visible traces of her passage.

“She was flying down that ice, literally flying,” said another climber who witnessed the fall.

Luckily for Leslie-Ann there was a Ranger in the area, John Hayes who is stationed at Sunrise. He administered emergency first aid and succeeded in controlling some of the bleeding. Having established that there were no spinal injuries, Hayes and Leslie’s friends wrapped the injured woman in a sleeping bag and alerted headquarters who in turn called MAST.

After picking up a ranger at Sunrise, the helicopter flew to the site of the accident but the 60° slope prevented pilots from touching down. While hovering ten feet off the ground, John Hallmark, the medic, jumped out and a litter was then lowered to him. Miss Smith was secured and hoisted up to the helicopter, followed by the medic and Ranger Hayes who was dropped off at Sunrise before the victim was flown to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tacoma where her father is a surgeon.

After more than nine hours of surgery for the severe skull fractures and crushed facial features, Leslie-Ann was placed on the critical list and a day later, “owing to her remarkable fitness,” she was listed as serious. Tuesday afternoon the doctors happily announced her condition as satisfactory. (Source: Report sent by Howard Stansbury.)

(Ed. Note: This was one of six missions flown by the 54th MAST that day.)

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