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Fall on Ice – Washington, Mt. Rainier

FALL ON ICE—Washington, Mt. Rainier. On September 7, Ann Wild (20) was guiding four people up Mt. Rainier. They were on the Ingraham Glacier around the 13,000-foot level. According to witnesses in the guided party ahead of this one, the second person on the rope, Bill Porter (26) slipped and began falling, making no attempt to self-arrest.

Wild was apparently pulled of backwards and immediately began selfarrest. At least the fourth and fifth rope members, Chelsea Korte (30) and Neal Dunmire (38) went into arrest positions. Wild came to a stop below her rope team and when she looked up the other four were sliding down at her and pulled her out of arrest position.

Korte (fourth on the rope) related that he was in good arrest position with his axe buried deeply in the crust. Korte stated that the pull of Wild, Porter and Mary Gnehm (47) pulled him down the mountain with his ice axe tearing a furrow through the crust. Speed increased and Korte was jerked backward out of arrest position. As the group shot past Wild and pulled her out of arrest, there was no further chance for arrest.

The team, at a very high rate of speed, slid, rolled and bounced from approximately 13,000 feet down to 11,600 feet.

At 11,600 feet the team, after becoming airborne and free falling an undetermined distance immediately above, were stopped instantly when part of the team went on either side of a serac (looking down glacier). Porter roughly on top, Gnehm hanging below Porter on the left side, and below Gnehm and Korte and Dunmire respectively.

Gnehm apparently was dead to the team members who could see her at this point in time.

Soon after the rope team was snagged by the serac, Dunmire apparently cut the climbing rope between Korte and Gnehm. This was done in a dazed attempt to assist Korte, whose rope coils were greatly restricting his breathing.

This was the position in which the first party to arrive on the accident scene found the victims.

The initial rescue was undertaken by an expedition seminar party that had been camped at 11,300 feet on the Ingraham Glacier. George Dunn’s guided group of four, including Mrs. Gnehm’s youngest son, Richard (19) arrived immediately afterward.

When the Park Service Huey helicopter was unable to land because of winds gusting to 40 mph, an Army twin-rotor Chinook picked the victims off in 40 mph winds. They were transferred to the Huey at Paradise, and flown to St. Joseph’s Hospital. (Source: Mercer Island Reporter, September 15, 1977 p. A10; and SAR Mission Worksheet 77-303.)

Analysis: Each year there are at least a few thousand climbers on Mt. Rainier, guided and unguided. On the glacier routes, slips and missteps are common. The standard procedure is to go immediately into a self-arrest position when this occurs. Guided clients are thoroughly trained in this technique. In this particular case, the client who slipped did not do this. The guide was able to arrest, though conditions of hard ice crust from a freezing rain probably made any deep penetration with an ice axe improbable. Conditions for climbing this route were as good as one can expect in any case. The only question the reader uninitiated with Mt. Rainier might ask is whether this section of the Ingraham Glacier route is ever belayed. The answer is that guided clients who might need such assistance on this slope are not allowed to make the climb, as they are screened during an intensive climbing school run by the guide the day prior to the climb. (Source: J. Williamson.)