American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Rock, Chock Failure, No Protection – Washington, The Tooth

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

FALL ON ROCK, CHOCK FAILURE, NO PROTECTION—Washington, The Tooth. Walter McDonald (33) fell to his death while climbing The Tooth with his partner Donald Moulton (24). This is Moulton’s description (edited) following the accident.

I met Walter McDonald in Northbend at the Arco gas station at 7:30 a.m. and drove to Alpental. We left Alpental at 8:30 a.m. on the Source Lake Trail headed for rock climbing on The Tooth. The accident occurred between 1 and 2 p.m. I was belaying and Walter was leading above me on the East face route and was about 50 feet from the top. Walter was out of my view when he yelled, “Falling!” I began taking in rope. I saw him falling in the air and striking ledges in the area 100 feet above me. When he passed me he was falling free to a point about 80 feet below me where he hit a sloping ledge and stopped. I then lowered myself and walked over to him, which took about five minutes. I yelled at him, I checked his pulse and carotid artery and felt nothing. He didn’t seem to be breathing. I then began CPR with heart message and artificial recussitation. I continued CPR for approximately one and a half to two hours. I had to cut off his pack and slings. He was anchored by the rope he fell with. During the CPR I was yelling for help. I heard a reply from someone on the trail and I imagined they went for help. I was exhausted after the CPR. A party above me heard my yelling for help. One of them came down part way but couldn’t get down to me. After I gave up the CPR this person helped me and belayed me up to the top. This was probably two and a half hours after the fall. We then came out. As we were getting off the peak the helicopter came and I spoke with the person who lowered himself down. I never got a pulse or breathing the whole time with Walter and it appeared he became paler as time went on. (Source: S.A.R. Mission Data Sheet-77-334.)

Analysis: Apparently protection came out during the fall. Some chocks “had fallen out lower on the same pitch,” according to Moulton. The last pitch is rotten rock. (Source: The News Tribune, Tacoma, Washington, October 25, 1977.)

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