AAC Publications - http://publications.americanalpineclub.org

Slip on Snow, Failure To Use Equipment, Oregon, Mt. Washington


Oregon, Mt. Washington

On November 12, 1978, Richard D. Swanson (19) and Richard A. Wolf (18), both of Eugene, Oregon, left their car at 7:50 a.m. for a climb of Mt. Washington’s North Ridge. They hiked up the North Ridge, arriving at the base of the summit pinnacle at 11:30 a.m. As the pinnacle “didn’t look good,” according to Wolf, they decided to descend via the normal descent route down the western scree field.

Swanson went first. After descending several hundred feet, Swanson lost his footing and slid to the scree terminus below. The slope was 1700 feet long and averaged 30 degrees. The surface was loose snow, several feet deep at the top, turning to ice and wind pack below. Rocks protruded through the snow over the entire slope. Swanson apparently fell on an ice patch. Wolf removed his own ice axe from his pack when he encountered the ice and descended to Swanson, who was still alive.

Wolf summoned help from the Ski Patrol at Hoodoo Ski Bowl. An Oregon Air National Guard helicopter was dispatched from Salem. A ski patroller was airlifted near Swanson, who was now dead, but darkness prevented recovery until Monday morning, November 13. (Source: Rick Posekany, Santiam Pass Ski Patrol)


November is a poor time for a beginner/intermediate climber to undertake a rock climb under mixed conditions. Neither climber had crampons, and both ice axes were strapped into their packs. Wolf took his in hand after reaching the ice from which Swanson fell. Conditions on the North Ridge, up which they hiked to the base of the pinnacle, should have alerted them to possible snow conditions on the descent route. (Source: Rick Posekany, Santiam Pass Ski Patrol)