Fall on Ice, California, Mt. San Jacinto

Publication Year: 1980.


California, Mt. San Jacinto

At 8 a.m. on April 28, 1979, a party of 13 left the parking area at the base of Snow Creek and climbed to the bivouac site, about the 7,400-foot level. The camp was reached by all at 5 p.m. We camped comfortably and spirits were high.

Ice conditions were excellent during the cold of the night, so we left camp at 4:30 a.m. on April 29 so as to reach the summit before the sun rose too high and softened the ice. Members used headlamps until 5:50 a.m., when it became light enough to climb without them.

At 6 a.m. Guenther Zaeschmar (57), the last member of the party, had trouble with his left crampon and attempted to remedy the problem. He set his ice axe to his right side and let go of it to free his hands for work on the crampon straps. As he leaned left, with his pack still on (about 10 kg.), he lost his balance. He attempted to arrest himself by setting his right foot but the crampon came off under the force. He then fell approximately 2,000 feet down Snow Creek. Ed Connor, a nearby teammate, witnessed these events and called for help from the remaining party above.

Two party members, Dan Curly and Dale McCauley, climbed down toward the victim while the remaining party continued to the nearby summit and Ranger Station.

The Ranger Station was reached at 6:55 a.m. and the Riverside Mountain Rescue Unit dispatched. McCauley and Curly found the victim to be in fair condition and aided in his helicopter evacuation at 9:10 a.m.

Injuries were amazingly minor, with only a broken right hand and numerous abrasions. (Source: Werner Landry)


Zaeschmar had many years of experience in the mountains and was in marathon running condition. The climb is class 2 or 3 and was well within his ability. I believe that his lack of knowledge regarding the use of crampons and general ice technique was the major cause of this incident. He was instructed on two separate occasions regarding his straps and demonstrated proper knowledge. His lack of experience in 26 / ACCIDENTS IN NORTH AMERICAN MOUNTAINEERING

this area of mountaineering, the darkness, perhaps being last and wanting to hurry and catch up, were all factors leading to his fall. A rope could have prevented this accident, but is generally not part of the equipment for such an ascent. (Source: Werner Landry)