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Accidents in North American Mountaineering, Thirty-Fourth Annual Report of the Safety Committees of the American Alpine Club and the Alpine Club of Canada

This is the thirty-fourth issue of Accidents in North American Mountaineering and the fifth that has been edited and published jointly by The American Alpine Club and the Alpine Club of Canada.

Canada: This issue includes a number of reports from 1979 as well as from 1980. Several 1980 reports were received too late for inclusion and will be published in next year s edition.

Two of the accidents reported in this issue were caused by a slip on rock where there were two in the party climbing unroped, resulting in one death and one injury. Three other accidents were also caused by a slip or fall, but in these cases a rope was used and the climbers were moving together. These resulted in five injuries and one death.

These examples illustrate the perennial problem of how to move over relatively easy but exposed ground where an individual may not be able to check a slip by himself. In the three latter accidents, it is obvious that the use of the rope caused additional injuries. What is not known is how many accidents are prevented by a partner on the rope holding the person who slips, even though they are both moving when the slip occurs.

For practice climbing the answer is clear. A belay should be used. In actual mountaineering there is no easy answer. Judgment must be exepcised to minimize the risks in each individual situation. The best way to prevent a slip or fall from resulting in an accident is to belay, but this may increase other risks, such as being hit by falling rock or ice, being caught in an avalanche, and being caught by bad weather or being benighted.

United States: There was a considerable increase in the number of accidents reported this year, several of which came from Devil’s Lake State Park in Wisconsin. From year to year, different categories of accident causes predominate. This year the increases to pay attention to are 1) falling rock, 2) failure to follow route, 3) climbing unroped, 4) no hard hat, and 5) placed no protection. These led to the most deaths and severe injuries. In the cases of 1) failure to follow route, 2) no hard hat, and 3) placed no protection, this one year alone accounts for a significant percentage of the total number of accidents in these categories since the inception of this report. The accounts of the accidents associated with these causes reveal that in most cases the climbers had little or moderate experience and were exceeding theirabilities. For example, if an experienced climber fails to follow a route, the usual result is that the ascent or descent is simply made by a different route. The “placed no protection” cases generally mean that the neophyte leader is so far beyond the last protection placement that any fall will be too long and that the force will most likely pull out any other protection.

Two random observations from this year’s report are that most of the accidents on Mt. McKinley were the result of inadequate equipment and illness and that two of the avalanche accidents were in New England. Specific observations as to why certain kinds of accidents may be happening are contained in some of the analyses. Hopefully, these will generate discussion and will produce more contributions to this report.

We are grateful to the following persons for collecting reports. Canada: Ian Kay, Helen Butling, Bruce McKinnon, Chris Sadleir, Hans Fuhrer, Tim Auger, D.A. Dumpleton, Rory Flanagan, Jim Mark, Denis Gravel, Lyn Michaud, Ronald Frey, Patrick Rousseau. United States: Bob Gerhard, Don Goodman, Hal Grovert, Craig Karr, Ruth Mendenhall, Brad Snyder, Howard Stansbury, Ralph Tingey, Larry Van Slyke, Rick Wilcox, and T.C. Price Zimmermann.

John E. Williamson, Editor/USA Nottingham Square Nottingham, New Hampshire 03290

R. Reader, Editor/Canada Box 11, RR3 Carp, Ontario K0A 1L0