American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Falling Rock, No Hard Hat, Inexperience, Washington, Mt. Rainier

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1981

FALLING ROCK, NO HARD HAT, INEXPERIENCE

Washington, Mt. Rainier

On August 19, 1980, Doug Perry (26) was hit on the head by a large rock at 11,500 feet while descending Disappointment Cleaver. His injury was serious and he required a helicopter evacuation.

At the time of the accident, Perry and his partner, Gerald Riendeau (26) were off route 10–15 feet at a point where the normal route leaves the snow and goes onto the rock because they saw a good spot to fill their water bottles and get a drink. Riendeau saw the eight-inch rock coming down toward them and yelled to Perry, who looked up and began standing at the same time. The rock hit him on the right side of the head.

Riendeau could get no verbal response from Perry but thought Perry understood him when he said not to move while he went for help. He did not tie Perry in when he left for Camp Muir to get help. When the rescue group, consisting of park rangers and another climbing party, found Perry, he was 100 feet below the normal route. He had apparently moved himself or slid down the snow to within 20 feet of a steep cliff.

It was determined that Perry’s condition was life threatening, so a helicopter was called in. The hoist was completed by 6:10 p.m. Perry was flown to the hospital in Tacoma in critical condition. (Source: Rick Kirschner, Mt. Rainier National Park)

Analysis

Rockfall on this route is common, both from natural causes and climber dislodgments. (On July 27, 1980, for example, there were 120 climbers on this route; one of them dislodged a rock which hit another climber in the forehead.) Park rangers warn each climbing party of this hazard, and two notices regarding same are posted in the check-out station. Additional complications in this case were: neither climber wore a hard hat; the experienced climber, Perry, was the one who got hit; and both their day packs slid down the Cleaver following the accident, leaving them without extra clothes, food, and headlamps. Riendeau, being inexperienced, didn’t know that tying in an injured victim, especially if he is semiconscious, is essential if you plan to leave him. More importantly, he did not realize that by staying with such a victim on a route as heavily traveled as the Cleaver, he would be able to aid the victim until help arrived. (In fact, a party descended this route within an hour or two of the accident but did not see Perry because of his location.) When experienced climbers or guides take neophytes out, they should consider providing their companions with a few “just in case” procedures. This year, as in other years, the reader will observe that few guides and leaders were the accident victims. (Source: J. Williamson)

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