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

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

Canada: There were fourteen deaths from mountaineering accidents in Canada in 1982. As in the previous year, avalanches were the major cause, accounting for nine fatalities in six separate accidents. Since forty-eight accidents were reported altogether, one conclusion is that avalanches are much more likely to be fatal than other accidents.

Falling while rock climbing was the major cause of all accidents reported. The fourteen accidents in this category resulted in three fatalities in two separate accidents.

There were four accidents whose principal cause was falling into a crevasse. These resulted in three injuries and one death. In three of these accidents, the climbing parties were traveling on a snow-covered glacier unroped, even though they were carrying ropes with them. This is something that many of us have done for one reason or another; to save time, to keep the rope dry, to enjoy the skiing, etc. In midwinter in high-snowfall areas, the risk is usually small, especially if traveling on skis. However, the general rule of always roping up for travel on a snow-covered glacier is a good one and we should be more rigorous in its application.

We are grateful to the following persons for collecting reports: Ray Breneman, Helen Butling, Lloyd Freese, Peter Fuhrmann, Lloyd Gallagher, Denis Gravel, Ian Kay, David Myles, and Chris Sadleir.

United States: Last year we said there was a thirty percent decrease in the number of accidents reported and, obviously, it should have read fifty percent decrease. This year, however, the number of reports is back up to slightly above the average for the past decade. Although there was an increase in the number of climbing areas and individuals reporting, information is still lacking from a few of the major climbing centers, including the Southwest, North Carolina and Mexico. Nevertheless, the great majority of accidents resulting in fatality, serious injury and/or major rescue efforts are finding their way into this report.

A further word about the terms “accident” and “incident.” In industry, the former is used according to its definition, which is to indicate that a traumatic injury, damage or loss occurred as the result of an undesirable, unfortunate happening. As we have indicated many times, we are receiving more scrutiny and inquiries from interested parties; this makes it imperative to distinguish between the reports on mountaineering mishaps that result in injury, damage or loss, and those which, while remarkable, do not. Specific examples of the latter include such actual accounts as a) a climber leaping from a climb after being bitten by a snake and dropping 20 meters to the ground unharmed; b) sliding 500 meters down a snow chute into a rocky area and receiving no more than a few bruises; and c) being several hours or days overdue from a climb, resulting in a massive and costly search effort but with no injuries incurred. These “incidents’ or near misses are illustrative and, as in industry, should be presented for their value in preventing such events from turning into “accidents.” While one might claim that loss of equipment and expenditure of money—especially tax payers funds are losses and damages, these are not relevant to the kind of statistical information we desire to present: specifically, to indicate the number of climbers injured or killed and the causes of the accidents. These figures alone are not worthwhile unless presented in proportion to the total number of participants and their frequency of climbing.

Because of these distinctions, readers can expect to see, in future issues of this report, another table which isolates “incidents” and “near misses.” Additionally, the existing tables will show some alterations to reflect new climbing centers (Table II) and a refinement of detail resulting from the use of new equipment and climbing techniques (Table III). The categories of mountain hiking, ski mountaineering, and “back-country skiing” will continue to be reported but will be included in separate statistical data.

As Enrico Fermi said, “Counting is no substitute for thinking.” Our mountaineering readers indicate that the narrative section of this report contains the most usable material and we shall continue to select an illustrative cross section of these each year. One half to two thirds of all reports received are currently presented. Comments and help are always welcome.

In addition to the Safety Committee, we are grateful to the following individuals for collecting data and helping with the report: J. Buchholz, Micki Canfield, John Dill, Patricia Fletcher, Bob Gerhard, Ruth Mendenhall, Craig Patterson, George Sainsbury, Heather Williamson and T. C. Price Zimmermann.

John E. Williamson, Editor, USA 7 River Ridge Road Hanover, New Hampshire 03755

R. Reader, Editor, Canada

Box 11, RR 3

Carp, Ontario K0A 110