American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Thirty-seventh Annual Report of the Safety Committee of The American Alpine Club

  • Editorials And Prefaces
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1984

This is the thirty-seventh issue of Accidents in North American Mountaineering published by The American Alpine Club.

Canada: At the time of publication, the only available data from Canada were five reports sent in by David Jones and some newspaper clippings. Rather than include these reports in the narrative and statistical section this year, we will wait until next year when all the 1983 reports from Canada have been compiled.

In the cases submitted, there are two worthy of a brief summary. One involved not attaching a jumar properly to a diagonal rope, which resulted in a 15-meter fall. This was the third report of a jumar mishap for the year. The second accident was a strangulation which occurred when a climber’s rappel rope, which was frozen, somehow wrapped around his neck on a short, overhanging section of his last rappel. He was using a body rappel and carrying a large pack at the time.

United States: This year the reader will notice an increase in the number of accidents reported. This is due primarily to individuals in California and Colorado providing extensive coverage in new areas. Having data from concentrated pockets of climbing, such as found in Colorado’s Boulder Canyon and Eldorado Canyon, helps provide a clearer picture of the nature and extent of accidents in rock climbing areas where hundreds of climbers may be found on weekends—or even during the week. These climbers do not register and are not usually with an organized club or class, so any accident reported from this group is the result of willing people having provided the information or because a serious injury has drawn attention to the case. We know there are many more falls in these areas, which is to be expected. What would be interesting to know is whether there is any pattern to the types of accidents and resulting injuries. Consider this a solicitation!

For the past several years, there have been few reports from Oregon and the Southwest, two obvious centers of climbing activity. The serious and fatal accidents in these areas are usually picked up, but not many more. In any case, the narratives printed each year seem to cover the classic examples of accident and incident categories, even the ones which would be found in these locales. Presenting such examples is the primary focus of our efforts.

There were some interesting concentrations of accident types over the past year. One of them, slipping on snow either in a voluntary or involuntary glissade, was particularly prevalent, especially in terms of numbers of individuals fatally injured as a result. Inadequate protection and nut “failure” accounted for almost half the total for all years in these contributory cause categories. In most cases, these were tied to having inadequate equipment and/or the lack of experience in the use thereof. Most of the narratives associated with these have been included.

The wording “failure of nut (or piton)” in Table III has usually meant that the protection came out of its placement, not that the piece of equipment itself broke or “failed.” It is important to remember that when a piton, nut, Friend, sling, or anything used for an anchor comes out or undone, it is primarily the result of improper or inadequate placement. In a like vein, the term “bad weather has been used in the contributory cause category, with the emphasis on the adjective. In most cases, the weather reported in narratives has been “normal” for the mountain environment, and the climbers injured or impeded by the weather were not prepared, for it. The cases of “extreme” (meaning unexpected) weather conditions have been less of a factor. This is presented to explain why the category “bad weather” in Table III has been changed to read simply “weather.”

This edition marks a decade of editorship for me, and a time to ask about the value of the publication and where it might go from here. Mail received from, and conversations with, a cross section of readers indicate a need to continue the report, but with some changes. There have been many requests for diagrams and/or photographs to accompany some narratives. The statistical tables require some revisions, including a format which makes a better distinction between accident type and accident cause, and an easier way to cross reference the two. These changes, along with more complete data from around the continent, will be the challenge of the next decade, and the Accident Report Form found in the centerfold of this issue is provided to help this process move forward. Use it, reproduce it, and pass it along to any appropriate individuals.

In addition to the Safety Committee, we are grateful to the following individuals for collecting data and helping with the report: Micki Canfield, Freddie Carter, Dr. Dee Crouch, John Dill, David Essex, Patricia Fletcher, Bob Gerhard, Bob Hicks, Ruth Mendenhall, Craig Patterson, Dr. Richard Wallin, and Dr. Raymond Watts.

John E. Williamson, Editor

7 River Ridge

Hanover, New Hampshire 03755

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