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Fall on Snow, Inadequate Equipment, California, Mount Whitney

FALL ON SNOW, INADEQUATE EQUIPMENT

California, Mount Whitney

In late May 1983, Ray Ranger (29) and two other team members from Mammoth SAR had completed a month-long backpacking trip from Reds Meadow to the vicinity of Mount Whitney at Iceberg Lake. Ranger advised his team that he wanted to solo Mount Whitney via the Mountaineer’s Route before walking out. He would make the climb and hitchhike home the next day. When they last saw him, he had left his backpack and had started up the route on skis. When he didn’t return to Mammoth, a search was started. On May 28, his body was sighted from a helicopterin a snowfield near the bottom of a steep wall in the Arctic Lakes area. (Source: Dennis Burge, China Lake Mountain Rescue Group)

Analysis

By retracing the Mountaineer’s Route, the following scenario was reconstructed by Eric Alger of the Mammoth SAR Team. He said that Ranger ran into trouble after starting his descent without crampons or an ice ax. Alger said that Ranger had apparently slipped and slid about 45 meters prior to his second, and fatal, fall. Ranger had elected to descend an easier snow chute west of the main route. After stopping his first fall, Ranger attempted to move back to the main route. After reaching bare rock, he stepped back onto the snow, apparently descended six to eight steps, slipped and slid about 45 meters; he then fell off a 60-meter cliff and continued his slide for another 500 meters.

After examining the route of the fall, Alger said that he found evidence that Ranger had tried to stop himself after falling over the cliff. He said there appeared to be holes in the crusty snow that may have been caused by Ranger trying to arrest his slide by jamming his elbows or fists into the snow.

Alger believes that if Ranger had had an ice ax and crampons, this accident would not have occurred. (Source: Dennis Burge, China Lake Mountain Rescue Group)