American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Slip on Snow, Inexperience, California, Mount Johnson

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1984

SLIP ON SNOW, INEXPERIENCE

California, Mount Johnson

At 0700 on July 10, 1983, a group of ten climbers left a camp site five kilometers from South Lake to climb Mount Johnson.

At 0730 crampons were put on prior to starting up a hard snow slope. The group started to traverse diagonally up the 30-degree slope, kicking shallow steps in the firm snow. After about 30 minutes, one of the climbers passed Bob McClure (57) and asked how he was doing. He replied in an off-hand manner, “Oh, I’m tired.” McClure was breathing deeply, as he normally did going up hill, but he did not appear exhausted. He quickened his pace and soon passed another climber.

At 0825 the leader heard people crying, “Arrest,” and turned to see McClure sliding down the slope feet first, on his stomach. He was gripping the ax shaft near the spike end with both hands stretched above his head and did not appear to make any attempts to arrest himself. He picked up speed and after about 40 meters his feet struck a rock. McClure tumbled head over heels, struck a second rock with his head and became airborne. He hit one more rock before he came to rest, feet down, in a crevice between a rock and the snow. The total fall was approximately 100 meters.

The assistant leader reached him within ten minutes and checked his vital signs. There was no breathing and no pulse. She noted a severe gash in his head and blood coming from the eyes, mouth, and nose. A climber with EMT training reached the body shortly thereafter and confirmed the death. Two climbers were sent out to notify the Sheriff. The body was evacuated by helicopter at 1700 that afternoon, after initially having the helicopter leave to get the proper equipment. (Source: Bob Hicks, Safety Chairman, Angeles Chapter–Sierra Club)

Analysis

McClure had limited climbing experience, but had received training in the use of an ice ax. The reason for the fall and the apparent lack of arrest efforts were impossible to determine. Snow conditions and the angle of the slope were such that the victim could have been expected to arrest himself before striking the first rock. (Source: Bob Hicks, Safety Chairman, Angeles Chapter–Sierra Club)

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