American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Rock, Climbing Unroped, Inexperience, Washington, Ricksecker Point Cliff

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


Washington, Ricksecker Point Cliff

About 1300 on June 11, 1983, Lts. Harold Spiess (26) and Paul Magaudda (26) arrived at the Nisqually gate of Mount Rainier National Park. They were roommates, and both were pilots with the U. S. Air Force 318th Fighter Interceptor squadron at McChord AFB. They had come to the park to climb, but had not yet decided on a particular place to do so. Shortly after entering the park, they stopped at the Cougar Rock campground and talked to seasonal Park Technician Sanders about climbing Mount Rainier at some future time; there was no mention of any anticipated climbing that day.

After leaving the Cougar Rock campground, the pair drove across the road to the Cougar Rock picnic area. They had seen a prominent southwesterly-facing cliff below Ricksecker Point and decided to climb it. They went on a “social” trail to the bank of the Nisqually River, and then traveled upstream for about 90 meters. They found a downed tree and crossed the river on it. After discussing their climbing route, reviewing handholds, footing and safety techniques, they entered the woods and went a few hundred yards to the base of a talus pile below the Ricksecker Point Cliff.

The pair climbed up the talus slope and then up an area of 5.1 or 5.2 difficulty.. As travel beyond this point appeared more difficult, they began to traverse a ledge in a northwesterly direction with Spiess in the lead. Magaudda said that the rock was dry, but moss covered. They found that this ledge did not lead to an easier route, so the pair turned around to retrace their steps. Magaudda was now in the lead. Magaudda stated that he heard Spiess say, “This looks like a good route,” or words to that effect, and turned around to find that Spiess had climbed three to four meters above the ledge. Spiess then said something like, “I think I am going to need some help getting back down again.” Magaudda told him to be careful in descending and began to walk back along the ledge watching his own footing. He then heard Spiess say, “Oh!” and looked up to see him sliding on his stomach. Spiess then fell over backwards and fell about 75 vertical meters to the talus slope below, striking several ledges en route.

He then continued to tumble down the approximately 25-degree talus slope for an estimated additional 150 lateral meters. He came to rest against a bush, with his feet raised about one foot on the bush and his head and back against the rocky talus slope.

Magaudda thinks it took him about five minutes to reach his friend. He says that upon his arrival, Spiess was breathing, was making a gurgling sound, and that his eyes were open and moving. Due to the blood on Spiess’s blue jeans and the deformity of his legs, Magaudda believed at least one of them was broken. Magaudda used his own shirt to attempt to compress the wounds on Spiess’ head, but did not move him otherwise. According to Magaudda, Spiess did not speak to him at the point at which he came to rest.

Magaudda said he thought it took him about five minutes to reach the Longmire- Paradise road and an additional estimated five minutes to come to the Longmire Museum to ask for help for his friend. He arrived at the museum at 1545. (Due to the difficulty of the terrain and the distance traveled on foot and by car, it appears that it reasonably would have taken about 25 minutes to make such a trip and the time of the accident has thus been fixed about 1520.)

I was called on the radio and came to the Longmire Museum at 1547. Magaudda explained that his friend was hurt “near Eagle Peak,” but could not name the exact location. I then accompanied him to the accident scene, arriving there about 1630. I found that Spiess had no vital signs, and at 1632 I so informed the park communication center. I then sat down with Magaudda to console him and to await the park rescue team, who arrived at 1700. (Source: Gene Casey, Ranger, Mount Rainier National Park)


Both men were equipped with small packs containing water, food, and clothing. Neither was equipped with standard climbing gear such as pitons, ropes, carabiners or hard hats. Lt. Magaudda was wearing vibram-soled hiking/climbing boots. Spiess was wearing military-issue flying boots with a lightly patterned sole.

Magaudda said he had done rock climbing in high school and college, and had made climbs of 5.8 and 5.9 difficulty. He said that Spiess had no previous rock climbing experience. Their objective, according to Magaudda, was to find a route on the Ricksecker Point Cliff of only fourth-class difficulty so they could climb unroped. (Source: Gene Casey, Ranger, Mount Rainier National Park)

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