American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Avalanche, Washington, Mount Shuksan

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

AVALANCHE

Washington, Mount Shuksan

On June 26, 1983, Peter Travis (19) and John Nelson (20) were killed when an avalanche on Price Glacier, on the north flank of Mount Shuksan, swept them down an avalanche chute and over a cliff.

John Trombold, one of five other men in the climbing group, said the accident took place around the 2100-meter level of the mountain.

“It was misting and we decided to turn back because of the avalanche danger, and it generally wasn’t very pleasant on the mountain,” Trombold said.

In three roped teams, the group began the descent. Suddenly, an avalanche thundered down the mountain as they traveled alongside an avalanche chute that was only about five meters wide, Trombold said.

“I turned around just in time to see a wave of snow come over the ridge and hit John and Peter,” Trombold said. “It knocked them down and carried them 300 or 400 meters, then over the cliff.”

Trombold said he and some of the other climbers watched, unable to do anything, as the two men were swept to their deaths. The avalanche was not particularly large, but it was moving quickly and made a lot of noise, he said.

“Peter was sort of swimming in the center,” he said. “John was farther behind. They were both spinning and it washed them down and then over a cliff.”

The two would have survived if they had not tumbled over the cliff, Trombold said. “It was just the damned cliff.” (Source: Seattle Times, June 28, 1983)

Analysis

Mount Shuksan has been the location of several accidents over the years. In this case, National Park rangers noted that Mount Shuksan is an avalanche-prone mountain, even in summer, and that the new snow probably didn’t bond with older, icier snows. These climbers were described as experienced and “well versed” in different types of terrain. Their decision to turn back was obviously appropriate for the conditions.

This mountain is viewed by many experienced climbers as one that is more difficult than many give credit for. (Source: Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 28, 1983, and J. Williamson)

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