American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Slip on Snow, Inadequate Equipment, Inexperience, Washington, Mount Rainier

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


Washington, Mount Rainier

On September 5, 1983, MRC member Dave Larson, with fellow climbers Dee Urbick, Denny Smith and Glenn Wetzel, turned back at the top of Disappointment Cleaver because of high winds and foot problems. On the descent they passed an ascending party of two, Patrick Hill (26) and Douglas J. Velder (19).

On reaching the ledges at the base of The Cleaver at 0715, Larson and party saw Velder and Hill fall an estimated 250 meters down the face and come to rest above the trail. They reached the victims within minutes and determined that they were both unconscious and had extensive injuries. They decided that the only hope was to get the victims to a medical facility as soon as possible. Leaving the rest of the party to administer first aid, Larson descended to Camp Muir and notified Ranger Bill Cannon and a companion of the accident at 0740. The two rangers packed and left for the scene while Larson followed with a slower party of two volunteers to bring the litters.

Meanwhile, a Rainier Mountaineering guide had descended The Cleaver with a client, arriving at the scene at 0800. By this time Hill had died, so all efforts were concentrated on Velder. Both victims had been moved to avoid rockfall by the time the rangers arrived at 0800. The volunteers helping Larson turned back at Ingraham Flats, so Urbick and the guide descended and continued the carryup. By 1000, Velder no longer had a pulse, so CPR was initiated and continued throughout the subsequent chopper flight until he was pronounced dead at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tacoma. A private helicopter that had been installing ski-lift towers at Crystal Mountain was secured for the liftout. It later returned and evacuated Hill’s body. (Source: Bergtrage, Mountain Rescue Council, Seattle, 83-16)


Velder and Hill were enlisted men from Fort Lewis, Washington. They were dressed in blue jeans and military ponchos with no packs. Neither had an ice ax. One carrieda hand-held flashlight. Footwear consisted of tennis shoes inside rubber overboots, with crampons strapped on loosely. They were tied together with seven or eight meters of black polypropylene rope. They had not signed out for their attempted ascent. (Source: Bergtrage, Mountain Rescue Council, Seattle, 83-16)

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