American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Falling Ice, Washington, Snoquera Falls

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

FALLING ICE

Washington, Snoquera Falls

On December 28, 1983, Chris Gentry (19) and Kurt Fickeisen (19) were ice climbing on Snoquera Falls when giant chunks of ice broke away from the falls and bombarded them.

They had planned to climb to a huge ledge on the falls, about 30 meters up, work their way over to one side to some trees, anchor their ropes, and rappel down. At 1130, they reached the base of the falls.

Gentry was standing a few yards back from the falls, belaying his friend, who had moved about three meters up the vertical ice and planted both his ice ax and ice hammer firmly into the falls. Both men wore helmets.

Then, from a point about 45 meters above them, a mammoth ice chunk disintegrated and tumbled down in jagged shards, some man-sized, upon the two climbers.

“It was a huge rumble that sounded like about ten freight trains,” Fickeisen said. They had about three seconds to react.

“I had both my tools set firmly; they just wouldn’t budge.” Fickeisen looked up and saw the icefall hurtling down. “I tried for a couple of seconds to pull them loose so I could jump down. Then I just pulled myself into the face of the ice. I could feel those chunks hitting really hard on my helmet. That helmet saved my life.”

Fickeisen said, “I could feel it for a couple of seconds then I got knocked out.” When he came to, he dug himself out and used his good arm to dig out Gentry. He rolled Gentry over and found him unconscious, bleeding from the mouth, and taking harsh deep breaths. Fickeisen said he was just too weak and overwhelmed with pain to haul his friend away from the falls, so he covered him with a parka and sweater and limped down the mountain to Camp Sheppard, a trek that took some four hours.

Fickeisen wobbled into the snow-covered camp at 1730 and told Kathleen Ut- terbach, chaperon of a visiting church youth group, that his injured climbing partner was still up at the falls. Fickeisen was taken by ambulance to Overlake Hospital in Bellevue.

Fifteen rescuers from Enumclaw’s Rescue 1 and the Greenwater Fire Department, called in to find Fickeisen’s climbing partner, headed into the accident area in the darkness of early evening. They were able to bring Gentry down to the road by 0015 in spite of worsening conditions. He died 15 minutes after he was placed in the ambulance. (Source: The Seattle Times, December 29, 1983, and The Seattle Post- Intelligencer, December 30, 1983)

Analysis

The falls, according to Max Eckenberg, a ranger stationed at the Boy Scout camp, “has layers which break off (and sound like) sonic booms when we get a rising temperature like we had today. ’ (Source: The Seattle Times, December 29, 1983)

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