American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Snow, Inadequate Equipment, Climbing Alone and Unroped — Washington, Whitehorse Mountain

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1985


Washington, Whitehorse Mountain

On September 18, 1984, Jim Scott (52) fell while descending from the summit of Whitehorse Mountain (2135 meters). Scott, who had moved from Seattle to Los Angeles in 1973, was in the region on a business trip and took a free day at the end of it to revisit the North Cascades. The Seattle Times gave this account:

It was to be a one-day trip to the peak of White Horse Mountain in Snohomish County and back. But instead of being a simple climb, the experience nearly killed the University of Washington graduate and taught him reams about man’s “survival instinct.”

Scott fell while on a glacier, injuring himself seriously, and had to spend the night on the mountain in wet clothing and without food or shelter. There was a good possibility that he might die from the cold, the shock, the internal bleeding.

“I lay there a few seconds. I was dazed,” he said. “My main concern was to get off the glacier,” because of the cold and the wind.

Scott started to drag himself down the mountain, inch by painful inch, using makeshift crutches. He calculated that it took him nearly three and a half hours to cover the same ground he had traversed in less than an hour going up.

Finally, the pain caught up with him. “All of a sudden, I felt faint and fell to my knees.” He got up but fell again, unable to continue. He had traveled four kilometers with another five or six to go.

Scott said that he learned a lot about himself on the mountain top. “You really get to know yourself and how much you can stand,” he said yesterday from his bed at Everett General Hospital.

“I suppose I could have given up. But the instinct for survival is so enormous that you will do almost anything,” Scott said.

He had lost his backpack and supplies. His boots and clothing were wet. He was suffering from exhaustion and shock and he knew hypothermia was a strong possibility. “You just have to force yourself to deal with the real possibility that you might die,” he said.

It was about 1700 Scott said that he crawled under a log and tried to pull the bark around him to keep warm. He estimated that the temperature overnight was just above freezing. To stay awake, he set his watch to buzz every five minutes, and each time the buzzer went off he would exercise to keep the blood flowing and shout for help, although he realized that no one would hear him. He stayed there until 0800 Wednesday morning, when he dragged himself about five meters to a spot where he could lie in the sun and at least let his clothes dry.

It was there about noon that Casey Bardue, a 29-year-old Seattle hiker, appeared. Bardue, who was the “only one who came up the trail that day,” hiked out and notified authorities. Scott eventually was lifted out by the Snohomish County Sheriffs helicopter.

Scott, who says, “It’s very questionable I could have gone through another night,” probably won’t be climbing again soon. If he does get the urge again, “It’ll be hikes, not climbs,” he said.

The ordeal on the mountain left Scott with several hairline fractures of his pelvis, three cracked ribs and internal bleeding that caused two quarts of his blood to drain into his abdomen. Several internal organs were bruised, and he suffered multiple cuts and bruises. (Source: Dave Birkland, Seattle Times, September 22, 1984)


Sgt. John Taylor, with the Snohomish County Sheriffs Office, had additional phone conversations with Scott after he had returned to Los Angeles. Taylor described Scott as being very experienced, and fully aware that a prudent climber would have had companions, rope, an ice ax, and probably crampons for the peak. He told Taylor that he had allowed his desire to sway his judgment. (Source: George Sains- bury, Seattle MRC)

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