American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Ice, Inexperience, Inadequate Protection, Protection Pulled Out, Poor Conditions, Washington, Leavenworth

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1987


Washington, Leavenworth

(On February 22, 1986, Bob Betsworth [31] had an ice climbing accident. He sent the following narrative, which has been edited with the insertion of periods and metric conversions, and corrections of spelling.)

At 1030 four of us were going up to Rainbow Falls in Icicle Creek to climb. Chris and I were going to go first. Chris took the lead on the first pitch. I led the second pitch to the top. Chris asked me to take a look behind the ice up on the ledge of the second pitch. I was about to climb. I told him it was hollow behind the ice wall. It was total separation from the rock wall due to previous heat on rocks, but was frozen at the top to the rocks again. I told him I would lead this vertical pitch because I just climbed three different waterfalls in January with a friend and I had no problem then. But the ice was in much better shape than today. Today it was -4°C out and snowing pretty good (15 to 20 centimeters). I told Chris I never led before. But I will go for it anyway. Chris tied in and I started to climb the second pitch of the waterfall. I went up three meters and put my ice screw in with difficulties. The ice was too thin for a 25 centimeter screw. It was too loose. You could pull it in and out. Maybe I should have used a smaller screw. I saw a ledge two meters above me, so I thought I would climb up on the ledge to put a better screw in. Well, when I got up to the ledge it wasn’t that good of a ledge. The ice was past vertical, and I couldn’t get an ice screw in the ice. I kept feeling like I was off balance, so

I decided to go for the top, because I was getting weak by holding my ice tool in my left hand. I had to work at it to keep it in the ice. I had only about one and a half meters to go to the top. I chopped a hole for my tube pick and I went to place my right pick in. I peeled away from the ice. Before I fell I got a jittery feeling and had a feeling of fear that things were in shape up here. The ice wasn’t as solid as it was below and taking my concentration off what I was doing I fell 12 meters. My protection pulled out on the way down. I did a complete back flip and landed on my feet. As soon as I hit the ground I rolled backwards upside down suspended over a ledge. I yelled I was okay. I had so much adrenaline in me I couldn’t feel anything. I was lowered about ten feet (three meters) to a ledge and Chris told me to do a body exam. I knew my left foot was broken so he tied me off and I rappelled down the rest of the way where I was carried off the hill by the rest of my team.

I’ve climbed Mt. Rainier and have done other climbs after surgery of my left foot. The doctors sewed my left foot on pretty good I guess. I’ll be more careful this year. (Source: Report sent to U.S. editor by Bob Betsworth, dated December 14, 1986)

(Editor’s Note: Our thanks to Mr. Betsworth for his honest self-analysis.)

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