American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Rock, Climbing Unroped, Washington, North Cascades

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

FALL ON ROCK, CLIMBING UNROPED

Washington, North Cascades

On June 22,1986, Bob Richards (36) and I (36) had just climbed the West Ridge of Triad and were descending. We were off the pinnacle and could have descended a long easy route back to the high camp, but we elected to descend a rocky ridge. We had ascendedpart of the 200 meter ridge earlier, and even though the route was unknown to us, we were confident we could easily do it. The first 80 meters were easy, so neither of us felt any need to rope. There were several minor towers on the ridge. I climbed the first one before realizing the route traversed around it. Bob found an easy way around the tower and took off exploring the route. When I descended the tower, I caught up to him as he was three meters up a second minor tower on the ridge. His feet were even with my eye level and well planted on a boot-sized ledge. His hands were searching for and testing a variety of handholds. I looked at him closely and didn’t sense any potential problems. A flat two meter ledge was immediately below him. I could have reached up and grabbed his boot. I asked him if he had checked the left side of the tower and he answered “ Yes.” But the tone of his voice implied that he only glanced. I said, “I’m going to check the left side,” and passed him by. The left side was easy third class, so I had climbed four or so meters when Bob in a totally calm voice asked me how I was doing. I said, “Great, follow me!” Ten seconds later I heard a light sound of several small rocks falling. It wasn’t an alarming sound, but I called Bob’s name just to check if he knocked them off. No reply. Bob had fallen to his death. When he never answered, I was to the crest of the ridge in seconds. His body was sliding face down in soft snow 140 meters below. He fell 60 meters onto sloping rock ledges and died instantly of massive internal injuries plus a variety of other lesser injuries. God rest his soul. Bob was my steady climbing partner for six years, in which time we scaled over 30 North Cascade peaks, including several first ascents. (Source: Edited from a report written by Scott Schmidt)

Analysis

I am convinced that the rock he was climbing on simply gave way. The strata on the tower was horizontal with lots of dish size ledges protruding out. It did not appear difficult, yet when I saw him on the tower, I thought to myself that there had to be an easier way. We were both very experienced climbers; we had probably each scaled over 100 mountains. Our luck ran out. It was a very routine climb. We were no strangers to rotten rock either. Perhaps we had become insensitive to the dangers. Obviously we should have been roped up and belaying. We had all the right gear and enough of it to do any face in the North Cascades. (Source: Scott Schmidt)

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