American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Faulty Use of Crampons, Exhaustion, Haste, Inexperience, Washington, Mount Rainier

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1988


Washington, Mount Rainier

On June 14, 1987, Sterling Thomas, and Paul McClelland, both members of the Corvallis Mountain Rescue Unit, were descending the upper Kautz Glacier with Joseph McNeill (32) when the following accident occurred.

The third member of the roped team attempted to plunge step directly down the 45-degree hardened snow slope. He was wearing crampons. He lost control and began cartwheeling, pulling McNeill, the center climber, into a toilet-bowl-sized rock. This resulted in a severe fracture of the left tibia and fibula. The first on the rope arrested the fall. The three were then joined by two other members of the party and other climbers from the area who assisted in medical evaluation and treatment. McNeill was rescued by helicopter. (Source: Gene Griswold, designated climbing leader)


A careful and complete evaluation of the route and its hazards, and of members’ abilities, must be made prior to travel. Better communications and a consensus were in order here prior to making a commitment to the technique for the descent. (Source: Gene Griswold)

Editor’s Note: Plunge-stepping with crampons on, especially on this kind of snow, is not recommended.

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