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Fall on Snow, Ascending Too Fast, Inexperience, Washington, East McMillan Spire


Washington, East McMillan Spire

On July 2, 1987, Mark Allaback (26) was leading on East McMillan Spire in a narrow couloir which had a chockstone bypass on the left all via an exposed ledge and face. The party, which included MRC member Russ Kroeker and Dr. John Roper, was unroped on this Class IV pitch. Allaback, an experienced rock climber, was only moderately capable on snow. He gained 15 meters rapidly, arriving above the chockstone at the beginning of 60-degree snow. The snow accepted eight-centimeter-deep steps with a soft layer five centimeters deep. Allaback was followed by Dr. Roper who arrived at the snow as Allaback climbed quickly ten meters up the gully where both steps broke out and his ice ax shaft rotated out of a shallow placement. He fell over backwards, cartwheeled down about eight meters, stopping on the right wall. He sustained a sprain of the right foot and a simple spiral fracture of the fibula.

Russ Kroeker had his portable “ham” set with him and was able to contact a Seattle operator and set up a timely phone patch to the Whatcom sheriff’s office. The North Cascades National Park was notified, and an attempt to make the pickup was made by Rangers Jerry Lee and John Dittli with Hi-Line Helicopters from Marblemount, but they had to return unsuccessful at 2035 because of fading light. The radio communications were excellent with the frequencies reported by Russ through the sheriff to the park. The next morning the weather was marginal, and the pickup was not attempted until Russ radioed the park that the weather was good at the pickup site at 1700 on July 3. The party was reached via Goodell Creek, and all members were evacuated by 2130. (Source: Bergtrage, Number 128, October 1987)


One must understand that snow conditions vary over several orders of magnitude both from day to day and inch to inch across gullies. One should spend copious amounts of time on steps and ice ax placements appropriate to step security. Get a lot of low-angle snow experience before dealing with high-angle. It is best to follow the most experienced on high-angle. (Source: Russ Kroeker)