American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Rock, Placed Inadequate Protection, Failure to Test Holds Sufficiently, Washington, Mount Index

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


Washington, Mount Index

On July 11, 1987, the climb to the summit of the North Peak of Mount Index and the descent to the North-Middle Peak Notch had gone as planned and without incident. It was now about 1630 Saturday evening and I was leading the crux pitch up out of the notch while Tom Muir belayed me from the small ledge below. I had safely led up and beyond the steep, vertical section of the pitch for about 30 meters. I had a short, easy, eight-meter fifth-class wall to do before I put in a belay to bring Tom up. I had done the hard part and the crux move on the Index traverse was behind me. I went up three meters and put in a piece of protection. This left about five meters of easy climbing to go over the top to the belay spot. I continued on up, reaching for a rock handhold as I went over the top. As I stepped up and shifted my weight from my foot to the handhold, the rock broke and I fell down the nine- to ten-meter face, landing in the trees growing out of the gully below.

I knew I’d broken some ribs but at this point there’s no retreat from the traverse route. I brought Tom up and we climbed another one and a half pitches to a spot on the northwest ridge of the middle peak where we would spend the night. We were familiar with the spot since we had bivied there the previous summer when we first did the route. We knew that there were two other climbers behind us, and that we had an option.

We felt that we could have gotten ourselves out of there in another two days if we’d had no other choice, but it seemed prudent at the time to ask for help. We arranged a plan for the party to call the Snohomish County Sheriff as soon as they got out, and to send a chopper back to pick us up at the small snow patch on the east face of the middle peak just below the summit. Early Sunday morning, Tom and I did the three and a half remaining pitches to the false summit of the middle peak and then did the 25-meter rappel to the east face. We made it to the snow patch (which was our only source of water) by 0900. On July 13 we were safely plucked from the middle peak and transported by a Fort Lewis MAST helicopter to the Everett General Hospital. (Source: Myron Young, 45)


The hard part was done; I lowered my level of concentration and I let my guard down. I knew that if I fell from five meters above my last piece that I would impact something. (Fundamental!) But I wasn’t going to fall. Things were going too well and the climbing was easy. I should have tested the hold more thoroughly! As a friend of mine once said, “Experience can be deadly!”

Pay attention to fundamentals! If a fall will cause you injury, put a piece in; even if it’s easy climbing! As far as the hold goes, the old adage “test them before you trust them” still goes! (Source: Myron Young)

Editor’s Note: Right!

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