American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Youth, Rapid Ascent, Acute Mountain Sickness, California, White Mountains

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1989


California, White Mountains

On August 2, 1988, William R. Claybaugh, II (39), Martha G. Miller (36) and William R. Claybaugh, III (2) made a six hour automobile ascent from sea level to a campsite at 2800 meters. After establishing camp an automobile ascent to 3400 meters and return to camp was made over a two hour period.

The following morning the younger Claybaugh was listless, refused to eat, and remained in his sleeping bag. He complained of headache and began vomiting about one hour after waking. Testing showed extreme ataxia. An automobile descent to 1200 meters ended all symptoms within two hours of descent. (Source, William R. Claybaugh, II)


Rangers at the White Mountain Station and at Yosemite Valley indicated that their experience suggests that children are apparently more susceptible to Acute Mountain Sickness than adults. In this case onset of recognizable symptoms did not occur until nearly 18 hours after ascent; progress was rapid once symptoms appeared.

When taking children into the mountains, it appears advisable to plan on acclimatizing at altitudes below 2000 meters before heading higher. (Source: William R. Claybaugh, II)

(Editors’ Note: While not an accident for our purposes, this example is worth including as a clear demonstration of how insidious a rapid ascent can be, even at moderate altitudes.)

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