American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Falling Rock, Failure to Test Hold, No Hard Hat, Washington, Cascade Mountains

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


Washington, Cascade Mountains

On Saturday, August 20, 1988, my climbing partner Meryl Douglas and I, Stephen DiBiase (32), set out on what was to be an easy Class 2 hike up Cashmere Mountain (2757 meters) near Leavenworth. We brought a rope, hard hats and other rock climbing gear for any attractive rock we might encounter. About the 1500 meter level, the slope became greater than 70 percent with a couple of ten to 12 meter vertical cliffs. Though we could have continued following the stream bottom, we were anxious to get out of the woods and onto the rock, so we began to stray to the left (east) into rocky terrain.

The cliff climbing was very easy until I reached the top of the second cliff, the edge of which consisted entirely of loose rock. Only one large rock had any hope of being attached to the mountain, so, without adequate testing, I put my weight to it for a quick mantle move to the top.

It pulled out straight away and both rock and I were airborne. I tried to distance myself from my flying companion and the thought, “There is nothing more I can do,” went through my mind before I reached earth again.

I fell about ten vertical meters. First impact was on a steep, smooth boulder with the upper portion of my external frame pack. I bounced into the air again, completed one somersault and again landed on my pack. Another short bounce and I landed on my side and rolled a few turns before coming to a stop just short of the first vertical cliff.

My partner soon arrived, bandaged my head wound, got me onto a mat, covered me with a sleeping bag and began a full damage assessment. Apparently my head wound was just a laceration, not an impact wound. There were no broken bones but many cuts and bruises. After about an hour of rest, we decided I was well enough to hike out. At first I was lowered by my partner. Later, I lowered myself down the steep Class 2 terrain while my partner carried the contents of both our packs.

The injury most in need of medical attention was the head laceration, requiring seven sutures to close. (Hard hat in pack, not on head!) The most disabling injury was tom tendons in the right arm caused when the packstrap caught the full impact of the fall of my body. (Still impaired four months later.) (Source: Stephen DiBiase)


Be aware of dangers even when the climb appears very easy. Always wear the hard hat in steep, rocky terrain. An external frame pack offers a lot of protection. I was a loose rock gambler whose day had come. (Source: Stephen DiBiase)

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