Fall or Slip on Rock, Falling Rock, Failure to Follow Route, Washington, Mount Thompson

Publication Year: 1990.


On September 24, 1989, Roberta Mohrholz (32) and Jalen Johansen (32) set out on what was to be a training hike and easy scramble up Mount Thompson. Roberta had left a route map with her fiance, Dave Whalen. Both Roberta and Jay were in top physical condition and were using this outing to train for various marathons and triathlons they were involved in. Roberta was a veteran snow and ice climber but generally stayed away from rock climbing unless necessary. Though Jay had done a lot of hiking, he had no rock climbing experience.

They stopped for lunch at a place where they could see the face of Mount Thompson and discussed their route. The only nonclimbing route was the east ridge, which Roberta had outlined and left with Dave Whalen. For some reason, Roberta decided they could start slightly south of the east ridge, work their way up a steep gully and fracture system, and then intersect the east ridge farther up. She told Jay that it looked terraced enough to prevent much exposure.

As they began to climb, it became apparent that they had committed themselves to a face with serious exposure, but found that it was too steep to downclimb. They continued up and were very close to reaching the ridge, when Roberta came to a difficult move and waited for Jay to come up along side her. She told him to see if he could make the move and get above her. He was able to do so, but because of the slight overhang, he could not see her. She shouted that she would try to the left, and at this point Jay heard her scream. He shouted to her. She responded that she had only slipped a short way to a narrow ledge and was all right. Shortly after this, she screamed again, and fell from the ledge.

A witness watching from a ridge across the valley reported seeing a rock the size of a car falling with her. Jay made his way down the east ridge and circled around below where they had been climbing. He realized she had died instantly after falling 200 meters. He ran the 16 kilometers to Snoqualmie Pass and alerted the Forest Service. A helicopter was dispatched but did not locate the body until dark. Because of the rugged terrain, a search and rescue team was sent to bring the body out the next day. (Source: Pat Whalen)


The victim has been climbing for a decade or so and was one of the founders of the local women’s climbing organizations, “Northwest Women’s Climbers.” She was considered to be a skilled, experienced, and careful climber and had a number of demanding ascents to her credit.

The ridge route in question is a walk-up, which explains the lack of equipment. I am told by members of the party that recovered the victim that they understand she purposely left the normal route and detoured a short way out on the south face for the specific purpose of giving her friend an opportunity to get a taste of rock climbing on this, his first, climb. The rock proved to be incredibly rotten, and the accident resulted. (Source: George Sainsbury)

(Editor’s Note: Another incident where hiking off route leads into a climbing situation. See also the report below.)