American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Cornice Collapse, Alaska, Mount Deception

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1991


Alaska, Mount Deception

On April 2, 1990, Jim Bouchard (34) and Gary Donofrio (27) departed the Parks Highway for their approach to climb Mount Deception at 3600 meters. On April 7, they made it to their 1730 meter basecamp on the Eldridge Glacier. Over the 8th, they ascended the southeast spur to 2280 meters, where they built a snow cave. Departing early the next morning, they continued up the ridge. Around noon they had stopped for a short break. At 1230, Donofrio continued to lead out along the corniced ridge. Bouchard was quickly putting items back into his pack, before giving Donofrio a belay, when a large section of corniced ridge collapsed, carrying Donofrio down a 75 degree slope. The fracture line was within 60 centimeters of Bouchard. He lost his ice ax with the cornice. Donofrio had walked out about 12 meters attempting to stay in the softer snow noticing the lip consisted of much firmer snow. Bouchard witnessed the fall and immediately realized his only option was to jump off the opposite side of the ridge since he was tied into the 50 meter rope. Bouchard leaped off attempting to make as much distance down the 60 degree slope as possible. Within ten meters he felt the force from Donofrio which began to drag him back up the slope. Bouchard fought this reverse pull by digging in his crampons and hands on the icy slope. Donofrio finally came to a stop about 45 meters down the face. He did not lose consciousness, but went into severe shock from internal injuries. Bouchard belay hoisted Donofrio back to the ridge crest where it was apparent they had to quickly descend their ascent route. Over the next ten hours, Bouchard belayed Donofrio back to their basecamp. Donofrio was able to descend unassisted but experienced severe chest and back pain. The next morning, Bouchard departed for the road at 0700, realizing Donofrio could not continue in his present condition. At 1430, he arrived at Chulitna River Lodge where he called Denali National Park headquarters for assistance. At 1445, the Tal- keetna Ranger station received Bouchard’s request where, at 1500, the Rescue Coordination Center was contacted. Army CH47 helicopters had been practicing with the Talkeetna mountaineering staff this same day and were deployed to the scene along with four Mountaineering Rangers. Bouchard was picked up from the lodge at 1647, arriving 20 minutes later at their basecamp. Donofrio was transported by litter to the helicopter and then flown to Humana Hospital in Anchorage. (Source: Roger Robinson, Mountaineering Ranger, Denali National Park)

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