American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Loss of Control—Voluntary Glissade, Fall into Crevasse, Improper Clothing, No Hard Hat, Washington, Mount Baker

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  • Publication Year: 1991

LOSS OF CONTROL—VOLUNTARY GLISSADE, FALL INTO CREVASSE, IMPROPER CLOTHING, NO HARD HAT

Washington, Mount Baker

On July 28, 1990, a party of 11 was on three ropes descending the Roman Wall on Mount Baker. At the crest, the team led by Earl Crouse (63) waited for the other two teams to arrive from the pyramid at the summit. When all had arrived, the lead team started down the very steep part of the Roman Wall. Weather was excellent, but the snow was very soft. They followed a deep trench made before by several rope teams, assuming the two teams above would follow behind them in the same trench.

About halfway down, a call came that the second rope team, following a different route and led by Tom Knudsen (39) had fallen into a crevasse. Due to rapid warming, snow surface had softened and broke loose, making arrest of descent difficult. One person on the rope team, William Knudsen (42), had stopped short, but the other three slid into a crevasse two to three meters deep.

The leader, Tom Knudsen, was buried deep in a trench at the back of the crevasse in snow carried in with him in the fall. The second person on the rope team, a 12 year old boy, was buried in a foot of snow, but hollered; the third man in had landed standing up and was able to quickly uncover the boy’s face so he could breathe. The fourth man, the boy’s father, did not get dragged into the crevasse.

It later took an hour and a half to dig Tom Knudsen out. He was found to have expired, probably from a blow to the head in the fall. Snohomish Country SAR helicopter later assisted Bellingham Mountain Rescue personnel in recovering Knudsen’s body. (Source: Earl Crouse and William Knudsen)

Analysis

The first three on the team involved were wearing slick outer pants like ski warm-ups, which made glissading very fast, easily out of control. The fourth man, who managed

not to fall in, was wearing wool pants. The snow was very soft, making it difficult if not impossible to self-arrest with ice axes. However, there were four other paths where parties had glissaded in exactly the same spot. Their path was in the center of these four, so probably it seemed safe to try coming down the “easy” way.

In retrospect, I should have been very specific about the danger of glissading, especially at the top of Roman Wall, and explained that you must: (1) be under total control; (2) be 100% certain there are no crevasses below; (3) take note of the kind of clothing you are wearing when glissading. Also, protective head gear would likely have prevented serious injury. (Source: Earl Crouse and William Knudsen)

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