American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall or Slip on Ice, Avalanche and/or Inadequate Belay, No Hard Hat, Washington, Dragontail Peak

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1992

FALL OR SLIP ON ICE, AVALANCHE AND/OR INADEQUATE RELAY, NO

HARD HAT

Washington, Dragontail Peak

On January 27, 1991, two well known and experienced Seattle climbers, Hope Barnes (33) and Kathy Phibbs (33), began a climb of Dragontail Peak via Triple Couloir on the northwest face. In winter the route is a technical mixed climb involving steep snow and rock. Before leaving, Barnes left a detailed message describing the route and estimated they would be overdue if not back by 1800, January 29.

When no communication had been received by that hour, friends of the climbers reported their absence to the Chelan County Sheriff, who mobilized a land and air search. High winds and an approaching storm on January 30 prohibited close inspection by helicopter or landing at the site. The flight crew could only see into Hidden Couloir, first of the three couloirs on the route, but saw no evidence of climbers.

Early January 31 an eight-member ground search party moved up from the trail head to Colchuck Lake. About noon Phibbs’ body was found in a crawling position near the base of the climb. She had sustained fractures to her legs and ribs. Barnes’ body was located about 300 yards above her, seated on a coiled rope and partially covered by snow. Her helmet was damaged and she had head injuries. Gear and personal items belonging to the climbers were scattered on the slope above them. Cause of death of both climbers was hypothermia complicated by trauma. (Source: Compiled from a report by Rob Jackson, Seattle Mountain Rescue, and documented observations of friends of the climbers written by Sprague Ackley and Chris Sherwood)

Analysis

Apparently, Barnes had led a pitch and placed her tools as protection and was either preparing to or was in the act of bringing Phibbs up to her when she fell or was swept out of her stance past Phibbs, dragging her off the slope. The two climbers fell to the bottom of the couloir, and out onto the snow slope below it.

Barnes landed below Phibbs, who had managed to crawl down to her and place the rope coil beneath her and prop her against her pack. Phibbs then attempted to crawl out for help, going about 300 yards before succumbing to her injuries. Her helmet was later found in her pack.

Exact cause of the accident will never be known. If it was a fall and not an avalanche, then inadequate belay would have been a contributing cause. (Source: Rob Jackson and Fred Stanley)

(Editor’s Note: Two climbers were avalanched on this same route in November, 1990, just three months earlier. See ANAM, 1991, p. 53. Again, Becky’s Cascade Alpine Guide warns of avalanche danger on this route. )

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