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Fall or Slip on Snow, Climbing Unroped, Washington, Snoqualmie Mountain

FALL OR SLIP ON SNOW, CLIMBING UNROPED

Washington, Snoqualmie Mountain

On April 14, 1991, a party of six Seattle Mountaineers assembled at 0720 near the Commonwealth Basin trailhead for an “Alpine Scramble” ascent of Snoqualmie Mountain. It was raining steadily at the start with no indication the weather would improve. The group leader polled members of the party and found they wished to continue the trip. After further discussion, they had decided on the shorter, steeper Alpental route, which would get 'them higher sooner where the rain might turn to snow and shorten the trip as well by about four miles. The group also discussed safety issues and responsibilities and agreed on assignments. Robin Day (36) volunteered to serve as assistant leader. The group then began a fairly uneventful ascent, “postholing” 300 yards, whereupon three members put on snow- shoes to break trail for the others. The rain indeed soon changed to light snow, and as the grade steepened those with snowshoes removed them. The summit was reached at 1215.

Visibility had not improved, though snow conditions remained stable throughout the day. Given the weather and general level of fatigue in the party, the group leader indicated he was not comfortable leading a traverse over Guye Peak, and the group headed down at 1310 following their ascent tracks. About 1430 at the 4,400 foot level, Robin Day slipped while leading a snowshoe descent. She attempted arrest using her ice ax, but powder snow prevented any purchase, and she slid out of sight of the rest of the group into the trees lining the fall line.

The group leader directed the remainder of the party to move to a flat spot while he descended lower until he found Day clinging one-handed from a branch on a steep slope about 500 feet below the point of her fall. He tied her off, kicked a platform, and assessed immediate injury to Day’s shoulder and pelvis. Others in the party were called down to assist in stabilizing Day’s condition, and a general broadcast for emergency assistance was sent by VHF radio. Subsequent technical rescue by volunteer mountain rescue and ski patrol personnel as well as King County police involved 65 individuals and a total of 331 hours on the mission. Day was later treated for broken ribs, a dislocated hip, broken shoulder socket, and lacerations. (Source: Compiled from reports by Robin Day and Seattle Mountaineers Accident Report)

Analysis

I caught my snowshoe (Tucker binding with big points) on rope wrapped around the snowshoe edges, as was common a few years back to preserve the lacing. I tripped and was unable to arrest due to powder snow and steep, 60+ degree slope. My pick just went right through the snow. At one point it caught a root or branch and I halted for a few seconds. (The jerk broke my shoulder.) Eventually I was riding on a small snow sluff with snow moving all around me, and I decided the only way to stop was to let go of my ice ax and catch a small branch or tree. That was how I stopped. I believe my spine was protected by a large 30 pound winter mountaineering pack. Equipment in the pack—pile pants and jacket, down vest, weatherproof jacket and pants, two hats, three pair of mittens, foam pad, dry socks—kept me marginally comfortable during rescue. I was extremely lucky to have a short (six hour) rescue due to leaders, radio, and accessible location. (Source: Robin Day)

(Editors Note: This and other accidents in 1991, such as the one above on Mount Rainier, illustrate how the middle ground between mountaineering and related sports such as “scrambling, ” snowshoeing, or ski descents quickly can disappear and make the activity subject solely to the conditions of mountaineering. Readers are advised to use caution when mixing recreational modes. They might find the use of techniques or equipment of one sport suddenly subject to the terrain and hazards of the other.