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Fall on Rock, Placed Inadequate Protection, Webbing Parted, Inadequate Clothing, Washington, North Cascades, Eldorado Peak


Washington, North Cascades, Eldorado Peak

The accident occurred some time between 1100 and 1300 on Wednesday, July 18. Five climbers had started out together from a camp on the ridge between Eldorado and Roush Creeks. At the saddle where Inspiration and Eldorado glaciers meet, we split into two parties. Three climbers headed up the standard route on Eldorado Glacier, while Joe Davidson (53) and I headed up Inspiration Glacier to the southern rock face. We crossed the bergschrund and started up a series of easy ledges.

After following a diagonal ledge that took me maybe 40 feet above the snow, I placed a loop of webbing around a horn and belayed until Joe reached me. Joe clipped into my anchor and took over the belay. I led the way to the next ledge and I placed a small chock in a crack about 20 feet above him. The chock felt OK against a downward tug.

The rock was now slightly overhanging, not as easy as it had looked from below. I had some trouble finding suitable handholds and slipped down to the ledge. Joe reminded me that I could head back down. I considered downclimbing and taking an easier route, but I decided to angle up to the side to look for better handholds. As I moved to the next ledge, the weight of my pack, the slight overhang, and a weak handhold combined to pull me loose. I was about 70 feet above the floor of the bergschrund.

The chock did nothing to stop the fall. I later found it in the ‘schrund. The webbing running through it had torn open. The knot was intact. The fabric just ripped. The belay anchor also failed. Since I did not come across it, I cannot say why. Maybe the rock of the horn cracked, but that is speculation. Anyway, the force of my fall pulled Joe down after me.

My injuries included a broken nose, one deep laceration on the forehead, fractured right wrist, fractured left thumb, and dorsal perilunate dislocation of the left wrist. Joe’s injuries included lacerations and a fractured patella.

Also climbing in the area was a National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) group who organized a rescue and radioed an overhead aircraft for assistance. About 2000, the call for help was forwarded to the Skagit County Sheriff s Department and North Cascades National Park. A rescue helicopter from Whidbey Island Naval Air Station was dispatched at first light the following morning. Evacuated by hover hookup from the South Face of Eldorado Peak at 0600, the two injured climbers were flown to United General Hospital in Sedro-Woolley where they received treatment.


I should have placed more protection when I encountered a more difficult section. In addition, the runner that tore was old. Perhaps it should have been replaced. (Source: David Kaye—44)

(Editors Note: A two-page report from Jono McKinney, the NOLS instructor who carried out a 15-hour rescue with his students, indicated that the victims were dressed in Levis, cotton socks, and cotton T-shirts. Their goose-down sleeping bags had become soaked, which contributed to their hypothermia. Neither was wearing a helmet. They were fortunate to have excellent emergency medical care administered by NOLS personnel.)