American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Falling Ice, Utah, Provo, Stairway to Heaven

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1995

FALLING ICE

Utah, Provo, Stairway to Heaven

On January 4, 1994, M.M. (33) and three companions had hiked to the base of the frozen waterfall called Stairway to Heaven. Small pieces of ice had come down from a large icicle which did not connect at its base that was above and to the right of the climb. The victim led the pitch, set up a top rope, lowered, and was belaying another climber when a large icicle broke off spontaneously from approximately 100 feet above and 50 feet to the right of the top rope anchor. The ice block hit a ledge and broke apart into smaller pieces and bounced and rolled toward the victim in the form of an ice avalanche. It came so fast that the victim was unable to get out of its way. It knocked him off his feet. He landed approximately 25 feet from his standing belay on his back. He sustained a fracture of the right clavicle, multiple rib fractures, a small pneumothorax with subcutaneous emphysema, and a lung contusion. Possible brachial nerve plexus injury secondary to contusion also occurred. He required hospitalization for several days. The victim was wearing a helmet and, in his opinion, he would have sustained serious head injuries without it. He was able to self-evacuate with the assistance of his partners and three visiting climbers from Wyoming who were descending the climb. He sought medical care at a regional hospital, where this interview was obtained. The victim reported that the temperature was below freezing because snow flurries were occurring, but there was no avalanche activity.

Analysis

The victim had over 17 years of climbing experience. The only other information that may have some bearing is that the official temperatures recorded in Provo that day were 53° F as the high and 34° F as the low. (Source: Brian Danneman, M.D., Central Utah Medical Clinic)

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