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Fall on Snow—Unable to Self-Arrest, Climbing Alone, Haste—Resulting in Wearing Rock Shoes on Snow, Washington, Mount Stuart


Washington, Mount Stuart

After summiting Mount Baker in the early morning of July 9,1 drove about 3/4 of the way to Seattle and got a hotel room to dry out gear and repack for a solo attempt of Mount Stuart. On the 10th, I drove from the hotel to the parking area south of the mountain and hiked the four hour approach which brought me to the grassy slopes beneath the West Ridge (4,500 feet). The route planned on was the “West Ridge Route” as described in the Cascade Alpine Guide, Volume 1 by Fred Becky. I made camp and went to bed early. The weather was clear and the temperature dropped a little below freezing that night.

I began climbing at 0600 on the 11th, a cool morning with perfectly clear skies. I was climbing continuously up the snow couloirs and rock mainly 5.4 and below, but with problems reaching the 5.6 level.

There was a lot of snow still left in the couloirs. In the morning the snow was well consolidated from the nights freeze. The transition from snow to rock occurred several times on my way to 9,000 feet. This required me to change from double plastics to rock shoes several times. I reached a point near 9,000 feet on the ridge above the couloirs where the ridge stays mainly rock to the summit. While traversing just below the ridge crest east toward the summit, I encountered a finger of snow about 35 feet wide at a 40 to 45 degree angle. A committing problem blocked the way above the snow and a scary down climb below. I decided to traverse the snow to the rock on the other side.

Near the summit and eager to finish the route, I decided to cross the snow while still wearing my rock shoes. About half of the way across, the steps I had chopped/kicked gave way and I began sliding down the face. The snow had developed a top layer about six inches deep that was of very poor quality with still frozen snow beneath. I had my ax blade buried into the snow the entire time I was sliding down the face of the finger. The ax provided little if any reduction in my speed and the rock shoes were worthless. Just before hitting the rocks 40 feet below where I started falling, I let the ax go so it would not impale me during the impending tumble.

I hit the uneven rocks with both feet, badly bruising the heel bone in my right foot and spraining my left knee. I rolled across the left side of my body in a kind of half cartwheel and came to rest in a sitting position looking down the mountain. Luckily I could still walk and I actually finished the route at 1200 so I could be sure of finding the Southeast Route descent. I glissaded as much as possible on the descent and made it back to the tent at 1830.

After sleeping some I packed up the next morning and hiked the 3 1/2 hours out in six hours and a lot of pain. I asked two different sets of hikers for assistance while on the trail out, but since I could actually walk on my own, I was reluctantly denied any help. After reaching the car I went to the emergency room to have my foot X-rayed (no broken bones) and my knee drained. (Source: Gehrig Austin, Jr.)