American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Snow/Ice, Moderate Experience, Washington, Mount Rainier

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1996


Washington, Mount Rainier

On August 20, Scott Porter (32), Karl Ahrens (35) and Brian Nelson (32) were descending the upper Emmons Glacier after summiting. SMR members Kim Klasch and Bob Schumaker were on standby duty at Camp Schurman. At 1405 Klasch was watching parties on the route when he saw the group of three begin falling about the 13,400 foot level. They slid and fell about 2,400 feet down to the 11,000 foot level before coming to a stop in a crevasse. Klasch, Schumaker, and a Park Service Ranger left Camp Schurman at 1440 to climb to the fallen climbers. In the meantime they had notified the Park Service of the accident. A Park Service rescue team was flown to the accident scene, and accomplished the rescue before Klasch, Schumaker, and the Park Service Ranger from Schurman could reach the scene. They directed another off-route party of two back onto the standard route and assisted them down to Schurman.

Porter and Ahrens were killed in the fall. Nelson survived. He was flown from the Emmons Glacier to Sunrise, and from there to Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma via an Army helicopter. From Madigan, Nelson was moved to Swedish Hospital in Seattle on August 24, where he was reported to be in critical but stable condition. It was his third climb on Mount Rainier. (Source: Bergtrage, Seattle Mountain Rescue, Number 146, January 1996)

(Editor's Note: Other than various people saying that the conditions were very icy, there were no other conclusions drawn in any of the NPS reports or newspaper articles received.

This accident brought the total number of fatalities on Mount Rainier to 67. Over the past 40 years, 258 people have died while mountain climbing in Washington State. Before the fall the previous week on Mount Rainier, the last fatal accident occurred in 1992. The worst climbing accident in U. S. climbing history in terms of total fatalities was in 1981 when ten climbers were buried by a large avalanche on the Disappointment Cleaver route.

There were a few other reports of accidents on Mount Rainier for the year, two involving falls on snow that could not be successfully stopped before an injury occurred, and one other involving crampons in which the victim cut his leg badly enough to require evacuation.)

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