American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Snow Bridge Collapse, Unroped, Wyoming, Wind River Range, Gannett Peak

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1997

SNOW BRIDGE COLLAPSE, UNROPED

Wyoming, Wind River Range, Gannett Peak

On August 16, about 1420, Bob Farley and his partner Tony were descending the Gooseneck route of Gannett Peak when the snow bridge leading from the upper snowfields of the route onto the Gooseneck Glacier collapsed under Bob’s weight. He fell nearly 30 feet into the bergschrund, and was trapped there by the snow bridge debris. Tony was able to leap across the crack and dig out his partner, who was disoriented, sore along most of his left side, and had a deep laceration on his face. Tony stopped the bleeding and cared for Bob’s injuries. Around 1700, under Tony’s guidance, the two descended a short distance to bivouac for the night. At first light of August 17, the two descended the rest of the Gooseneck Glacier, where Tony left Bob at 0730 to enlist the help of our party camped at the base of the route. Though at first Tony was eager to use a radio to call for help, with some assistance he and Bob were able to return to their camp on the far side of Dinwoody Pass. With their two companions they continued from there to the roadhead, 18 miles away, several days later.

Analysis

Bob and Tony were climbing a route that had received much travel in the preceding days, and they followed a well-worn trail up to and across the snow bridge. However, many days of hot conditions had substantially weakened the bridge, and by the time Bob and Tony descended, it was ready to collapse. A short belay over this gaping bergschrund, with the rope that they carried, probably would have prevented Bob’s fall and saved them a cold night on the mountain. It is all too easy to assume that because you are following the tracks of other climbers that you are out of harm’s way; in fact, eliminating your own decision-making process from your climbing makes you a more likely candidate for an accident.

Once Tony and Bob found themselves in trouble, however, they proved themselves well equipped to deal with the situation, and responded well. They carried a first aid kit that was adequate to care for Bob’s facial lacerations, and enough layers to bivvy though they were fortunate to have a calm, clear night. In the morning, Tony roped up with Bob for the remainder of the glacier and rock descent, and safely assisted him to a low point on the mountain. It is worth noting that to Tony the situation seemed serious enough to warrant a radio call when he left Bob to find us in the morning, but that after a survey of Bob’s injuries this was deemed unnecessary. Food, water, and friendly faces greatly reduced the apparent severity of their situation. In the end, despite their fatigue, Bob and Tony were able to walk, with assistance, over the pass that separated them from their camp and waiting companions. After a rest day, they continued out of the mountains on their own. We were happy to be able to provide the perspective and manpower to avoid a time-consuming and costly rescue effort. (Source: Richard Morse, NOLS Instructor)

Further comments from the victim: I landed nearly head first and was almost completely buried but for part of one leg. Tony saved my life by making me an air hole and then spending the next 45 minutes digging me out. I had a concussion and a large gash on my left temple. We had no choice but to spend the freezing night on the mountain.

The next day we began the climb down the mountain with the thought of having to ascend up Bonny Pass and down to our camp at Titcomb Basin where our friends and my day-old fiancee were waiting and wondering what had made us so late. On the way down we ran into three young climbers who told us of a NOLS group camped at the base of the glacier. Tony left me in a safe spot and went to them for help. And help they did.

NOLS leaders Ian and Richard, along with four of their students, rushed to us like the cavalry. They tended to my injuries, fed and hydrated both of us, and helped us over the pass. It was hard enough with their help; without them it would have felt impossible. Please tell Richard, Ian and all the NOLS students who helped us, thanks.

I had sustained a concussion, at least four broken ribs (I’m still waiting on the results of a CAT scan and a bone scan), and a rather large gash. Thanks to Richard and Ian, that is healing nicely. I’m going to have a scar to help me remember that mountains teach hard lessons. Doctor Johnson in Pinedale approved of their handiwork. Pass along a thank you to Richard, Ian and all the students. Again, thanks for all the assistance. (Source: Bob Farley)

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