American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall into Crevasse, Washington, Mount Rainier, Emmons Glacier

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1998

FALL INTO CREVASSE

Washington, Mount Rainier, Emmons Glacier

On July 29, Don McIntyre and Joel Koury had just climbed Liberty Ridge and were forced to bivy near the summit of Rainier due to a sudden storm which deposited wet, heavy snow on the upper mountain. The team had lost the descent route in the weather and was making their way down the Emmons Glacier when Koury slipped while cleaning the wet snow from his crampons. Unable to arrest quickly in these conditions, Koury slid into McIntyre who was near the edge of the crevasse. Both fell and landed on a ledge system 25 to 30 feet below. McIntyre ruptured his aortic artery and Koury sustained knee, leg and hip injuries. McIntyre died a few hours later due to his injuries.

Ranger Kellogg was contacted by a climbing party of two descending the Emmons Glacier who reported that another team of two had taken a crevasse fall around 13,300 feet. One of the members was reported to be seriously injured, unconscious and having difficulty breathing. Kellogg relayed the information to White River ranger station and teams were assembled for a flight to assist with the rescue. Rangers Gauthier and Kellogg were climbing to the accident from Camp Schurman but were called back to join the other rescuers who were being shuttled to Emmons Flats where they awaited the arrival of a larger helicopter to insert the entire team close to the accident scene. At 7:30 p.m. a team of nine rangers was transported to the summit in an Army Chinook and ranger Brenchley led the hasty team of three to the accident scene to assess the situation while Gauthier organized the remaining rescuers for a technical lowering and possible crevasse extraction with litter. Upon arriving at the crevasse, Brenchley's team found Don McIntyre dead and his partner Joel Koury injured but ambulatory. At this point, the sun was setting and teams were restructured; Brenchley descended with Koury and six other rescuers back to Camp Schurman while Gauthier and Kellogg stayed at the crevasse with McIntyre to begin removal operations early the next morning.

The weather remained good the following day and plans were made to fly Koury and the seven rescuers out of the field while Gauthier and Kellogg prepared McIntyres body for a hoist operation from 13,300 feet. Late morning mechanical problems prevented the Army helicopter from flight and a smaller helicopter was used to transport Koury and the team at Camp Schurman to Ranger Airfield. Unable to hoist with a small helicopter at such a high altitude, Gauthier's team secured the body well out of sight and away from the climbing route for an extraction when a suitable helicopter could be obtained. Weather and the heavy climbing activity prevented helicopter operations for the next five days. On Monday August 4, Rangers Gauthier, Yelverton and Olver were flown to the summit and down climbed to the hoist site. The Army Chinook was able to hoist the body and the team was picked up on the summit.

Analysis

The upper mountain of Rainier is notorious for sudden and unexpected storms that cover the climbing routes and leave climbers disoriented. The newly deposited wet snow made conditions very slick and was sticking to their crampons. Frequent “banging” with an ice ax was required to clean them and most climbers are unlikely to stop, anchor and then clean their crampons. Due to McIntyre's close proximity to the edge of the crevasse, there was little room for self arrest and a simple fall turned into a serious accident. (Source: Mike Gauthier, SAR Ranger, Mount Rainier National Park)

This ANAM article has been reformatted into HTML. Please contact us if you spot an error.