American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Falling Rocks, Fall on Rock, Poor Position, Washington, Lundin Peak

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

FALLING ROCKS, FALL ON ROCK, POOR POSITION

Washington, Lundin Peak

On September 10, Rob Crapo (37) successfully summitted Lundin Peak (6,057 feet) at 1330 with six members of the Seattle Mountaineers. Rob, an experienced climber with an extensive resume of climbs, was leading the trip. Peter Babler and Brendan Williams were rope leaders. The remaining four participants in the climb were students in the Basic Climbing Course.

On the descent, the party returned to the platform on the West Ridge where they had left their packs. Rob decided it was better for the party to rappel over a rock step there, rather than downclimb. Red webbing on a nearby tree indicated that other climbers had rappelled there. Rob set up a single rope rappel. Peter Babler and one of the Basic Students rappelled first, and as the third member started to rappel, Rob asked him to tell the other party members to move away from the bottom of the rappel.

While the others rappelled, Rob moved about 25 feet west on the platform, away from the rappel station. What happened next was somewhat unclear, as it appeared that he was either downclimbing or traversing to get a better look at the students on rappel. He was slightly below the platform when he remarked, “This is crap,” referring to the quality of the rock. Moments later, at 1455, a large section of rock broke loose. Rob fell along with the rock. More rock and debris were tom loose in the ensuing rock slide, and Rob was tossed end over end among the tumbling boulders. He fell approximately 125 feet before coming to a stop. Peter and the student ran to get out of the path of the falling rock, but Peter was struck several times sustaining injuries to his right thigh, left arm, back, and right wrist.

Once the rock slide stopped, the climber on rappel was the first to reach Rob. Peter was incapacitated by his own injuries. Brendan quickly rappelled down and took control of the situation, noting that Rob was unconscious but with his helmet still on. He had sustained obvious, extensive injuries in the fall.

Two of the remaining party members went out for help. Meanwhile, Rob became more responsive. Brendan performed a more thorough examination of Rob's injuries, asking questions to which Rob responded. Rob asked what had happened and asked if his leg was broken. He also stated that the party should try to stick together.

Having witnessed the rockslide from neighboring Snoqualmie Mountain, father and son hikers Ron and Richard Riter descended toward the accident scene. After making voice contact with the Crapo party from the Snoqualmie-Lundin Saddle, Richard called 911 on his cellular phone to report the accident at 1510. He was transferred to King County Search and Rescue to confirm the accident site location. Richard and Ron descended the remaining distance to the accident site, and party member Neil Wachter used their phone to place another call to 911 and describe Rob's condition in detail. He was told that two MAST Black Hawk helicopters were being dispatched from Ft. Lewis. Other calls were made to seek medical advice.

In Redmond, Doug Caley of Seattle Mountain Rescue was paged at 1548 to respond to the accident. He drove to Snoqualmie Pass and hiked to the rescue scene with three other rescue personnel.

Rob's condition started to deteriorate quickly around 1630. His breathing became labored, shallow, irregular, and eventually stopped. Brendan started rescue breathing, but within a few minutes Rob's pulse had stopped. Two-person CPR was initiated with Brendan doing the rescue breathing and Neil the chest compressions. Rob did not respond to their efforts. Two helicopters arrived at the accident scene at 1815 and Rob was loaded into a basked for air evacuation. Although CPR was still being performed, Rob had become cold to the touch. Peter Babler was also evacuated by helicopter. The remaining party members hiked out after dark with the Caley rescue party, and were reunited with the two party members who had hiked out earlier. (Source: From report written by Seattle Mountaineers committee who reviewed the accident, and additional comments from the individuals involved)

Analysis

The section which Rob was downclimbing was not particularly challenging, and well within his abilities. This area is known for its poor rock quality. (Source: Barbara McCann, Climbing Committee Chair, Seattle Mountaineers)

(Editor's Note: I added the “poor position” to the title here. If the quality of the rock is known, then precautions such as positioning of participants and the guide is an important consideration.)

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