American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing
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Fall on Ice, Weather, Exceeding Abilities, California, Mount Shasta

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1999


California, Mount Shasta

On June 25, Lois Johnson (52) and her husband Tom had camped at Lake Helen and were climbing the standard Avalanche Glacier route when she lost her balance while putting on dark glasses as the sun rose. She was just 50 vertical feet from the security of Red Banks, a recommended resting point before continuing to the summit (14,162 feet). The surface was hard ice over snow, caused by a freezing rain on the night before the climb. Lois rocketed down the 35-degree ice slope, ice ax jerked from her gloveless hands, and came to a stop in old avalanche debris 2000 feet below. One boot with crampon attached was torn off and the other ankle was badly fractured. Lois and Tom and a solo climber, who had turned back, were the only ones attempting the summit that morning. The solo climber descended to find a cell phone two hours distant. Tom assisted his wife using their down jackets and extra clothing. After three hours, they were joined on the icy slope by two doctors who were camped at Lake Helen and a bivy equipped climber. Lois was warmed and stabilized until a military helicopter rescue could be effected when the cloud cover broke just before nightfall.


Lois and Tom had discussed ice ax arrest techniques the night before, but they had not practiced arrests. Self-belay techniques were not reviewed. Lois had taken the one-day snow travel orientation with Rainier Mountaineering, Inc. in a previous year but had not climbed with Tom. Tom had completed several guided climbs, including Mt. Shasta, two years previously. A recent snow climb up South Sister, the guided climbs and five years hiking and scrambling experience had not prepared Lois and Tom for the dangerous conditions of high cold winds, hard ice and a 35-degree slope. (Source: Robert Speik)

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