American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Slip on Snow—Unable to Self Arrest, Roped, Poor Position, Instructor Not Familiar with Route, Washington, North Cascades, Saska Peak

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


Washington, North Cascades, Saska Peak

While participating in a climb of Saska Peak on Day 17 of a Pacific Crest Outward Bound sea/mountain course, a female student (c. 20) slipped and fell on a small snow slope and was unable to self-arrest. She fell 450 feet and came to rest on a rock. The instructors quickly moved down to the site after stabilizing the rest of the group. The instructors from another group were summoned when they passed by the scene with their patrol and radio contact and a request for helicopter assistance was made with the U.S. Forest Service. Primary and secondary surveys were completed and a litter was constructed for evacuation.

While the instructors were waiting for a helicopter with winching capabilities, the student went into cardiac and respiratory arrest. CPR was performed, but was to no avail. The helicopter was able to carry out the evacuation, but the student did not survive.


An internal and external review were conducted, and the conclusions were the same. The combination of reliance on self-arrest, no experience in self-arrest with a heavy pack, an inadequate runout, and no fixed line or belay were the key factors in this accident.

It was also noted that the instructors were not familiar with the route, as no reconnaissance had been conducted. Considering the injuries to the student, the geographic location, and resources, nothing more could have been done to change the outcome of the accident once the fall began. The instructors’ response to the emergency was deemed to be thorough and professional. (Source: From reports prepared by Outward Bound and the External Review Team.)

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