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Fall on Snow, Inadequate Equipment, Placed No Protection, No Hard Hat, Exceeding Abilities, California, Castle Crags Wilderness

FALL ON SNOW, INADEQUATE EQUIPMENT, PLACED NO PROTECTION, NO HARD HAT, EXCEEDING ABILITIES

California, Castle Crags Wilderness

On March 23, John Stafford (17), who had some training and experience in rock climbing, made climbing the focus of his senior project. Ian Smith (18), who had no climbing experience, came to take photos of John. After taking the trail to the top of Castle Dome, they descended a snow couloir, attached to each other by webbing tied to their belts. (They wore no harnesses and had no ice axes.) One fell, bringing down the other.

During the fall, Ian’s belt released and he continued to tumble 300 feet to the creek drainage. He suffered a fracture to the lumbar vertebrae and a punctured lung. He spent the night out and was then rescued by the Highway Patrol helicopter and flown to Mercy Mt. Shasta. John Stafford stopped in a moat 80 feet below the fall and died of head and spinal injuries. His body was recovered by Climbing Rangers and a helicopter.

Analysis

Although the couloir itself is not technically difficult, the lack of appropriate climbing equipment, as well as the vertical exposure, added to the danger.

It should be noted that the helicopter rescue and the recovery were very dangerous. (Source: Eric White and Matt Hill, USFS Climbing Rangers)