American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Snow, Climbing Unroped, Placed No Protection, California, Mount Shasta, Hotlum/Bolam Ridge

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 2001

FALL ON SNOW, CLIMBING UNROPED, PLACED NO PROTECTION

California, Mount Shasta, Hotlum/Bolam Ridge

Leaving their high camp in the early morning of September 23, Dave Woods and David Wicken (36) began the 40-degree climb of the Hotlum/Bolam Ridge. Woods fell twice during the ascent, but was able to self-arrest. Skirting the western crevasses and bergschrund of the Hotlum Glacier, they reached 12,000 feet by 0500. Concerned with the water ice and hard snow on the route, they moved toward some rocks to rest. Wieken lost his balance and fell. Unable to self-arrest on the hard snow and water ice patches, he continued to fall.

Dave Woods descended, looking for his partner. He encountered a guided trip who helped him search. Shasta Mountain Guides found Wieken’s helmet, then lower down at 11,000 feet found Wieken. He was unconscious and unresponsive, showing obvious head and spinal injuries.

Siskiyou County SAR and USFS rangers were called by cell phone. Wieken was short-hauled by the Highway Patrol helicopter down to 8,500 feet, then the Mercy Air helicopter flew him straight to Mercy Hospital. He died from his injuries one week later.

Analysis

The Hotlum/Bolam Ridge is non-technical during most of the climbing season. However, it becomes more difficult and hazardous each season by August or September with the formation of hard snow and water ice. Climbers have frequently been drawn to the rocks when they become uncomfortable on the route. Unfortunately, this is the first place water ice forms. Although few people use ropes or protection on this route during the main climbing season, roping up and using protection may be a good idea in the late season.

Wieken was wearing a helmet, but as it came off during the fall, it may have been loosely fastened. (Source: Eric White and Matt Hill, USFS Climbing Rangers)

(Editor’s Note: Two other climbers fell on this route a week later; one suffering a broken leg. A total of 33 accidents were reported from Mount Shasta this year; of which 17 are “eligible” for the data—even though several of them involved rank beginners who were either stranded [total of 12 people] or who lost it glissading [seven]. The rangers have a website that reports conditions and summarizes incidents: www.r5.fs.fed.us/shastatrinity/mtshasta/accident.htm)

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