American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Accidents in North American Mountaineering—Fifty-Fifth Annual Report of the Safety Committees of The American Alpine club and The Alpine Club of Canada

  • Editorials And Prefaces
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 2002

This is the fifty-fifth issue of Accidents in North American Mountaineering and the twenty-fourth issue in which The Alpine Club of Canada has contributed data and narratives.

Canada: This was the year of the stranded climber in Canada. Four of the accidents reported in this book, plus a few others not reported here, involved climbers who got in over their heads and could no longer move up or down the mountain. The good news in these incidents is that there were no physical injuries. Climbers are advised to collect as much information about their intended route as possible before setting out to ensure that they have the skills and equipment to finish the route. The information in a guidebook is not sufficient in many cases. Other information sources include alpine journals, other climbers, park wardens, and even the internet. All climbers should remember that rescuers put their lives at risk each time they respond to a call for help from a mountain side.

There were many accidents, particularly in British Columbia, that are not reported in this book due to lack of information. Because of financial cutbacks in the B.C. government, we were not able to obtain reports from B.C. Provincial Parks. There were three climbing related deaths on the Squamish Chief for which we have no information. If anyone has knowledge of a climbing accident, you are encouraged to report it to the Editor. You may prevent someone else from suffering the same mistake.

We would like to express our gratitude to the following individuals who contributed to the Canadian section of this year’s book: Marc Ledwidge, Lisa Paulson, Burke Duncan, David Henderson, Rick Staley, Ken Wiley, Ian Hyslop, Terry Taylor, Luther McLain, Rob Maiman, Doug Fulford, Rupert Wedge- wood, Andrea Lines, Rob Owens, Sandy Sauer and Don Serl. Thanks also to those who fortunately either had nothing to report or who provided information that was not included in this year’s book.

United States: Fatalities were at the lowest number (16) for the last 20 years. The average for this time period is 26, with the highest number at 43. Compared to hiker, hunter, skier, and other backcountry incidents, the climbing population fares well. There were fewer costly rescues this year as well. It is important to emphasize this fact again, as the question of who should pay for mountain rescue is very much in the news.

As Mike Gauthier, Chief Climbing Ranger for Mount Rainier National Park has pointed out, “As a group, mountain climbers aren’t the most expensive to rescue.” It is lost hikers and hunters who have achieved this distinction. Public Law 106-486, authored by Alaskan Senator Frank Murkowski, requires the

Park Service to suggest ways to recover the costs of emergency evacuations. The new congressional report may recommend that climbers on Mount McKinley be forced to carry insurance and agree to carry the costs of rescue. This could set a precedent for other parks where there is a lot of climbing activity.

The climbing community is in general agreement that the issue needs to be resolved in a manner that does not discriminate against one group in this regard. The debate continues and is often fueled by a climbing accident that becomes a media event.

Patterns to notice for this year include the number of falls made more severe by inadequate protection—either because of not enough protection being placed or because it “failed” when a fall occurred. I try to avoid the use of the word “failed,” because it implies that a protection device broke, when what actually happened is that it (or they) were improperly placed. Another common cause for falls being more severe is an inadequate belay, usually due to a poor anchoring system or improper technique.

A third category to look at when reading the narratives is the number of handholds and footholds that “broke off,” resulting in considerable falls. These examples provide a good reminder for one of the first lessons learned as a climber: Test all holds on any rock that has cracks or evidence of loose rocks— no matter what the size.

In addition to the Safety Committee, we are grateful to the following—with apologies for any omissions—for collecting data and helping with the report: Hank Alicandri, Micki Canfield, Ron Cloud, Jim Detterline, Bob Freund, A1 Hospers, Mark Magnuson, Tom Moyer, Leo Paik, Steve Rollins, Steven Schaefgen, Robert Speik, all individuals who sent in personal stories, and, of course, George Sainsbury.

John E. Qed) Williamson Managing Editor 7 River Ridge Road Hanover, NH 03755 e-mail:

Nancy Hansen Canadian Editor Box 8040

Canmore, Alberta T1W 2T8 e-mail:

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