American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Faulty Use of Crampons—Fall on Snow, California, Mount Shasta, Wintun Ice Fall

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 2002


California, Mount Shasta, Wintun Ice Fall

On June 24, David Lowe (24) was glissading at 13,500 feet with his crampons on. His crampons caught and threw him into a tumble, and his leashed ice ax penetrated his thigh from hip to knee. He fell approximately 2000 feet.

David Lowe and his party had climbed the Hotlum-Wintun route on the northeast side of the mountain. Lowe, and many in his party, had very little climbing experience. Although this route is not technically difficult, it does have steep sections and crosses above hazardous areas on the Wintun Glacier. On their descent, he decided to glissade wearing his crampons and his ice ax leashed to his wrist. About 13,500 feet on a 40-45-degree slope, the heels of his crampons caught, tumbling him into an out of control fall. He came to rest at about 11,500 feet, where the slope had decreased to about 30 degrees. This area was right above a cliff over the Wintun Ice Fall.

His party summoned help from a commercially guided Sierra Wilderness Seminars trip. Two guides, Miller and Rodriguez, responded and used their cell phone to contact search and rescue around 1430. They assessed and stabilized Lowe’s injuries. He had abrasions all over his upper body, and his ice ax had entered his thigh just below his pelvis and exited near his knee. It was deep in his leg and their concerns were that he had ruptured his femoral artery.

USFS Climbing Ranger, Harrington, who was at 10,400 feet on the south side of the mountain, was contacted and responded through whiteout conditions. He arrived at the scene at 1630 and found the injuries to be stable and bleeding under control. Lowe showed no signs of shock. They continued to monitor his condition waiting for air transport. A volunteer from Siskiyou County Search and Rescue arrived at the scene at 1900, and they wrapped Lowe in sleeping bags to maintain his body temperature. At 2030, a California Department of Forestry Bell Super 205 short-hauled Lowe in a litter with an attendant. He was taken to a lower elevation where he was transferred to the

California Highway Patrol helicopter and then transported to Mercy Medical Center, Mount Shasta. Luckily, the ice ax had done little damage internally. Analysis

The USFS Climbing Rangers and the retail shops that rent mountaineering equipment for Mount Shasta work hard every season to educate climbers about the use of ice axes and crampons. Unfortunately, every year there are accidents on Mount Shasta from improper use of equipment, even after people have been informed. Glissading with crampons can be hazardous to your health! Usually, leg fractures occur from this type of accident, but amazingly, Lowe had no fractures.

An added note is that cloudy conditions and the time of day made this rescue difficult. (Source: Eric White, Matt Hill—USFS Climbing Rangers, and Michael Massari—SWS)

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