American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Snow—Unable to Self-Arrest, Climbing Alone and Unroped, Inadequate Equipment, California, Mount Shasta, Sargents Ridge

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


California, Mount Shasta, Sargents Ridge

The Mount Shasta area had a late winter start with very dry conditions on the mountain. The ridge routes, which are popular at this time of the year, were in poor shape, with loose rock and icy patches.

At approximately 1300 on December 29, a solo climber on the Sargents Ridge route came across a climber who had fallen from approximately 12,500 feet on Sargents Ridge to 11,900 feet in Avalanche Gulch. The injured climber, Tom Malzbender (41), had separated from his partner and was alone at the time of the fall. Due to the rocky conditions, he was not wearing crampons and had tried to traverse an icy area where he slipped and tumbled down into Avalanche Gulch. He came to a stop on a 36 degree scree slope. The climber who spotted Malzbender assessed and stabilized him, finding that he had sustained multiple rib fractures, an ankle fracture, a punctured lung, and major facial lacerations. After bandaging Malzbender, he went for help and contacted Siskiyou County Search and Rescue at 1405.

The California Highway Patrol helicopter flew to 11,500 feet, where rescuers then climbed to Malzbender. They were able to stabilize him and load him into a litter. He was hoisted and transported to Mercy Medical Center.


Party separation is a common problem on Mount Shasta. Malzbender’s partner was too far ahead and was unaware of his fall. Malzbender was unable to recognize that the rock he was walking on was covered with a layer of ice and a dusting of snow on top. He was not wearing crampons or a helmet. (Source: Eric White, Matt Hill—USFS Climbing Rangers)

(Editor's Note: Go to or or call 530-926- 9613 for current climbing conditions, avalanche advisories, and weather forecasts in the Mount Shasta Wilderness.

As for other California reports, there were four incident reports received from Joshua Tree National Park this year—not counting hikers and “scramblers” who became stranded or fell. The climbing accidents were three falls on rock—two of which resulted in fractures—and one rappel error that resulted in rope-burned hands.)

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