American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Lost Climbers—Weather, Off Route, Inadequate Equipment, Washington, Silver Peak

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


Washington, Silver Peak

On September 25, a party of two males attempted to climb Silver Peak on a very wet, foggy day. Part way up the ridge from Lake Annette, they started to get into the open rock scree, decided that conditions were too bad, and turned around. As they started back down, they got off route and ended up cliffed- out. They pulled out their trusty cell phone and called 911. Officer Sheridan called Seattle Mountain Rescue member Doug Caley at his office to see if he could talk the two climbers down.

At 1715, Caley called them and talked to them on their cell phone. They had a GPS unit and gave their coordinates. Caley plotted the coordinates and saw that they were basically on the route. From their description of their location and their plot, Caley was able to advise them to move right to regain the route. They checked back in 15 minutes, and their new coordinates showed that they had moved half the distance to Lake Annette. At 1750 they called and reported they were at Lake Annette on the trail. Since they did not have lights and there was just a little over an hour of daylight to travel the 4.5 miles to the trailhead, it was suggested that they get off the phone and start moving quickly down the trail. At 1910 they called and reported that they had made the trailhead, that they had jogged much of the way, and that the last half mile of trail had been mighty dark. Caley called Sheridan and reported that the subjects made it out oky.


The climbers were unhurt when they called 911. There has been a great deal of discussion about what is appropriate use of cell phones to call for help from the backcountry. If these climbers had not had a radio or cell phone, they probably would have wandered around and eventually found their way down. There is a chance that they could have gotten hypothermic, or slipped when trying to navigate steep terrain, so the call may have avoided an accident. Also, the “rescue” was executed by a single person, from the comfort of his office. However, getting off route is a condition that has happened to every mountaineer who has a reasonable amount of experience. If one is not willing or able to solve route finding problems, one should not put oneself in situations where route finding is needed. (Source: Dave Rusho, Seattle Mountain Rescue)

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