American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Accidents in North American Mountaineering, Fifty-Eighth Annual Report on the Safety Committees of The American Alpine Club and The Alpine Club of Canada

  • Editorials And Prefaces
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 2005

Fifty-Eighth Annual Report of the Safety Committees of The American Alpine Club and The Alpine Club of Canada

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

Canada: 2004 seemed to be a year where spontaneous rockfall, icefall and avalanches were common. We are starting to notice a decrease in ice on various alpine routes in the Canadian Rockies. Rockfall incidents seem to be on the increase, partly as a result of this phenomenon. We share this problem with Europe, as the Alps are reportedly experiencing the disappearance of many historical north face alpine routes, including the Eiger Nordwand. Fatalities from rockfall occurred on both the north face of Mount Athabasca and on the Abbott Pass approach to Mount Victoria. Various other accidents occurred as a result of holds failure. Climbers are reminded that gravity is not their friend. Neither, it seems, is global warming or erosion!

It is difficult to obtain data from climbing areas in Canada outside of the Canadian Rockies. Parks authorities provide information on a voluntary and non-funded basis. We thank wardens in Banff, Jasper, Yoho and Waterton National Parks for participating in this endeavour. We also thank conservation officers in Kananaskis Country and Peter Lougheed Provincial Park in Alberta.

There are accidents which we learned of in British Columbia, but were not able to obtain sufficient details to include them in the summary. We rarely get reports from climbing areas east of Alberta and wish to encourage individuals or organizations in the eastern Provinces to contact us in future with any details which they can provide for local climbing areas.

We wish to thank the following individuals for their contributions and assistance in tracking down information throughout the year: Burke Duncan, Al Horton, Jeff Hunston, John Scoles, Bradford White, Percy Woods, and special thanks to Dave Stephens for all of his hard work in keeping me up to date and informed.

United States: Just when we think incident rates are stabilizing, along comes a year when the fatality rate goes back up to its highest level. The big storm in Yosemite contributed to the ten fatalities in California. The number of “falling rock, ice, or object,” incidents increased. As with last year, many of these (ten) were the result of hand and foot holds coming away, leading to falls. The majority of fatality increases were in California, Colorado, Utah, and Washington. The narratives cover most of these.

The increases in reports from Arizona, Oregon, and Utah are as much due to new reporting sources as they are to the seriousness of the situations. The increase in reports from Washington are attributable more accidents on Mount Ranier and in the North Cascades.

It is worth having a brief review of the incidents on Mount Shasta. First of all, at least thirty percent of the incidents in the “descent” category happened here—mostly in Avalanche Gulch. Matt Hill, lead Climbing Ranger and Avalanche Specialist, sent two photographs of this piece of terrain as a result of my asking about whether I should really count this as climbing terrain. (Go the the Mount Shasta website if you are interested in seeing various photos of routes: In one image one can count over 20 people on the route. It is like a magnet because of easy access and deceptively easy looking terrain, which is actually a 30 to 40 degree snow chute in the top section, sometimes as hard as ice, that requires mountaineering skills. My guess is that people decide this would be a good place to try out this climbing stuff! First-time ice ax users—one who fell was carrying her ax upside down—lose control on voluntary and involuntary glissades. First-time crampon users—who don’t take them off coming down—end up tumbling and spiking themselves. Hill and Eric White (also a climbing ranger and avalanche specialist) reported 15 incidents on this route alone this year. Oftentimes they are not able to provide the ages or level of experience of the individuals, but it is apparent from the incidents that the vast majority are inexperienced. Unfortunately, they contribute to the data in Table HI and probably to media bias that portrays climbing as a risky activity.

Joining me this year as an interested “apprentice” is Michelle Shonzeit, who has worked in several parks and is currently stationed at Crater Lake. Welcome aboard!

As mentioned last year, for those interested in gathering with peers to discuss various aspects of safety and risk management, consider attending the annual Wilderness Risk Managers Conference, this year to be held in Salt Lake City from October 27 to 29. (Go to for information.)

In addition to the dedicated individuals on the Safety Committee, we are grateful to the following—with apologies for any omissions—for collecting data and helping with the report: Hank Alicandri, Dave Brown, Erik Hansen, Matt Hill, Ned Houston, A1 Hospers, Tom Moyer, Steve Muelhauser, Leo Paik, Steve Rollins, Brad Shilling, Michelle Shonzeit, Robert Speik, Eric White, all individuals who sent in personal stories, and, of course, George Sainsbury.

John E. (Jed) Williamson Edwina Podemski

Managing Editor Canadian Editor

7 River Ridge Road 700 Phipps McKinnon Building

Hanover, NH 03755 10020-101A Avenue

e-mail: Edmonton, Alberta T5J 3G2


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