American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Ice, Inadequate Protection, Inadequate Belay, Washington, Mount Baker, North Ridge

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 2005

FALL ON ICE, INADEQUATE PROTECTION, INADEQUATE BELAY

Washington, Mount Baker, North Ridge

Elain Fu (33) and I (Stephen Ramsey, 33) were simul-climbing up the ice cliff on the North Ridge of Mount Baker. I was in the lead. At 6:30 a.m., I reached a slightly overhanging lip of ice, about five feet in height. The elevation was about 9,700 feet, and the angle of the face below the lip was

about 70 degrees. I placed a screw and traversed to the left about 20 feet, looking for a spot to climb over the lip. I stopped at a point where the lip had a crack in it, and inched up towards the lip on my front-points. During this time, Elain gained some ground on me, and we believe that some slack was generated in our rope system. Without stopping to place a screw or set a belay, I reached up and tried to test to see if I could reach the top of the lip with my ice tool.

At that time, a front-point skittered out of the ice and I fell backwards. I fell about 40 feet, penduluming to the climber’s right, sliding down the ice face on my side. After much acceleration, I caught a crampon on an ice bulge, severely breaking my lower leg multiple fracture: tib/fib).

Analysis

I made a series of mistakes in rapid succession. I was feeling anxious about finding the best way to pass the ice lip, but instead of making me more careful, this anxiousness led me to rush and make mistakes. I neglected to place a screw immediately after executing the 20-foot traverse to protect myself from a pendulum fall. After seeing that the lip was slightly overhanging, I should have set up a belay before attempting to climb over the lip. Better communication with the second would have also helped to prevent the accident, because Elain would have cautioned me against attempting the lip without a solid belay from two screws.

My wife Elain, Bellingham Mountain Rescue, Naval Air Station Whidbey SAR, and Whatcom County SAR did a fantastic job of rescuing me from the mountain. Their timeliness and professionalism enabled me to be rescued the night of the accident, which directly improved my chances for recovering full joint function. (Source: Stephen Ramsey, who also wrote a long narrative account that he made available for several months on the web)

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