American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing
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Loss of Control—Voluntary Glissade, Washington, Mount Rainier National Park, Unicorn Peak

  • Accident Reports
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  • Publication Year: 2005


Washington, Mount Rainier National Park, Unicorn Peak

On the morning of July 24, a four-person team from the Mazamas Climbing Club set out to climb Unicorn Peak in the Tatoosh Range. On the descent from the summit at roughly 2:30 p.m., Joska Rettig (50) lost control while glissading a steep snowfield. She sustained a serious injury to her left knee and leg when she impacted the rocks at the base of the snowfield. One member of the team was sent to seek assistance from the NPS while climb leader Jae Ellers splinted Rettig’s leg with an ice ax and started her crawling back towards the road. Her progress was exceedingly slow, but very admirable.

Ellers was beginning a belay of Rettig down the steep loose rock gully feeding Snow Lake when climbing rangers Glenn Kessler and Thomas Payne arrived. The rangers assisted in Rettig’s descent until they met another NPS team of rescuers. That team placed Rettig on a backboard and then into a litter for what became a night carry-out to the trailhead. Upon reaching the Snow Lake trailhead, Rettig was transferred to an awaiting ambulance.


Don’t glissade. It is safer to walk than to glissade. Glissading is a tempting option that often results in lost equipment and injuries. The slope on which Rettig lost control was a combination of hard and soft snow. It is very likely that Rettig was able to control her speed on the upper sections of the slope where the sun had been shining for hours, but was unable to slow herself on the lower, mostly shaded section. (Source: Mike Gauthier, SAR Ranger, Mount Rainier National Park)

(Editor’s Note: Ranger Gauthier's experience with those who glissade in the park has been mostly negative. Back in the days of long ice axes, we used to teach standing glissades. With the third point of contact and in an almost skiing position, there is more control than if just on two boots with a short ax in hand in case you fall. Sit- ting glissades with one’s ax pick as the controlling brake at one's side is safer than a standing glissade. Those of us who are experienced skiers and who know we will have an opportunity to glissade will continue to use that option. But if you are a neophyte, take Gauthier's advice.)

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