American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

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

  • Feature Article
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 2006

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

Canada: In 2005 an unprecedented summer avalanche warning was issued for alpine climbing routes. Several avalanches were triggered in late June and early July with a large number of natural slides. Heavy snowfall, along with heavy rain in June, created a rain-soaked snowpack covered by a thin crust at higher elevations. Cooler weather, with dry snow and strong winds, formed a winter-type slab on top of crust on some slopes. The conditions were unusual for the time of year (being one month behind) and did not particularly improve through the season. Many climbers stayed away from their intended routes as a result.

It is difficult to obtain data from climbing areas in Canada outside of the Canadian Rockies. Park 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 were accidents we heard about 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, Jeff Hunston, Garth Lemke and Dave Stephens.

United States: It seems that during this past year the trend of rappelling off the end of one’s rope or having the anchor fail on the rappel set up and having the belay rope go through the belay device during lowering continued. Rappelling off the end incidents were the result of ropes being of unequal lengths, no knot in the ends (though as will be discussed, this practice is not always warranted), failure of the autoblock, or a combination of these.

In this issue, a few incidents are described at some length. Of particular note are the first two found in the Alaska section, the self-report on the first incident found in the Oregon section, and two incidents in Wyoming, one involving a climber rappelling from the end of his rope and one involving a climber who fell to her death while on descent. All were very experienced, which makes the lessons to be learned even more poignant. The Wyoming case has probably one of the most detailed analysis sections we’ve ever published. If the level of detail found here were included for each incident, this would be a much larger volume. One purpose for doing this is to illustrate that there is often more to be learned than can be found just in the facts of the case. A few of our correspondents often seek answers beyond the obvious. Look closely at the reports from Denali, Yosemite, and Rainier National Parks to see good examples from previous years.

Michelle Schonzeit, who has been working for the National Park Service, continued working with us this year. She took on the job of analyzing incidents from the State of Colorado. She compiled the data and had completed the narratives when her computer went down. The data had made it to hardcopy, fortunately, but the reports did not, as noted in that section.

As always, we seek help from the climbing corners of the country. It remains apparent that we are not getting reports from such centers as Joshua Tree National Park, Baraboo State Park, and the Smokey Mountain National Park, to name but a few. It is encouraging to hear from some places, like City of Rocks, that there are no significant accidents to report! That information is just as valuable.

On October 26-29, the Wdderness Risk Manager Conference will be held in Killington, Vermont. (Go to for information on the program and registration.)

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 for helping with the report: Hank Alacandri, Dave Brown, Ned Houston, Erik Hansen, A1 Hospers, Scott McGee, Tom Moyer, Leo Paik, Michelle Schonzeit, Robert Speik, Eric White, all individuals who sent in personal stories, and, of course, George Sainsbury.

John E. (Jed) Williamson Managing Editor 7 River Ridge Road Hanover, NH 03755 e-mail:

Edwina Podemski

Canadian Editor

700 Phipps McKinnon Building

10020-101A Avenue

Edmonton, Alberta T5J 3G2


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