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Fall on Snow—Unable to Self-Arrest, Washington, Mount Rainier, Gibraltar Ledges

FALL ON SNOW-UNABLE TO SELF-ARREST

Washington, Mount Rainier, Gibraltar Ledges

On June 10 about 0600, Mike Beery (29) and Ryan Tillman were climbing the Gibraltar Ledges route on Mount Rainier. Having just exited the ledges and entered Gibraltar Chute, Beery, who was a few steps in front of his partner, fell. Tillman did not notice the fall until his partner slid by him. Tillman shouted as he watched his partner unsuccessfully attempt to self-arrest. Beery continued to slide down the 45-50° slope and over a small rock outcropping. At this point, Tillman lost sight of Beery, who tumbled some 900 vertical feet down the chute until he came to rest on the shallower slope below.

Tillman pulled out his cell phone and called his girlfriend, who then called 911. He then began his descent down Gibraltar Chute to look for Beery. Approximately 3 5 minutes later, having found several pieces of his partner’s equipment strewn along the route, including his ice ax, Tillman found Beery lying face-down with his pack wrapped tightly around his neck. Tillman, an EMT, cut the pack loose and took Beery’s vitals. At 0635 Tillman found no respirations but a weak pulse of about 35. Ten minutes later, when he could no longer detect a pulse, Tillman began CPR on Beery. He continued CPR until 0855 when climbing rangers Matt Hendrickson and Andy Winslow, who were on a routine patrol of the Ingraham Direct, arrived on scene and relieved him.

The rangers had descended to Camp Muir and then ascended the Nisqually Glacier with rescue equipment. Once on scene, Hendrickson checked vitals on Beery and found him to be pulseless, unresponsive, and not breathing. Beery had obvious signs of serious trauma and was bleeding from the head and ears and nose. At 0900, with the information provided by the rangers, Mount Rainier’s medical control advised rangers to stop CPR and pronounced Beery deceased.

At this point the rangers’ highest priority was getting Tillman out of the chute as rockfall had increased with the warmth of the day. They escorted him down 250 feet onto a rock spur. After Tillman was secured the rangers went back to package and fly Beery’s body from the glacier via helicopter. Hendrickson and Winslow then escorted the exhausted Tillman back to Camp Muir. Tillman was then flown off the mountain.

Analysis

It is unlikely we will ever know what caused Beery’s initial slip, but the firm early morning snow surface, which had not yet been softened by sunshine, made any self-arrest a difficult prospect. Beery and Tillman were unroped at the time of Beery’s fall. Tillman stated afterward that they had elected to remain unroped while traversing the ledges because of the lack of available points of protection along the catwalk-like section of route. At the time, there were only a few inches of snow on the narrow loose path. Pickets or ice screws are generally un-placeable along this stretch of route except, perhaps, in winter. While rarely used, rock may afford some protection, but is limited by the overall poor and friable quality of the rock here. Tillman reported that he and Beery had agreed that they would rope up as soon as they left the ledges. The location from which Beery fell was right in the transition from ledge to chute. While it is possible that Tillman may have been able to arrest his partner’s fall, had they been roped, a more likely scenario is that without protection, both climbers would have fallen to their deaths. (Source: Mike Gauthier, Climbing Ranger)