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Falling Ice, Washington, Mount Rainier, Kautz Glacier

FALLING ICE

Washington, Mount Rainier, Kautz Glacier

On July 5 Jim Curnutt (46), was hit in the thigh by icefall while ascending the Kautz Glacier Route, sustaining a serious leg injury. Curnutt’s teammates used a cell phone to notify the NPS and lowered him to a safer location to care for his injuries.

Climbing rangers Charlie Borgh and Tom Payne were climbing the Fuhrer Finger route when they were called to respond. The rangers were dispatched to the accident site where they provided emergency care and assessed the possibilities for air evacuation. The Oregon Army National Guard responded to the Park Service’s request for a med-evac airship sending a Blackhawk helicopter from Salem. A paramedic was lowered via hoist to the 11,500-foot location in the Kautz Icefall. After triage, the patient was successfully lifted from the mountain and flown directly to Madigan Army Hospital for treatment.ss

Analysis

Rock and/or icefall are natural phenomena on every climbing route on Mount Rainier. Climbers are particularly vulnerable to falling ice in those areas where climbing routes traverse under or climb through active icefalls. The frequency at which seracs calve from an icefall appears not to be related to the time of day as one might easily assume. Icefall drones on continuously, albeit slowly, propelled by the unceasing downward pressure exerted by the mass of glacier above. Thus, one cannot avoid icefall even by climbing, for example, in the early morning hours. Noting icefall hazard zones and moving quickly through them can reduce the possibility of being hit, but short of not climbing, one cannot reduce the odds to zero. (Source: Mike Gauthier, Climbing Ranger)