American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Ice—Faulty Use of Crampons, Climbing Unroped, Inadequate Equipment, No Hard Hat, Inexperience, Alaska, Chugach National Forest, Byron Glacier

  • Accident Reports
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  • Publication Year: 2007

FALL ON ICE-FAULTY USE OF CRAMPONS, CLIMBING UNROPED, INADEQUATE EQUIPMENT, NO HARD HAT, INEXPERIENCE

Alaska, Chugach National Forest, Byron Glacier

On September 25th at 1815, Alaska State Troopers notified the Alaska Mountain Rescue Group (AMRG) requested assistance for J. Roggenkamp (27), who was wedged in a crevasse on Byron Glacier. According to the subject’s climbing partner R. Morill, the pair had been climbing unroped up a prominent ice ramp on the left-center portion of lower Bryon Glacier to the area just below some seracs and ice caves near the 1500-foot level.

The average angle of the glacier in this area is estimated to be 15-20 degrees, but the ridge/ramp they ascended averages 25-35 degrees lower down and falls off 40-45 degrees to the east and west sides. The glacier surface at this elevation and at this time of year is polished blue ice with considerable water running along the surface due to melting.

According to the initial interview on scene with Morill, the pair had just started to descend the glacier via the same ramp they ascended (unroped) when Roggenkamp (who was to Morill’s right) tripped by catching a crampon point on his pant leg, fell down and began sliding down the glacier to the north. Roggenkamp attempted to self-arrest, but was unable to and he quickly accelerated down the glacier. Roggenkamp’s ice ax was not found, but Morill did have an ice ax. Roggenkamp slid 150-200 feet down the ice ridge to the north/northeast and into the nearest crevasse, wedging feet-first into a moulin up to his shoulders, approximately 30 feet down from the surface of the glacier. Morill descended on the glacier, located Roggenkamp visually, and made voice contact with him from above. According to Morill, Roggenkamp could talk, and indicated he was “all scratched up” and had injured his face, but was “ok.” (Roggenkamp had actually sustained a severe head injury, which Morill could not see from above). Morill was unable to lower himself down to Roggenkamp nor to assist him out of the moulin, as he did not have a rope. Morill told Roggenkamp he was going for help and began descending the glacier, arriving at the USFS Begich Boggs visitor center, approximately 2.25 miles away, around 1800 when the Alaska State Police office was contacted. Morill eventually returned to the trailhead and re-ascended to the location of the accident arriving about the same time as the first AMRG rope team around 2000.

Upon arriving at the crevasse, the first AMRG rescuers attempted to make voice contact with Roggenkamp while setting up to lower into the crevasse, but he was unresponsive. After lowering two rescuers into the crevasse and upper part of the moulin, rescuers found the subject to have sustained a severe head injury and to have no carotid pulse.

The eight rescuers on scene prepared a hauling system and extricated the subject from the moulin to the surface, where a second assessment was conducted by an RN and EMTII, who found no signs of life. At this point it was 2315 and the site commander determined that it was unduly risky to the team to attempt to lower the body down the steep glacier in the dark. The priorities of the mission shifted to escorting Mr. Morill off the glacier and getting the AMRG teams out safely. The AST trooper on scene concurred.

Roggenkamp’s body was padded and secured to the glacier for retrieval the next day. A fixed line down the glacier was established for safely getting Morill and all rescuers off the glacier and back to the LZ. Morill was escorted down and across the glacier to the LZ by two AMRG members. All field personnel safely traversed to the LZ and were flown to base by the R44 AST helicopter. On September 26, Roggenkamp’s body was flown out.

Analysis

Lack of experience combined with inadequate footwear, poor and/or improperly affixed crampons, and descending without protection were the primary factors leading to this accident. In addition, it appears neither of them was carrying a rope or other climbing equipment such as harness, ice screws, etc. Mr. Roggenkamp had inadequate footwear for cramponing on blue ice. When Mr. Roggenkamp’s body was pulled out of the moulin, he was only wearing light, trail hiking boots. No crampons were attached.

Such footwear generally does not provide sufficient ankle support and control when traveling on medium-angled glacier ice (particularly on descent), and were generally not designed for attaching crampons. We were told by Mr. Morill that Mr. Roggenkamp had crampons on at the time of the fall, but since they were missing from his feet at the time of recovery, it is uncertain how they were actually affixed to his boots. We do know that it would have been impossible for Mr. Roggenkamp to ascend the polished glacier ice to the location from which he fell without wearing crampons. On the day of body recovery, a single crampon (a 15+-year-old, 12-point strap-on model with one leather strap improperly laced) was found at the second LZ near a pair of tennis shoes and a water bottle.

We believe Mr. Morill may have salvaged this crampon from the accident scene or somewhere on the glacier, but that Mr. Roggenkamp probably wore it, since Mr. Morill wore plastic boots and step-in crampons on his feet the night of the accident. The crampon that was found was still laced, but was missing one of its leather straps and thus was laced incorrectly. It is our conclusion that both of these footwear factors—inappropriate boots and old, poorly laced crampons—may have contributed to Mr. Roggenkamp’s fall.

Due to the potential for a significant fall and the obvious crevasse/moulin hazards on this section of the glacier, it was clear to the rescuers that while possible, descending this section unroped involved a high degree of risk of injury or death should a fall occur. Had Mr. Roggenkamp not sustained such severe injuries as a result of his fall, his life would have been jeopardized in another way. Being trapped in a moulin with his entire body in direct contact with the ice and with icy water flowing onto him, he would have become severely hypothermic within a very short period of time and could also have died of exposure before rescuers arrived to extricate him. (Source: Edited from a report submitted by Bill Romberg, Alaska Mountain Rescue Group)

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