Falling Rocks—Dislodged by Climbers, Party Separated, Poor Position, California, Mount Shasta, Avalanche Gulch
FALLING ROCKS–DISLODGED BY CLIMBERS, PARTY SEPARATED, POOR POSITION
California, Mount Shasta, Avalanche Gulch
Two separate parties (totaling four people) were climbing Avalanche Gulch in the poor September conditions (loose rocks, lack of snow). Unfamiliar with the route, they veered off route at 13,000 feet and crossed the open Konwakiton Glacier. Untrained in glacier travel, they were uncomfortable with this route and decided to descend via another route. They chose the West Face, which had even less snow on it than Avalanche Gulch. While descending, one member left, choosing yet another route. The other three continued down the West Face. At 10,200 feet on a 35-degree slope, they left the snow patch, moving to loose rock. They observed both natural and human triggered rock fall and decided to move back to the snow. During that time (1645), they triggered the release of a boulder and other rocks, knocking down two of the climbers and directly hitting the third. All three tumbled 100 feet vertically and 250 feet horizontally. The climber directly hit (30-year-old female) was found by her climbing partners moaning and with difficult breathing. The other climbers had only minor injuries. They called 911 at 1800. The injured climber was assisted by her partners to low angle terrain at 9,200 feet. Two CHP helicopters began to search at 1845. Due to lack of snow, the climbers blended in well with the rocks and were not spotted until 1925. They were evacuated at 1940 hours. They were all flown to Mercy Medical Center. They declined treatment. The injured climber was treated for broken ribs, bruising, and hematoma damage to the chest and shoulder.
Mount Shasta consists of 120 cubic miles of loose rock! Even the bedrock outcrops are not to be trusted. Therefore, the best time to climb is when the mountain is predominantly covered with snow and the avalanche danger is low. This usually occurs in the late spring to mid summer. Loose rocks and boulders along with natural rockfall occur every year by mid summer into the fall.
Additionally, group separation is not recommended. The fourth climber descended alone and was not able to help his friends. Keep your group together. You may need their help or they may need you! (Source: Mount Shasta Wilderness Climbing Ranger Report prepared by Eric White, Climbing Ranger/Avalanche Specialist)