American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing
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Accidents in North American Mountaineering, Sixty-First Annual Report of the American Alpine Club

  • Editorials And Prefaces
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 2008

Sixty-First Annual Report of the American Alpine Club

This is the sixty-first issue of Accidents in North American Mountaineering. At the time of publication, narratives and data from Canada were not available. However, one report was sent forward by the Public Safety Warden from Mount Robson National Park. Data for the tables will be revised when it is available.

For information on the Alpine Club of Canada, go to:

United States: Please notice that we have changed the name of the American Alpine Club Safety Committee to the Safety Advisory Council. The members of the council have never really met as a committee nor does it have any authority to set policy or take action with matters regarding mountain safety. The individuals have agreed to be “advisory” to the Managing Editor, primarily serving as sources of information and submitting reports. The new title more accurately reflects this role.

In Table III, the category “Other” as an immediate cause of the accident is a high number—28. The list of what these include appears after the tables. Some of them may suggest that we create new line items. A few of the recurring causes include failing to tell guides about a pre-existing medical condition, medical conditions that were unusual (seizure and atrial fibrillation), a medical condition that was self-inflicted (snow blindness), lowering errors (again too many of these), and dislodging rocks. The latter is also scored as “falling rock.”

Dislodging rocks comes in a few categories. The most common is when climbers inadvertently dislodge a rock (or rocks) with hands or feet. Mostly this can—and should—be avoided by being careful. Another mechanism is when rocks come loose because climbers are hauling on jammed ropes, which this year accounted for three incidents. An unacceptable form is when a rocks or objects (such as bottles and cans) are purposely thrown down from a summit or ridge. A case such as this that occurred last August will be found under Wyoming.

There are two myths worth mentioning because we hear the wrong sentences being said in conjunction with them all the time.

“As we all know, most accidents occur on the descent, when climbers are fatigued and let their guard down.” While the latter part of the statement may be true, the reality is that most climbing accidents occur on ascent. If trail hiking were to be considered here, then the whole statement might be true.

“Most accidents occur to inexperienced climbers.” The reality is that experienced and moderately experienced climber accidents far outweigh those reported for beginners.

There are some lengthy accounts again this year. They include a few that were submitted by the climbers themselves and a couple that were the result of interviews by diligent rangers.

We always point out that we are not getting reports from some key climbing areas. On the other hand, we are still confident that we are capturing the great majority of accidents that result in fatality or serious injury. As always, we seek help from the climbing corners of the country.

As mentioned in previous issues and throughout this report, there are some web-based resources that often provide good information and accident stories. Here is a short-list of some of those sites:

From October 1–3, the Wilderness Risk Management Conference will be held in Jackson Hole, WY, at the Jackson lake Lodge. (Go to for information on the program and registration.)

In addition to the dedicated individuals on the Safety Advisory Council, we are grateful to the following—with apologies for any omissions—for collecting data and for helping with the report: Hank Alacandri, Tom Moyer, Erik Hansen, Leo Paik, Justin Preisendorfer, 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:

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