American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall into Crevasse (Bridge Collapse)—Dislocated Shoulder, Washington, Mount Rainier, Emmons Glacier

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 2008


Washington, Mount Rainier, Emmons Glacier

On July 28th, an RMI client (38) fell a short distance into a crevasse, sustaining a shoulder dislocation while descending the Disappointment Cleaver Route. The fall was apparently due to a bridge collapse or partial bridge collapse. The incident occurred on the Emmons Glacier close to where the Emmons and Ingraham glaciers diverge (12,300 feet) at approximately 12:15 p.m. The route the guide services were using had just recently changed course slightly; therefore, it was a new crossing.

Burdick was not hanging more than ten feet into the crevasse, and the guide service easily extracted him by hand. An RMI guide completed a patient assessment, and a posterior shoulder dislocation was the only injury found. Burdick was otherwise in good shape and had a positive attitude. The guide then notified other guides at Camp Muir of the situation. The guides at Camp Muir notified the climbing ranger at Camp Muir of the incident. RMI requested a helicopter for evacuation. A ranger team at Longmire was organized and a military Chinook was ordered to the Kautz helicopter base in Mount Rainier National Park. The request was put in at approximately 1:30 p.m.

An attempt at relocating the shoulder proved futile, so the guides on scene stabilized and packaged the shoulder in the position found. The preferred method would have been to evacuate Burdick at the incident site, but the helicopter notified the Park Service that it would take at least two hours to reach Kautz helicopter base. The air mission adviser decided it would be safer to evacuate the patient from a flat landing zone some 1,000 feet below known as the “Football Field” (just below the Cleaver). It took a total of four guides to safely walk Burdick to the designated landing zone. Two more guides were needed from Camp Muir to assist in escorting the remaining clients back to camp.

The Chinook helicopter was on the ground at Kautz helicopter base before guided team could make it to the Football Field, giving the ranger just enough time to brief the flight crew and pilots. Burdick arrived at the Football Field at 4:35 p.m. and was extracted by helicopter at 5:05 p.m. via a ground landing. Burdick was back at Kautz at 5:07 p.m. and transferred to an American Medical Response ambulance for transport to Good Samaritan Hospital in Puyallup. The incident was successfully completed well before nightfall with all field teams back at Camp Muir.


Rescues like this show how easy and non-threatening these situations can be under the right circumstance. Note that skilled guides and planned communication considerably affected the response. RMI used additional personnel at Camp Muir who were able to help as the summit team arrived (after the rescue was over) back late in the evening. Also, the NPS was able to assemble a flight team and high altitude helicopter on short notice. Most notably, an US Army flight crew for a Chinook helicopter came in on their off-day (in under two hours) to assist climbers in distress. These factors, all in place, were what made for a safe and efficient rescue response. (Source: Mike Gauthier, Climbing Ranger)

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