American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing
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Fall on Ice, Climbing Gear in Packs—Climbing Unroped, Washington, Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, Sherpa Peak

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


Washington, Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, Sherpa Peak

On September 25, Otto Vaclavek (53) died of hypothermia after falling between 100 and 150 feet down an ice slope and over a cliff. Vaclavek had no broken bones, so it’s unclear why he didn’t move from the location where rescue crews found him.

His son Max Vaclavek (12) died of head injuries suffered in the fall, even though he was wearing a helmet.

Investigators believe both father and son fell at the same time. They were not using climbing ropes or harnesses, just ice axes and crampons.

Sharon Marion, wife of Otto and mother of Max, said her husband was very familiar with the area.

Rescuers found backpacks. They were hidden underneath rocks. Deputies say it’s not uncommon for hikers to leave heavy gear behind, but they usually come back to retrieve it. The backpacks contained their tent, sleeping bags, and some climbing gear. (Source: From a report found at


This is an unfortunate case, especially as it involves a father and son. Both were avid outdoor enthusiasts. Otto Vaclavek came to the U.S. in 1988, having been granted political asylum from Czechoslovakia. While Sherpa Peak is a technically difficult climb with complex terrain, it is believed that the two had the skill levels to accomplish the route. The mystery is why their climbing gear was in their packs. (Source: Jed Williamson)

(Editor’s Note: In terms of other Washington climbing areas that normally see at least a few accidents each year, Kelly Bush, Wilderness District Ranger for North Cascades National Park, reported that there were no mountaineering accidents there in 2001. There were several hikers rescued, including two fatalities, however.)

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