American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Rock — Scrambling with Full Pack, Weather and Fall off Log, Stream Crossing, Washington, North Cascads National Park, Inspiration Traverse

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  • Publication Year: 2009

FALL ON ROCK – SCRAMBLING WITH FULL PACK, WEATHER and FALL OFF LOG – STREAM CROSSING

Washington, North Cascades National Perk, Inspiration Traverse

On July 26, Cathleen (50) and Bob Terczak (50’s) were on day four of an alpine traverse across the southern section of the park known as the Inspiration Traverse. This traverse involves route-finding from heavily wooded valley floors to subalpine ridges and on to significant glacier crossings. Mountaineers often include numerous peak ascents along the traverse. While the trip can be made without significant technical climbing, glacier experience is necessary and conditions and terrain warrant the ability to negotiate steep forest and rock sections with a fall pack.

The Terczaks spent the night of the 25th bivied on the summit of Primus Peak. On the 26th they hoped to make a camp on the eastern Inspiration Glacier, after crossing sections of three other glaciers first (North Klawatti, Klawatti, and McAllister). Near the end of the day, the pair reached the col that separates the Klawatti and McAllister Glaciers, which involves an approximate 150-foot ascent over rock. Complications included deteriorating weather (wind and fog moving in) and a significant mote on their side of the col. Both climbers scrambled up carrying heavy packs and checking for a route over when Cathleen fell approximately 35 feet from a ledge into a moat separating glacier ice from a rock wall. Bob descended, moved Cathleen from the moat down the glacier to a point he could erect their tent. He cared for her for 24 hours, unable to reach a cell connection, before she died in their tent. (Later medical report indicated head injury as cause of death.) Bob then crossed three glaciers and over several off-trail miles, descending 6000 feet. Just before reaching a road, he fell from a log while crossing a river, nearly drowned and injured one knee, before jettisoning his pack and getting unpinned. Other climbers found him on the road and delivered him to the NPS ranger station during the night.

Continuous fog had replaced the earlier good weather after the Terczak’s accident. During the day Bob traveled out, a NOLS group traveled this section of the traverse in the opposite direction, finding the oddly placed tent along their way. The NOLS leader used a satellite phone to call the NPS dispatch and reported a deceased woman at their location. Rangers began to prepare for the recovery and to find the partner prior to his making it out.

Attempts to reach the accident site by helicopter were thwarted for two fall days due to poor weather. During a window of clear weather between two storms, rangers recovered the deceased climber’s body from the top of the Klawatti Glacier.

Analysis

This couple from Delaware had been spending mountaineering vacations in the North Cascades for many years, having accomplished other alpine traverses and technical peak ascents. They were well equipped with appropriate gear and Cathleen was wearing a helmet during the scramble and across the glaciers. Her husband did not see the actual fall despite being nearby, approximately ten feet below her, when she fell. The two had actually just decided to down-climb and retreat back to the Klawatti Glacier due to the deteriorating weather and it being unclear if the route over the col was a “go”. It is not known what exactly led to her falling.

This particular col is traveled relatively often by mountaineers attempting the Inspiration Traverse or climbing peaks in the area. Going west to east it is often rappelled to reach the Klawatti Glacier at the point in the season that snow has melted down and a moat develops. Going east to west as the Terczaks were, it is an inevitable scramble up and over. While one approach could be to get one climber over the col, then belay the other(s) or haul packs, it is believed that most climbers make the approximate 150- foot scramble (depending on snow conditions) unroped.

At any rate, this unfortunate accident is consistent with North Cascades National Park SAR trends in that most mountaineers evacuated (ranging from non-critical immobilizing injuries to life-threatening trauma) get hurt in non-technical, but rugged terrain. The nature of accidents here seems to point to the greater hazards of carrying 50-pound mountaineering packs in steep exhausting terrain over the hazards of roped Class V climbing. (Source:

Kelly Bush, Wilderness District Ranger, North Cascades National Park)

(Editor’s Note: this was counted as two separate accidents in Tables II and III.)

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