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Various Falls — Unable to Self-Arrest while Glissading, Faulty Use of Crampons (3), Out of Control Fall, California, Mount Shasta

VARIOUS FALLS – UNABLE TO SELF-ARREST WHILE GLISSADING, FAULTY USE OF CRAMPONS (3), OUT OF CONTROL FALL

California, Mount Shasta

On January 18, a climber in Avalanche Gulch attempted to glissade on hard snow with crampons on, beginning at 11,500 feet. He quickly lost control and went into a slide/tumble for 500 vertical feet. He suffered an ankle fracture and other minor injuries. He was assisted by another climbing party and some local skiers/snowboarders to lower elevations. He was transported by toboggan by a USFS Climbing Ranger to the trailhead.

On May 24, a 52-year-old male sprained his ankle while glissading near Lake Helen at the 10,400-foot level. A climbing ranger assessed the injury, taped the ankle, and the subject continued down with help from his party.

On May 30, a climbing ranger stopped two out of control climbers sliding through the Red Banks at 12,400 feet. The ranger assisted them through the remainder of the chimney.

On June 7, a 46-year-old male was glissading down Avalanche Gulch around the 11,500-foot level with crampons on. A crampon caught on the snow and as a result, the man sustained open fractures to his tibia and fibula. Bystanders, including two MDs and several climbing guides, called 911 and stabilized him. Three climbing rangers responded to the scene with rescue gear and packaged him for transport via CHP Helicopter H-16 to Mercy Mt. Shasta for treatment.

On June 28, after observing several climbers sliding out of control through the Red Banks chimney around the 12,400-foot level, rangers instructed several dozen climbers in proper use of the ice ax.

On August 1, a 46-year-old female fell below just below the Red Banks at 12,400 feet. A party member dove on top of her to stop her fall. In the process, he cut her thigh with his crampon, resulting in a two-and-a-half inch laceration. A climbing ranger met her just below Lake Helen, assessed her condition, carried her gear, and escorted her to Bunny Flat.

On October 31, a 43-year-old male climber was reported to have a fractured hip after falling from the 12,500-foot level in Avalanche Gulch. This occurred during a full-moon Halloween climb with his partner. He fell/ slid approximately 1,200 vertical feet to 11,300 feet and was then assisted to 10,800 feet.

He had a helmet, crampons and an ice ax, but was unable to self-arrest. He had climbed the route before, but only during summer conditions. The route had two feet of very firm snow with boulders protruding, creating conditions more dangerous than during the peak climbing season in May and June when the snow is ten to fifteen deep and few rocks are exposed.

He was left at 10,800 feet while his partner hiked out to get assistance. A CHP helicopter began looking for the him around 1100 on November 1, but was unable to find him. A USFS climbing ranger ascended, following crampon tracks, and found the climber at 1120 huddled in a clump of rocks. He was stabilized and then hoisted by the CHP helicopter and flown to Bunny Flat trailhead (7,000 feet) and transferred to the PHI medical helicopter, which transported him to the Mercy Medical Center.

Analysis

(Editor’s Note: Climbing Ranger Eric White sent forward his summary of search, rescue, and public assistance for 2009. No statistics in terms of our ANAMformat were included. I gleaned the above narratives from the 29 sent forward. The basic data have been entered into the tables. Below is an edited excerpt from the Season Summary.)

The seasonal precipitation was 92 percent of normal and snow surveys below tree line were around 85 percent of normal. We had a late start to the winter, followed by a fairly schizophrenic pattern of cold storms with warm periods in between. An unusually wet spring gave the upper mountain snowpack a big boost and so greatly improved the late spring skiing and prolonged the summer climbing season. Due to these conditions, Mount Shasta had a fairly average climbing season and a great deal more climbers than in the past three drier and shorter seasons.

Avalanche Gulch, the standard route, remained in good condition well into July and attracted the bulk of the spring/summer climbing use. As has been the case for the past several seasons, Clear Creek became the route of choice late in the summer and into the early fall.

In addition to the 27 climbing/hiking related incidents, there were also five reported human-caused avalanches. Four of them resulted in the subjects being caught and carried by the debris and one caused the subject to be nearly entirely buried in the debris. Four occurred on May 9 within approximately 30 minutes of each other. (Source: Eric White, Climbing Ranger/Avalanche Specialist)