American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Falling Ice — Gave Way, Fall on Ice, Climbing Unroped, Utah, Little Cottonwood Canyon, Great White Icicle

  • Accident Reports
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  • Publication Year: 2010

FALLING ICE – GAVE WAY, FALL ON ICE, CLIMBING UNROPED

Utah, Little Cottonwood Canyon, Great White Icicle

On December 31, Gene Rawson (37), a solo ice climber, was near the top of the final pitch of the Great White Icicle. Rawson was waiting for another climber to complete the pitch. Rawson felt he had a firm hold in the ice with his ax. As he was waiting, one of his legs broke through the ice. He shifted weight onto his other foot to pull his leg out when the entire ice section gave way and he fell approximately 300 feet. He reported positive loss of consciousness for unknown length of time and severe left hip pain.

Other climbers in the area witnessed the fall and assisted with the rescue. The Salt Lake County Fire Department paramedics responded with medics from the Little Cottonwood Canyon Fire Station. A backboard was hauled up using a rope system through an anchor set up by the climbers responding to the accident.

Life Flight team assessment: Salt Lake County Sherriff Department notified Life Flight of need for hoist rescue. The team surveyed the scene to determine if hoist rescue could be safely performed. Avalanche risk was deemed minimal due to the lack of snow accumulation on the steep slope: all ice and rock. The victim was located below the anchored belay station at the base of the third pitch. Just out of the drainage upslope and to the east of the Rawson was a moderately-sized flat platform with snow, but no ice in which the hoist paramedic could be safely lowered and prepare the victim for evacuation. Life Flight had communication with EMS on scene and indirectly with the climber responders. The climbers hauled the patient on the backboard up to the flat platform. The medic was inserted via hoist to this location, followed by a vacuum mattress rescue bag to maintain spinal precautions and provide protection from the below freezing temperatures. After the patient was prepared for evacuation (ten minutes), the helicopter returned for hoist evacuation. Mr. Rawson was transported via helicopter to local hospital where he required surgery for a femur fracture. (Source: Carol Rhoades, Flight Nurse, Intermountain Healthcare Life Flight)

Analysis

In an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune on January 8, Gene Rawson said trying to climb solo was a mistake. “If I was roped up and had gear in the ice, the chances of anything severe happening would be minimal,” he said. “When you go solo, it is taking the sport to the very extreme. It’s not a smart thing to do at all, but it is a decision that people make at this level. That is a lesson learned from a lot of people, but being able to live through this, with a 300-foot fall, is huge. Normally, you never hear that someone would live.” The climber, who works for a company in Butte called The Peak that trains Special Forces and other military personnel on rock and ice climbing and mountaineering, praised the work of the Life Flight paramedics who came to his rescue. “It was a great experience to be rescued by these guys,” said Rawson. “If it wasn’t for them, this would not have gone well. My hats are off to them for everything going as smoothly as it did.”

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