American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall into Cravasse, Weather — Whiteout Conditions and High Winds, Off Route, Inexperience, Washington, Mount Rainier, Camp Muir

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  • Publication Year: 2011

FALL INTO CREVASSE, WEATHER - WHITEOUT CONDITIONS AND HIGH WINDS, OFF ROUTE, INEXPERIENCE

Washington, Mount Rainier, Camp Muir

On April 27, park climbing rangers, assisted by guides from International Mountain Guides and Alpine Ascents International, successfully rescued two Canadian climbers, Simon Brunet (23) and Genivive Morund (early 20’s), who had fallen into a crevasse by walking off a cornice during whiteout conditions. She indicated that they were in the vicinity of Camp Muir, having traveled over the Muir Snowfield and past Anvil Rock prior to falling into a crevasse or over a cliff for a distance of 50 meters. She indicated that her climbing partner was unconscious at that time (Monday afternoon). She was unable to provide a location, and early indications were that one of the two was badly injured.

Rangers began making their way to Camp Muir to stage for early morning search operations. Weather conditions on the mountain were adverse, with sustained 70 mph winds gusting up to 90 mph and temperatures down to 23 degrees. A helicopter was placed on standby for morning operations. Early on Tuesday morning, Morund made contact with the park on her cell phone. Questioning by park officials provided critical information that led to identifying their location in the area just below Camp Muir. The rangers were able to locate and extract the two climbers using high angle rescue gear. Both climbers suffered from relatively minor injuries and hypothermia. As they had fallen into the crevasse with their packs on, the two were able to set their tent up, get into their sleeping bags, and even heat up soup. However, the intensity of the storm required them to continuously shovel snow off their tent throughout the night to prevent it from collapsing. An MD 530 helicopter was used to fly the climbers off the mountain.

They were transported to Morton Hospital and subsequently released at 2100. Ranger Glenn Kessler was IC on this operation. (Source: Edited from a report by Chuck Young, Chief Ranger)

Analysis

The climbers fell when they were navigating in very windy whiteout conditions. They said they were following a wanded route when they fell, but in actuality they had failed to make a crucial heading change around 9,200 feet and had wandered off route in a dangerous area. This spot on the Muir Snowfield is an area with no visual reference. They had left for Camp Muir in a storm with stormier weather forecast.

Major contributing factors were a combination of inexperience, severe winter weather, and poor communication. These two were experienced sport climbers but had not spent any significant time in alpine environments. They had overestimated their ability to deal with a harsh winter environment in glaciated terrain. They had no heavy insulating layers when they were found. Brunet and Morund set up their tent on a steep slope underneath the cornice from which they had fallen. The slope was receiving huge amounts of wind-transported snow, but they were unable or unwilling to move out of this very dangerous spot. Therefore, their sleeping bags, stoves and every other piece of equipment were useless because they were thoroughly soaked and frozen. (Source: Edited from a report by Cooper Self, Climbing Ranger)

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