Fall on Snow — Unable to Self-Arrest, Fall into Crevasse, Washington, Mount Rainier, Emmons Glacier

Publication Year: 2011.


Washington, Mount Rainier, Emmons Glacier

On July 27, a climbing party of four, including a father, his two teen-aged sons, and Lee Adams (52), was descending the Emmons glacier when one of the climbers tripped and fell. This caused the other climbers to be swept off their feet and, despite attempts to self-arrest, they slid approximately 100 feet on a steep slope and plummeted into a 35-foot-deep crevasse at about the 13,000-foot level. Two sustained minor injuries and one briefly lost consciousness and injured his right knee. Adams, the last man on the rope, died from traumatic injuries. The three surviving climbers were able to climb out of the crevasse and make their way back to Camp Schurman, the high camp at 9,450 feet, arriving at 1500. Climbing ranger David Gottlieb assessed the three climbers and contacted medical control. The party stayed at Camp Schurman for the night.

An MD 530 helicopter was ordered form Northwest Helicopters to assist in rescue and recovery operations the following day. The objectives of the operation were to evacuate the patient with a knee injury and insert rangers near the accident site and recover the body from the crevasse. It was planned for the remaining two climbers to be escorted off the mountain on foot.

Aviation operations began at 1130 on Wednesday. Climbing rangers David Gottlieb and Brian Scheele were dropped off by helicopter on the Winthrop saddle (13,600 feet) and made their way to the accident site. The retrieved body was airlifted off the mountain. The climber with the knee injury was also flown off the mountain. Ranger Ashby and the two uninjured climbers reached the White River Ranger Station at 1830. (Source: Nick Hall, edited by Climbing Ranger Cooper Self and ANAM editor)


When climbers are roped together for protection, all members of the team have to be comfortable with the terrain on which they are traveling and with their ability to arrest the fall of any of their team members. Many times climbers are able to navigate these types of features without any negative consequence, but sometimes climbers may be unaware of the consequences a small fall could have on the entire group.

In situations where any member of the group feels he or she would not be able to arrest the fall of teammates, alternatives should be considered, including quick belays over crevasses or through steep areas and finding alternative routes with less exposure.

Mr. Adams was a very competent and experienced climber who tried with all his strength to stop the fall of his team, but his experience and strength alone were not enough to stop his teammates and himself from taking this ultimately fatal fall. (Source: Edited from a report by Nick Hall, Climbing Ranger)

(Editor’s Note: In a post from KOMO TV and News Services, the following quote is noted: “Big shock... I’m just surprised it was Lee, ” said Fred Slater.; a member of the Washington Alpine Club, where Adams helped teach for many years. “ We all expected him to continue climbing well into his 60s. He was so fast. No one could ever keep up with Lee. He would out-climb and out-hike anybody.”)

Share this article