American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Ice, Inadequate Protection — Tool Placement, Washington, Banks Lake, Brush Bash

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 2011


Washington, Banks Lake, Brush Bash

On 30 December, RM (23), while leading Brush Bash, WI 4, (one pitch) at Banks Lake, Washington, sustained a leader fall resulting in a badly sprained left ankle. The overnight temperature was close to 0 F, and the daytime temperature reached about 25 F. The day was clear and sunny, and the ice was well formed.

Earlier in the day three others and I drove to Banks Lake and were in the same area. I led Brush Bash that morning, and with two ropes set up a top rope for my companions to practice their skills. Later than morning RM and BC (23) arrived and hiked up to meet us. BC, an experienced and technically solid ice climber, first led a nearby WI 5+ route, which I followed. RM was still relatively new to technical ice climbing. RM and BC then moved over to Brush Bash so RM could get more time on ice and practice leading.

Brush Bash has a solidly vertical section about half way up. RM placed a screw at the base of that section. About two thirds of the way up that section, RM experienced difficulty. He placed a high tool and then placed his other tool very close to the first. The ice around both tools then “dinner plated”. As a result, RM sustained a fall of approximately 20-25 feet. His screw at the base of the vertical section held his fall, but he caught his left ankle and bounced coming to a rest head down, shaken, and in pain. At first he thought, as did the rest of us, that his ankle was broken.

BC lowered RM to the ground, where I splinted his lower leg and ankle using one of his tools and perlon (the rough “L” shape of an ice tool approximates the lower leg/ankle/foot alignment). One of the people with me was a retired nurse who treated RM for shock. My three companions further stabilized RM and began slowly assisting him down the talus slope to the car (about 50 meter/450 foot descent). BC belayed me while I climbed

Brush Bash to clean R’s screws and draws, and retrieve the rope. All of RM’s screws (five up to the point of the fall) were acceptable placements, though several could have been better placed, and the draw on the screw below the one that held RM was twisted and “back clipped” to the rope.

BC transported RM to the hospital where the diagnosis was a badly sprained ankle.


Two factors contributed to RM’s fall. One factor was technical, the other psychological. The technical factor was placing his tools too close together. The psychological factor was RM was clearly not comfortable leading. Up to the point of his fall, he verbalized to BC his lack of confidence and uncertainty.

RM demonstrated stoicism and maturity throughout. Though obviously in great pain, he did not lose consciousness and contributed to his own self-extraction. All of the rescuers used clear thinking, good first aid skills, and cooperative teamwork. The result is that within a fairly short time an injured climber was safely evacuated to medical care by a team of self-reliant climbers. (Source: Bob Loomis, 56, Spokane, Washington)

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