American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Snow — Loss of Control on Voluntary Glissade, Inadequate Clothing and Equipment, Washington, Mount Rainier, Near Camp Muir

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  • Publication Year: 2012

FALL ON SNOW – LOSS OF CONTROL ON VOLUNTARY GLISSADE, INADEQUATE CLOTHING AND EQUIPMENT

Washington, Mount Rainier, Near Camp Muir

On the afternoon of July 17, a group of friends from Fort Lewis Air Force Base were coming down from Camp Muir after a training climb for a later summit attempt. Visibility was poor that day, and at some point the party got sidetracked and began to descend off the actual climbers’ path. They began to glissade; however, Mike Pickerel (40) broke away from the group and began to go down a blind hill. Unable to see where he was going, Pickerel slid approximately 12 feet down a steep slope on the backside of McClure Rocks and ended his uncontrolled glissade when he hit a rock outcropping. Pickerel reported he had broken his ankle and dislocated his shoulder, so two members of the party walked back down to Paradise to notify rangers.

One of the climbing rangers was able to ski down from Camp Muir and was first on scene to begin treatment. Four other rangers with a litter package hiked up from Paradise to the patient’s location and began to package the patient. At nightfall the entire group of rangers, climbers, and the patient began their descent via the lower skyline/golden gate trail, sliding the patient on a cascade sled. Steep slopes called for several high angle lowers before the litter was on fairly flat terrain. Pickerel was placed in an ambulance and taken to Madigan hospital.

Analysis

Once the accident had occurred, the party was hasty to designate three members to hike down to Paradise to request help. They had some food and water; however, most of them were not prepared to stay out overnight and that is why only a few were able to assist in the carryout. When Glen Kessler arrived on the scene, he had to use his own gear and clothing to keep the patient warm. Nobody in the party had a rope or any other gear necessary to assist in the carryout. Althoughthe party was treating their hike as a training mission for a further summit date, they had brought minimal supplies with them to camp Muir. Also, even though visibility was low, the party was disoriented in relation to where they thought they had initially hunkered down once their friend had been injured. The party did have a GPS, which was being used to help locate their location prior to Kessler’s discovery of the party. As a general rule, it is not safe to glissade down a path where the runout is not visible. (Source; Sam Cowan, Park Ranger)

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