Fall on Rock — Overconfidence on Fourth-Class Terrain, Washington, North Cascades, Washington Pass

Publication Year: 2012.


Washington, North Cascades, Washington Pass

The plan of the day (August 13) was to do a bunch of routes on the Early Winter Spires from 5.6 to 5.9. We were on the ascent/descent gully trail to the col between Liberty Bell and Concord tower in good time. Racking up, we raced up Becky’s route as a warm up (5.6, three pitches) and rapped back to the col. Concord Tower was the next choice, but it was very busy with other parties, so we quickly packed up and headed back down the gully to find something less busy. The gully is 3rd and 4th class and VERY loose, so, we kept our helmets on. I remember the first time I came here I was very careful, but now having done it so much, I was just scooting along with no care in the world, using one hiking pole for balance. Around 12:30 p.m. about one third of the way down, my foot slipped as a loose rock moved. I lost my balance and came down hard on my right leg, which broke my right tibia and fibula in multiple places. I was in a steep section, so I pulled myself to a little better location. I had a SAM splint and tape, so I moved my leg back around to the correct position and tried to support it as best I could. At this point Todd (who I did not know) came down off his climb to see if I was ok. He had a SPOT device (we had no cell coverage). I had him activate it (I feel bad for Todd’s folks who might have thought he was the victim). At 12:45 p.m. I had my partner Crystal hike back out to the car and drive until she came to a phone. She called 911 and advised that a helicopter would be required due to the nature of the injury and the location and terrain. She then stayed with the SAR people down at the road to provide additional advise.

The SAR reached me at 6:00 p.m. and fixed an additional splint. Then the US Navy helicopter from Whidby Island lowered Brent McIntyre on a long line to extract me and take me to Omak Hospital (7:30 p.m.) where I underwent an operation that included 15 screws and two plates.


Fine weather, the SPOT device, no wind, strong SAR and Navy support, having a SAM splint, basic medical supplies and training made this a fairly straightforward rescue.

Being an experienced climber made me over-confident on anything less that steep class-5 climbing. Just because you go up and down a gully a dozen times with no mishap doesn’t mean you can relax and be complacent. Could this have been avoided? Absolutely! If the weather was poor, if I had been climbing alone as I often do, could it have been MUCH worse? Yes! I did not give the mountain environment the respect it deserved. (Source: Jason Wheeler – 40)