American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Washington, Olympic Mountains (3)

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1957

Washington, Olympic Mountains (3)—On July 1, 1956 a party of 16 climbers was climbing Mt. Constance by the standard “Mountaineer Route.” They were on the “Terrible Traverse” when Jack Hazle, who was leading the traverse, slipped in the sloppy snow and ran out the rope. He stopped himself but with difficulty. The middle man failed to arrest until pulled out and was belayed by the third man. The climb was continued uneventfully to the summit which was reached at 11:30 a.m. The descent was started at about noon. It was hoped that the afternoon sun would have melted the frozen surface of the steep upper slopes of the “last Gully.” This was not the case. It was therefore decided that the facing-in glissade in self-arrest position would be the safest and quickest method of descent.

The first three ropes proceeded down with only one of these having slight trouble. The fourth team consisted of George Dragseth, Jerry White, and Mike Tyrone. Tyrone led off and they seemed to be under control although moving rapidly. At the midway point White seemed to have checked his rate of descent. According to observers Tyrone was still rapidly gaining momentum. At about this moment White shouted, “Let’s get this thing under control.” Tyrone’s momentum, however, was transmitted to White, who was jerked out of position. The impact of the two climbers pulled Dragseth, who slid and fell, into White, who in turn fell onto Tyrone. The entire rope was now completely out of control and headed for the second of a series of outcroppings.

Near this outcropping, George Stamolis and Heinz Recker attempted to intercept and arrest the falling climbers. Recker dropped into an arrest digging in with everything he had. Stamolis, who remained standing, was struck by one of the falling men and was knocked backward onto the rock where he secured a solid hold. The ropes became entangled. The fall slowed perceptibly and then they crashed into the rocks. Fortunately White and Dragseth went in feet first, but Tyrone was on his back and sideways to the rock when he hit. The first two were shaken up but unhurt. Tyrone received deep facial cuts, extensive abrasions, broken ribs and shock. He was evacuated by the party down the steep gully to the floor of the troughs. Once down Tyrone insisted he could walk out. This he did under the careful guidance of three of the party.

Source: Jack Hazle, The Mountaineer 50:118-19, 1956.

Analysis: (J. Hazle). The first incident emphasizes the need to belay the leader across this pitch. The second demonstrates how easy it is to get out of control on hard snow and how dangerous it can be in a narrow couloir with a restricted run-out. Practice and more practice in glissade is necessary to minimize these occurrences.

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