American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Washington, Cascades, Magic Mountain

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1964

Washington, Cascades, Magic Mountain. On 15 August, Lothar Kolbig, Harlow Higinbotham, Hank Tarchala and Charles Vilim were one of three parties which set out to climb Magic Mountain from the Chicago Mountaineering Club camp below Cascade Pass. After meeting the second party of Paul Stettner, Bob Young, Frances Worrell and Bob Demkowicz, Kolbig’s party started up a gully on the summit pyramid while Paul Stettner’s party waited to one side for the first party to clear the gully. At noon, Kolbig was leading up the gully just below the summit ridge, Higinbotham was second and Tarchala third. Vilim had discontinued the climb because of a bad knee and was waiting for the party’s return on heather slopes below.

Kolbig decided that the party should rope up, as the climb seemed steeper than expected. He asked Higinbotham, who was carrying the rope, to bring it up. Kolbig then tested a foothold, used it as a tension handhold and stepped up on it. As he took his weight off of it, it dislodged, unknown to him and fell, striking Higinbotham in the calf of the leg and knocking his feet out from under him. Tarchala, who saw the rock strike Higinbotham, describes it as about one foot square and three feet long. Higinbotham fell, head first, down the gully for about 150 feet. He landed on the topmost part of a snow field at the foot of the gully.

Higinbotham was lying on his back, head down, emitting a gargling sound, apparently dying. The combined parties moved him a few feet to a ledge at the head of a scree slope along the snow field. Higinbotham was bleeding severely from a deep gash on his forehead, a possible broken nose, other head wounds and from cuts and abrasions all over his body. Stettner supervised first aid treatment to stop the bleeding by compresses, placed a bivouac sack and clothing under Higinbotham and covered him with the party’s extra clothing. Tarchala was sent down for help.

By a fortunate chain of circumstances, a helicopter was alerted and appeared on the mountain at 7 P.M. as the party was in the process of preparing a second ledge to which to move Higinbotham in order to prepare a bed for him. The party signalled to the helicopter which had flown directly to the correct spot. Stettner and Demkowicz descended to the bottom of the snow field where there was a level spot to indicate a possible landing site. After carefully testing the air currents, the helicopter landed in the snow, about 300 feet below the ledge, keeping its engine running to enable recovery if a sudden wind current should come up. Fortunately, the air was clear and calm.

A human toboggan was utilized by Yowell’s lying down on a tarp with the belay rope tied to his ankles and placing Higinbotham on top of him with his head on Yowell’s feet. The two were tied together with sling rope and Stettner and Kolbig lowered the toboggan” 200 feet down the snow slope with Young and Demkowicz guiding. The litter was meanwhile brought up to that point so that it was used to carry Higinbotham the rest of the way and he was placed aboard the helicopter and flown out at 8:00 P.M.

The party left on the mountain descended to a solid level ledge and bivouacked. They came off the mountain the next morning. Higinbotham suffered a cerebral concussion, multiple abrasions and lacerations, but he has made a complete recovery except for a loss of memory of events ten days subsequent to the accident.

Source: Bill Yowell.

Analysis: (Yowell) Loose rock is often an objective danger in the mountains, and although the rock which struck Higinbotham was dislodged by human force, Kolbig is an experienced, careful leader and had carefully tested the rock before using it as a hold. Higinbotham was in the path of the rock because he was bringing the rope up to Kolbig. The concus-

sion was thought by the examining physicians to have been caused by the wound on the forehead, negating a hard hat’s altering the outcome.

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