American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Thirty - Second Annual Report of the Safety Committees of the American Alpine Club and the Alpine Club of Canada

  • Editorials And Prefaces
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1979

This is the thirty-second issue of Accidents in North American Mountaineering, and the third that has been edited and published jointly by The American Alpine Club and The Alpine Club of Canada.

Canada: About nineteen mountaineering accidents from 1978 are known to us, but we do not yet have full details on all of them. Some will therefore be reported in the next issue, just as in this issue we are reporting significant accidents from previous years.

The thirteen deaths in mountain accidents, the several deaths related to helicopter skiing, and the increase in hiker rescues, which includes two on Tunnel Mountain in Banff, represent an increase which raises some concern and speculation. Most of the fatalities have been on routes that are not particularly difficult, but it is not yet clear whether there are simply more climbers of the same competence or there is a greater proportion of less competent climbers. Certainly in the case of hikers, some narratives of which have been included for interest’s sake, many seem not to realize that a mountain can be impossible for them to travel upon, even just off the trail or in the village of Banff.

There are in Canada—and elsewhere—a growing number of active climbers and outdoor enthusiasts. We estimate currently that the active climbing community numbers 5000, and surely this is a contributing factor.

United States: During the past few years, the kinds of accidents we have been reporting have shifted somewhat, though the causes have remained fairly consistent. This year, for example, there were at least a dozen reports of individuals sliding down snowfields out of control, and again reports of protection placement failure—nuts and chocks—and ski-related accidents. Most of these cases were the result of inexperience and lack of adequate equipment, which are consistent with accident causes since we began reporting in 1948. Many of the situations could not technically be included in the climbing category because the individuals did not set out to go climbing, or to involve themselves in mountaineering situations which require the specialized equipment and techniques of the sport. We are becoming much more discriminating in our reporting in that regard, especially as inquiries from insurance companies and law firms increase each year.

The increase in the number of active climbers (“active” being generally defined as ten to twenty days of climbing per year) over the past ten years has been marked, and over the past twenty years has been geometric in proportion. As a barometer, one can sample some of the statistics: Grand Teton National

Park registered well under 1000 climbers in 1958, the number for 1978 reaching 8436; Mt McKinley National Park registered twelve climbers in 1958, 539 in 1978. My current, very conservative, estimate of active climbers in the U.S.A., which is based on Park statistics, school and organization climbing programs, and equipment sales is 100,000 in number, with the total number of climber user days (which includes individuals who may climb only for one or two days with a guide service) being more than the ten-fold under the active climber definition.

Continued efforts to gather usable data have been enhanced by the increasing number of willing contributors, many from smaller, but very active, climbing areas. We thank these and the usual stalwarts, and welcome additional sources. We are grateful to the following individuals for reports. Canada: Gil Parker, Ian Kay, Helen Butling, Sandra Lahey, Lyn Michaud, Dennis Gravel, Helmut Microys, Pat Baird, and Tim Auger. United States: Hugh Dougher, Bob Gerhard, Tim Setnicka, Brad Snyder, Howard Stansbury, Ralph Tingey, Larry Van Slyke, and Rick Wilcox.

John E. Williamson, Editor/USA

Nottingham Square

Nottingham, New Hampshire 03290

E. Whalley, Editor/Canada

175 Blenheim Drive

Ottowa, Ontario


Lynn K. Buchanan, Dennis Burge, Benjamin J. Ferris Jr., Brian Fowler, Robert Norris, Bradley J. Snyder, Howard Stansbury, Richard R. Wilcox Jr., and John E. Williamson (Chairman).


Helmut Microys, Kevin O’Connell, Ron Perla, Walter Robinson, Ferdl Taxbock, and E. Whalley (Chairman).

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