A Tough Climbing Year in the Western US

Sep 26, 2010
Outside Magazine

Any article about death on a mountain is difficult to write. I am concerned about getting the facts wrong, perhaps offending family and friends. However, it serves a purpose of exploring the reason for incident and reminding everyone that mountains can be deadly. The best source year after year is the American Alpine Club’sAccidents in North American Mountaineering published annually to members.

This article is a partial overview of the tragic events thus far in 2010.

Many people associate death in the mountains with the well publicized events on the big climbs like Everest or K2. But each year, many climbers lose their lives on the 14,000′ or lower mountains in California, Colorado, Washington or Wyoming. It has been particularly tough in Colorado the summer of 2010:

- Little Bear, June -  fall in the Hourglass couloir covered in veriglass. more

- Longs Peak, July -  fall near the summit, cause unknown. more

- El Diente/Wilson Traverse, August – rockfall on the traverse. more

- Crestone Needle (2 people), August – fall on technical climb of Ellingwood Arete in difficult weather. more

- Maroon Bells Traverse, August – rockfall near Bell Chord Couloir. more

- Longs Diamond Route, August – fall from Broadway during technical climb. more

- Kit Carson, September – fall near the Avenue. more

- Longs Peak, September- fall on the Ledges more

- El Diente, September - rockfall more

        Meanwhile, a well publicized accident in July on the Grand Tetons took one life and caused the evacuation of 16 climbers when lightening hit the peak. The actual cause of death for the one climber is still unknown more. Another incident took another life on the Middle Teton in July, again the cause of the fall is unknown at this time. more

        And in California, there was a death on Mt. Shasta in April after a strong storm hit the mountain. more Another climber was killed in July by rockfall more.

        In Washington State we saw several deaths on Mt. Rainier.

        - Ingraham Glacier avalanche, June – solo climber in difficult conditions more.

        - Disappeared near summit, July more.

        - Crevasse fall on Emmons Glacier, July more.

              In February, a very experienced climber fell into the crater from the summit of Mt. St. Helens more. And another climber died on nearby Mt. Hood after severe weather hit the mountain in June more.

              Some of these incidents were caused from rock fall and some climbers were not wearing helmets, some were; but it serves as a good reminder to use a helmet on any route above class 2 at a minimum.

              Weather was not a huge issue in most of these incidents but heavy monsoon rains could have contributed to the incidents in southwest Colorado’s San Juan range which saw multi-day deluges thus loosening rocks and soil.

              Some of these incidents were simply part of mountaineering. However, it is always good to think about how to avoid becoming involved in one thus a few thoughts:

              - avoid putting yourself in any dangerous situation through good judgment, knowledge of the terrain and applicable experience

              - understand the local weather trends, know the current forecast and how to read changing conditions

              - If you are exceeding your experience or comfort level, go with more experienced climbers or turn back

              - bring the proper gear and clothing for a wide range of weather conditions even on the nicest days

              - know basic first aid

              - never depend on a locator device or cell phone for assistance or to justify going beyond your comfort level but always carry one to aid in a rescue

              - know the techniques of survival in harsh conditions

              - never climb alone or leave your team, especially on unfamiliar terrain

              There is no good news in a story like this other than providing information that can hopefully prevent a similar tragedy. My sincere condolences to everyone involved in these accidents.


              Arnette is a speaker, mountaineer and Alzheimer's Advocate. He is climbing the 7 Summits starting with Mt. Vinson in November 2010 to raise $1 million for Alzheimer's research. You can read more on his site.

              Filed To: Adventure, Climbing

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