The Jed Zone

    Photo: Mark Todd

No publication arouses as much antici-pation among the editors in our office as the annual Accidents in North American Mountaineering. Each year, ANAM is filled with tragic accounts of mishaps in the mountains—but the esteemed report is also salted with enough cautionary tales and strange twists to make it a must-read source of indelible lore. (And, truth be told, of ghastly humor.) We caught up with longtime Accidents editor Jed Williamson at his office at Vermont's Sterling College.

So What's the primary purpose of publishing these reports?
Education. It's a tool by which people can think about their climbing. While the data isn't so much statistical, it can show trends.
One of which is the increase in rescues initiated by cell phones. Do you think people have a responsibility to use available technology?
Technology shouldn't substitute for having the right gear and making reasonable judgements. One time people called a ranger saying, "We need to know how to get to a certain trail. We have a GPS with us." The ranger says, "Great. Get that out and get your map out." And they say, "Oh, well, we don't have a map." You follow my drift?

Any other trends you're seeing?
Well, there's the conversion to climbing protection that costs about 45 bucks apiece. I talked with some of the climbers whose reason for injury is because protection pulled out. I started asking, "Are you putting it in all the way?" A lot of them sheepishly say, "Well, no. I was afraid I might not be able to get it back out." They didn't want to lose money. That's a false economy!

Last year, you published an incident about a guy trying to climb Denali carrying a bamboo pole to keep from falling into a crevasse...
Oh, yeah. That was a case where the guy had no experience whatsoever. But these are the people that the park service has to deal with. There was once a kid who wrote to the park, "I'm planning to climb Mount McKinley. What I'd like to know is, One, Is there snow on it all year round? Two, Will I need to make camps along the way? Three, Should I bring grommets with me?" We had no idea what "grommets" meant.

Is there anything you won't print? Like that frightening tale about Tom Hornbein and the beer can?
Well, I actually put that one in the book. I wrote, "The individual used a Foster's beer can as a pee can, and got his member caught in there." And to conclude, I wrote, "All members of the expedition have recovered." This summer, Hornbein admitted he'd pulled a fast one on me. But it was a hell of a good story.

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