Learning from Others’ Mistakes: Accidents In North American Mountaineering 2010

I always look forward to the arrival of this book. It is full of learning, tragedy, sadness, and bits of humor.

I’ve been a member of the American Alpine Club since 2003, so this is the eighth edition I have read. Each edition takes the reader through the climbing accidents of the previous year. This 2010 edition is the sixty-third issue of Accidents In North American Mountaineering and details the reported accidents and many narratives for incidents in calendar year 2009.

This year there seemed to be an uptick in rappelling errors with several reports of climbers failing to tie safety knots in the end of the ropes and falling off the end. There is also a continued emphasis on the need to wear a helmet. Jed Williamson often points out in the narrative that a helmet would have prevent more serious injury.

I found two stories of obtuse climbers to be particularly entertaining. That means nobody was hurt or injured, even though there was danger involved.

In the first, a female Lithuanian climber seemed to think she was on the streets of Manhattan and could just call for a ride to get her out. She failed to realize that she was on Denali’s West Buttress. It’s not easy to get someone from high camp at 14,200 feet back to town. She refused help to descend and insisted on air evacuation.

Her complaint was a minor foot injury caused by poorly fitting boots. The rescue rangers felt she could have walked down under her own power, but refused.

She was cited under 36 C.F.R. 2.32(a)(3) Interfering with Agency Function which carries a sentence of up to six months in jail and a $5000 fine. She left the country before her court date.

The second incident was just the opposite. A climber had been scrambling near Merced Lake in Yosemite and got into a bad position. He used his cellphone to call for help, saying he was in no immediate danger, but was unable to ascend or descend from his current position.

When the rescue personnel flew by his position, they were shocked to see that he was standing on a minuscule ledge, clinging to nearly vertical rock about 800 feet above the valley floor.

This book is a must read if you have any interest in climbing or mountaineering.