What it Looks Like to Fall Off a Mountain

Stefan Ager was celebrating at the top of the mountain in the Stubai Alps with a friend, filming the scenery and preparing to descend on their skis. Then things went wrong. He had bad footing and started sliding backwards.

Fortunately, for us his camera was rolling the whole time.

Fortunately for him, Ager walked away from the accident, apparently completely unhurt

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.

Climbing Mount Whitney via the Mountaineer’s Route

Mt. Whitney, at 14,495 feet is the highest peak in the lower 48 states. It is also the most sought after peak in North America. During the summer months it is normal to find several hundred hikers ascending the peak on any given day via the Mt. Whitney Trail.

In the spring, Mt. Whitney is a different mountain. It becomes a climber’s challenge. Our route of ascent was the Mountaineer’s Route on the east side of the mountain. What is a third class loose rock gully in the summer becomes a snow climb on terrain up to 45°.

Jeff and I had George Dunn guide us up the mountain. Unfortunately, after making it up the gully the conditions prevented us from making the last few hundred feet to the summit.

Camp One, by Lower Boy Scout Lake:

Our kitchen at Camp One:

The view from Camp One:

Camp Two, by the East Face of Mount Whitney:

The view from Camp Two with Lone Pine in the background:

Jeff climbing up the gully:

Me, George and Jeff just below the summit:

We climbed up there:

To just about there:

The Climb of Mount Rainier

Mount Rainier is the highest mountain in the northwest United States, towering in the backdrop of Seattle and Tacoma. I decided to climb it. Well, actually Jeff decided to climb it and convinced me to also climb it.

After dislocating my elbow in the months leading up to the climb and losing my luggage and climbing gear just before the climb, I finally made it to the mountain.

The climb starts at Paradise (5,400 feet). We hiked with our gear up to Camp Muir (10,600 feet) which about 4.5 miles and takes most of the day. We set up our tents just below Camp Muir.

The second day was glacier training, self-rescue and mountaineering training on Cowlitz Glacier.

Then at midnight, we wake early to head up to Cathedral Gap to our first rest stop.

The view from Paradise Lodge

Jeff and Connie resting on the Muir Snowfield

Ed resting on the Muir Snowfield

After hiking up the snowfields, we set up camp: Rainier: Camp Muir.

Ed learning to ice climb

Other climbing teams passing behind our camp at Muir

The view from our tent

A climbing team coming up from Cathedral Gap to the first rest stop

Another climbing team coming into the first rest stop on the Ingraham Glacier

Coming out on top of the Ingraham Glacier

Ed at the second rest stop, with Mount Adams in the background

Phil pulling one of guys out of a steam vent at the summit

In the summit crater (I am the pumpkin on the left.)

Thanks to the Guides at RMI

and our head guide: Phil Ershler