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Three Fingered Jack - Fatal slip on snow while descending

The primary purpose of these experience reports and the Annual Report of Accidents in North American Mountaineering is to aid in the prevention of accidents.

Oregon, Three-Fingered Jack, South Ridge 

On October 26, 1997, Karl Iwen (20s) fell to his death while descending Three-Fingered Jack.  As he was unfamiliar with the mountain, Karl asked to join two climbers he met at the trailhead. They completed the "technical" part of the climb (ascending and descending) then unroped to hike out. There was a patch of snow covering rock west of the climber's trail and Karl ventured out onto this snow. He slipped and could not stop his fall. The other two climbers watched Karl, but were unable to help him. He carried an ice ax, but it was strapped to his pack at the time of the fall. He slid into a couloir and dropped about 600 feet in a tumbling fall.

Karl was not familiar with the mountain and the route, but left his companions and did not follow the climber's trail off the mountain. Also, venturing out onto snow above the west face of the mountain with his ice ax strapped to his pack showed a lack of awareness of the dangers he faced in this alpine environment. Karl had just moved to Oregon from Midwest.

Published in the 1998 edition of Accidents in North American Mountaineering, Source: Jeff Sheetz, Portland Mountain Rescue


Corvallis Mountain Rescue Unit Mission Report
November, 1997 Newsletter 

MISSION REPORT 97-11: Climbing Accident, Three-Fingered Jack
Member-hours: 409 

On Sunday, October 26, Karl Iwen wanted to climb Three-Fingered Jack and asked two climbers who he met at the trailhead if he could tag along with them since he was unfamiliar with the mountain. This group of three was one of three climbing parties on the mountain that day. These three climbers proceeded through The Crawl (considered by some to be the crux due to exposure) unroped and moved off the standard route into some dicey terrain where they began belaying. Other groups, remaining on the route then passed them and summited. The group of three eventually summited and descended back below The Crawl thus completing the "technical" part of the climb. Although the rock on the technical part of the climb was bare and dry, there was a patch of snow below The Crawl which could be avoided by remaining on the "goat trail" near the spine of the South Ridge. Apparently Karl wandered onto this snow, slipped and began a slide from which he could not stop. He carried an ice axe, but it was strapped to his pack at the time of the fall. The other two saw him fall, but were unable to help or reach Karl after the fall. One of the group ran out (five miles) to report the accident. 

The accident which occurred about 1430 was reported to Linn County about 1700. CMRU, EMR, and Jefferson County personnel were activated. Staging for EMR and CMRU was set for 2300 at Santiam Pass. Upon arrival, Mission Coordinator Jeremy Adolph was advised that Jefferson County personnel were on the mountain, but that freezing fog was hampering visibility. EMR and CMRU personnel were advised to get some sleep and be ready to go into the field about 0300 so as to be at the mountain around first light. As the mountain rescue teams arrived at the base of the mountain, fog was still enveloping the area; but was beginning to clear. Although the weather on Monday was clear -- perfect for searching -- a night of freezing fog had coated the rock with rime and verglas. By about 1000, the subject had been located in a couloir about 600 feet below where he had slipped. While options were discussed, a helicopter from the 304th ARRS was called to attempt the extrication. The helicopter was able to locate the subject and verify he appeared to be deceased, but was unable to get a PJ to the subject. With inclement weather coming, all personnel were recalled from the mountain. 

The following day (Tuesday), Linn county met with rescuers to develop a plan for the recovery of the body. The plan decided upon involved use of a smaller helicopter from Heli-Jet based in Eugene which would attempt to snare the subject's clothing or pack with a hook and lift him off the mountain. Inclement weather (snow and rain) enveloped the mountain for the remainder of the week. 

On Saturday, November 1, the weather cleared and recovery personnel from CMRU and Linn county Posse were back at the mountain. Tim McCall (EMR) flew with the helicopter on its first approach to help spot the subject. CMRU teams watched the helicopter operations from the bottom of the scree slope and from high on the scree slope. Another CMRU team scouted a route across the west face at the 7300' level. For over two hours, the helicopter made repeated attempts to snare or dislodge the subject. At one point, the pack was hooked, but it ripped away. As the helicopter departed for fuel, the team at 7300' was able to reach the subject and Jeff Gent rigged him for evacuation. With sunset only minutes away, the helicopter made one final trip to the mountain and with Jeff's help, hooked up and smoothly evacuated the body to the bottom of the scree slope. From there he was evacuated on horse by the Posse. All CMRU personnel were back to the trailhead by 2100. 

This mission pointed out that all of us need to be familiar with the various faces of the mountains in our primary coverage area -- not just the "standard" route(s) -- and be able to read those faces as necessary. This mission also stressed the importance of physical conditioning when it comes to carrying heavy loads.




Read more . . .
American Alpine Club
Oregon Section of the AAC
Accidents in North American Mountaineering

AAC Report - Fatal fall from Three Fingered Jack in the Mount Jefferson Wilderness 
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