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Middle Sister climb proves need for equipment and experience

The primary purpose of these reports and the Annual Report of Accidents in North American Mountaineering is to aid in the prevention of accidents:  Fall on frozen scree, inadequate equipment and clothing, inexperience. 

On September 29, 2001, Pete Acker (39) and Jeff Soulia (22) were descending a steep snow and scree slope north west off the 10,040’ summit of Middle Sister when Pete lost his footing, and slowly started to slide. He was unable to stop himself and rapidly picked up speed. Rocketing down the rough slope, he “hit a rock outcropping hard and began to tumble through the air” according to his companion. He came to a stop in talus with a shattered wrist and four broken ribs and clavicle. Jeff carefully made his way down the 300 feet to his fallen companion who was unable to move.

They used the meager clothing they had to keep Pete warm and Jeff left for their car and cell phone, four hours distant. After about an hours descent, Jeff was able to attract the attention of hikers and a skier who was able to descend quickly down the Collier Glacier. The skier in turn came upon a hiking group that had carried a cell phone. Hours later a SAR team of four was inserted by helicopter on the east side of the ridge on the Hayden Glacier, about two hours distant from Pete. He was stabilized and finally evacuated about 2 AM on Sunday after a painful and cold afternoon and night high on Middle Sister.

Analysis of Accident: What knowledge and techniques will help prevent future accidents?
It had snowed about 2 to 3 inches on the prior Tuesday. While the weather was nice enough to entice the climbers to wear shorts on a sunny Saturday, the high elevation and wind had iced the snow and scree and made a dangerous slide a possibility. An ice axe quickly used, could have stopped the initial slide. Ultra light ice axes are a good companion on high summer hikes and climbs.

Had the climbers carried available light-weight aluminum 12 point crampons, they could have descended more safely and easily on the hard remaining snow of the season.

Jeff Soulia asks that climbers be advised to carry enough extra clothing to wait in one place overnight. Luckily, Jeff was able to borrow the extra clothing they needed before he returned to his injured friend.

Pete Acker who has returned to work after four months, notes that while the cell phone they had left at their car would not work in the low lying trail-head location, the cell phone carried by the others worked very well on the slopes of Middle Sister.

Report filed by Robert Speik and printed in the 54th edition of ANAM, year 2001
Copyright© 2001 by Robert Speik. All Rights Reserved.


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