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Mt. Ritter 2004 tragedy provides experience for Sierra Climbers

Mt. Ritter Tragedy
In Memory of Otto Loenneker
By John Dickinson

This narrative is dedicated to the Memory of Otto Loenneker. Otto was found dead on Mt. Ritter’s Southeast glacier on August 9, 2004. Otto was a long time business associate, occasional hiking and climbing partner, but most of all he was my friend. Below is a recent Photo of Otto and a chronology of the events of this tragedy. Within the text are hyperlinks that are blue text that is underlined. Clicking on these links will take you to pictures relating to the text. Use your browser’s “Back” button to return to this page.

I first met Otto in the early 1990s when he was working for ABB System Controls in Santa Clara, CA. I was providing consulting services to Philadelphia Electric Company to assist them with the purchase of an Energy Management System from ABB. Otto was one of ABB’s lead engineers on that project. Needless to say, we each represented our employers very aggressively and from time to time things could get very heated. Our business differences however did not stand in the way of us becoming friends. Even after a day of hot debate across the conference table, we could enjoy each other’s company over a couple of beers after work. It soon became apparent that we shared some of the same interests outside of work too. We both had a deep concern for the environment and enjoyed physical outdoor activities such as “peak bagging”, hiking, camping, cycling and running. Our first trip together was to climb North Palisade’s Peak at 14,242 feet in Kings Canyon National Park, CA. Otto’s son Erik accompanied us on that trip and tended to the base camp while we made the climb to the peak. Our next “peak bagging” adventure was to climb Mt. Darwin at 13,830 feet. Darwin was also in Kings Canyon and my wife Pat accompanied us on that trip, exploring the rock formations around the base camp while we “bagged” the peak I also had the pleasure of running the 1993 San Francisco Marathon with Otto. Neither of us had trained very hard for the run but we both managed to finish the race.

After a few years, Otto left ABB to follow his career with other companies in the South Bay area. My business got me out to Santa Clara from time to time and we kept in touch via email. Otto sent me the pictures from his John Muir Trail trip in the summer of 2003 and we talked about getting together in the future for another trip. In November of 2003 Otto contacted me about a trip he was putting together to go back to the same general area that he was at earlier that summer but this time his goal was to climb Mt. Ritter, Mt. Banner and spend sometime at Devil’s Post Pile. He was targeting late summer 2004 for the trip. At the time, I was heavily into planning a trip to hike the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) with my wife, Pat. Our trip would start in April and last through the summer into early fall so I would not be available, but I told Otto to keep me posted on his plans and I would do the same as it may work out that if he were going to make the climb earlier during the summer we would be passing through that area on the PCT and we could get together for the climb.

A couple months passed and in early 2004, Pat and I found out that we were going to be grandparents for the first time in early July. This of course changed every thing so we cut our PCT trip short to be home in early July for the arrival of our first grandchild. I contacted Otto and discussed his plans for the Ritter Trip. Otto had targeted early August, which now fit well with my new schedule. In February 2004, Otto made application for the permits and it was a done deal that the Ritter trip was set for August 7, 2004 through August 14, 2004.

I flew into San Jose, CA on Friday August 6th and Otto picked me up at the airport. We went back to his place in Los Gatos and spent the afternoon in final preparations and packing equipment for the trip. We were both very excited for the opportunity to get back into the mountains for another trip. Alma got home around 6 pm and we all went out for Sushi that evening, apparently a Friday evening tradition for them. Otto prepared a huge breakfast in the morning. We had his secret recipe pancakes, scrambled eggs, fried tomatoes, fruit, juice and toast. I do not believe I ever had a bigger breakfast. I guess we both knew that we would be living on ramen, couscous, granola, soup, trail mix, etc for the next several days so we went crazy with breakfast. We said goodbye to Alma and we were on our way about 8 AM Saturday August 7th.

Traffic was not a problem until we got on Hwy120 heading for Yosemite. About 10 miles from the park entrance, there was an SUV that caught on fire. We were in a “rolling parking lot” for about 45 minutes. After we cleared the car fire, things went well until we got to the “typical weekend” traffic in Yosemite. Otto was growing impatient with our progress and was going a little faster than he should have been when we passed a Park Police Officer traveling in the other direction. The Officer apparently turned around and came back after us. Fortunately, the traffic was so bad going in our direction that by the time he caught up with us, we were forced to travel the speed limit. He stopped us nonetheless and we played the “license and registration” drill. After his lecture, that we both diligently listened to, we were on our way with a “warning”. We had to go to Mono Basin Visitor’s Center to pick up our permit. Otto had called them earlier in the week to let them know that we would be arriving late and not to release our permit. We got there about 1:30 pm. There were several people in line to get information from the Forest Service Agent that we had to see to get the permit. After yet another delay, we got the permit and we were on our way.

We left the Mono Lake Visitor Center and headed for Mammoth Lakes, CA. Our entry point into Inyo National Forest to begin our trip was just North of the Mammoth Ski Area near Mammoth Lakes, CA. It was now about 2 pm and we had not had any lunch so we decided to get something to eat before we started hiking. We also found out that between the hours of 7 am and 7 pm, it was mandatory to take a shuttle to the trailhead.

We had lunch and Otto dropped me and our gear off at the shuttle pickup point and went to park the car. The shuttle arrived and we were off to the Agnew Meadows Trailhead. We arrived at the trailhead at about 4 pm and started heading toward the area where we were going to set up a base camp. Our initial plan was to hike all the way to the base camp but we had not counted on getting such a late start. We started off and encountered many scenic waterfalls and vistas along the way. After a couple hours of hiking, we passed by Shadow Lake. At this point, it was apparent that we were not going to make it to where we wanted to set up base camp so we continued on for a while and decided to stop for the night and set up the tent before the bugs got too bad. We stopped about half way between Shadow Lake and Lake Ediza. We set up the tent, cooked some dinner, started a fire and settled in for the night.

The next morning before we broke camp, we climbed a small ridge near our campsite to get a good view of Mt. Ritter and begin the process of scoping out a route for our Ritter climb. There are three basic approaches to climbing Mt. Ritter. One is to approach from the West via the Lake Catherine area, the second is to approach from the East and climb to the saddle between Ritter and Banner and then up the back side of Ritter to the summit and the third is to get to the Southeast pinnacle at the base of Ritter’s Southeast glacier, traverse North and back West around the edge of the glacier to get to Owen’s chute and approach the summit from the Southwest. Since we were approaching the area from the east, we discounted the Lake Catherine approach. We also did not have the equipment to attack via the saddle between the two peaks. That left the “Southeast Glacier” approach. The big question that remained was, “could we find a quick and easy route from our base camp to the foot of the Southeast pinnacle?” We spent some time studying the view from our first nights campsite area and then headed out to find a spot for our base camp. We passed more gorgeous scenery and waterfalls and skirted around the Southern shore of Lake Ediza. Initially, we were thinking of establishing a base camp on the Western edge of Lake Ediza but since we arrived at Lake Ediza in mid morning of our second day, we decided that we would continue on and hike all our gear closer to the Eastern base of Mt. Ritter. We eventually found a very nice spot for our Base Camp (37.68423 N, 119.17844 W) at 9800 feet about 1/2 of a mile West of Lake Ediza.

It was about 11 am Sunday morning August 8th when we arrived at the Base Camp site. We set up the tent, had some lunch and just relaxed for a while organizing our equipment and filtered some more water. We discussed our plans for the rest of the day. Since it was so late in the day, we decided that we would spend a couple hours looking for a route to the base of the Southeast pinnacle and return to the Base Camp and make the climb to the summit on Monday. The extra day would give us another day at altitude to get better acclimated.

We started off to search for a route to the base of the pinnacle about 12:15 pm. We headed toward what was called the “lower gully” in the literature we had. The gully was just to the North of a large easily identifiable dome on the extreme South flank of Mt. Ritter. As we got up to the gully, Otto started up a line farther to the North. Before we lost sight of each other, I suggested that I thought the route was more to the South of the route he was following. Otto said that he wanted to follow the line he was currently on and that he expected that we would meet up at the top of the gully. We parted ways and continued on separately to find a route to the base of the Southeast pinnacle.

I continued on up the gully. Initially the slope was quite steep but there was considerably less snow than was shown in the photos that we had in the route description literature. There was a small snow field, several hundred feet in length in the gully but it was easy to pass around it in the exposed rock. Up a little higher, the route began to flatten out. One of the landmarks in the route description was the “tree rock”, an area that was a small collection of trees literally growing out of the rock. The goal was to pass this landmark and continue up the gully about again 1/3 of the distance already traveled in the gully. When I got to the point that I thought was about the area to begin the traverse to the North, I took a short break and looked back down the gully. I saw Otto about 500-1000 feet below me. I assumed that he had continued up the line that he wanted to investigate and came to a dead end and retreated to a point where he could enter the gully that I was following. I used my trekking pole to make a couple directional arrows in a small snow field at the point I started the traverse to the North. There was a short wall at the edge of the gully so I built a cairn there to mark the point for Otto where I left the gully and headed north to find a route to the base of the pinnacle. I took one last glance down the gully and saw Otto continuing to work his way up the gully. As it turned out, that was the last time that I would see Otto alive.

I continued on the traverse to the North, placing cairns along the way to mark the route for Otto to follow and for my return. I crossed a couple small snow fields. The surface snow was soft and with the trekking pole for balance, it was easy to kick flat foot steps in the moderate slope of the snow fields. I periodically looked back to the South expecting to see Otto but he did not appear. I reached the base of the pinnacle and crossed a small snow field to get a look at the route we would be traveling when we went for the summit on Monday. I was happy to see a lot of exposed rock and talus. I took a few pictures at the base of the pinnacle, made a happy face in the snow to greet us on our climb Monday and started back. All the while I was heading back, I was expecting to run into Otto or at the very least, see him making his own line to the North. I got back to the gully and there was no sign of Otto. I assumed he had either returned to the base camp or continued up the gully. It was obvious that he had not followed the route that I had taken since I did not see him as I returned on the same route that I had marked on the way in.

I got back to the base camp around 4 pm. Since Otto was not there, I concluded that he either did not see the cairns I placed or he decided to continue up the Gully past the point where I had turned off to select another area to investigate. I filtered some water, ate dinner and waited. The later it got, the more concerned I became! Otto was experienced and knew when it was time to head back and get off the mountain for the evening. I was hoping that he was just delayed from a sprained ankle or something of the sort and I would see him hobbling down the Gully at any time. Darkness set in and I began thinking the worst. I put a light out and pointed it toward the Gully just in case he was trying to travel in the dark. The light would at least let him know where the base camp was. It got to be about 10 PM and Otto had still not returned. It was clear at that point that I had to hike out in the morning to get help. I prepared a daypack for the hike out in the morning and tried to get some rest.

I got up before first light Monday morning (August 9th) and had some breakfast and waited for it to get light enough to hike out. I thought I saw something moving up high in the Gully and waited for a few minutes for it to get a little lighter so I could see better. It must have been wishful thinking as the shape did not get any closer. I took off at a brisk pace and started hiking out. I stopped at each campsite I came upon on the way out to see if anyone had a cell phone that would work or other radio that I could use to call for assistance. No such luck. I got back to Agnew Meadows Trailhead at just before 9 am and caught a shuttle bus up to the Forest Service Entrance Station. The attendants there called their headquarters and were instructed to call the local Mammoth Lakes Police. Mammoth Lakes Police Department was notified and they dispatched Sgt. Jon Boyer to the Entrance Station where I was waiting. Jon arrived around 10 am and collected some preliminary information about the situation from me. He stayed with me during the initial stages of the process and provided the communication link between me and those that wanted to get in touch with me. He also contacted Sgt. Robert Weber, the Mono County Sheriff Search and Rescue (SAR) Coordinator.

I was asked if I wanted to formally request that a Search and Rescue effort be initiated. The answer was YES. Sgt Weber informed me that Jeff Holmquist would be contacting me and that Jeff was one of the Mono County Search and Rescue Team Members and he would be coordinating the Search and Rescue operation at a Command Center that they would be setting up near the Forest Service Entrance Station north of Mammoth Ski Area. Jeff called and got some preliminary information from me while they were heading to the Command Center area. I waited with Jon until Jeff and Jutta arrived about 11:30 am with a Search and Rescue vehicle. They began setting up the radio antennas etc and started down the call list. The Mono County Search and Rescue Team is composed of all volunteers. As team members arrived, they went about assisting in the tasks that needed to be done to mobilize the Search and Rescue operation. I went over the details of the events over the last 24 hours with Jeff to give him information such as the location of the base camp, the type of terrain, equipment that Otto had with him, his suspected location, etc. Jeff put in a request to get helicopter support and it was working its way through the availability and approval process.

Within an hour of Jeff’s arrival at the Command Center site, several additional volunteers had arrived and their skill sets were being evaluated and they were being briefed on the situation. Two teams of two individuals each were identified as the initial resources to use in the actual Search and Rescue operation. Team #1 consisted of David Michalski and Daniel Hansen. Team #2 consisted of Craig Knoche and Barry Beck. The team members prepared their equipment while waiting to hear about the disposition of the helicopter. Anne Knoche, Craig’s wife assisted Jutta with radio and organizational activities of the Command Center. Word came that a helicopter would be made available but it would not arrive for a couple hours. Jeff dispatched Team #1 at about 1:30 pm to hike to the base camp and search in that area. With their full backs, it would take Team #1 about four hours to reach the base camp. Team #2 was held at the Command Center to be inserted by the helicopter when it arrived.

The helicopter arrived at about 4 pm. There was a crew of four on the helicopter. Jeff briefed the helicopter crew and Team #2 members and the helicopter was airborne on its way to the primary search area at about 4:30 pm. The helicopter circled the search area and they saw what they thought might be a climber near the base of Mt. Ritter’s Southeast Glacier. At about 5 pm, Team #2 was dropped off by the helicopter as close as possible to the area of the sighting. Team #2 called back to the Command Center once they were on the ground with an estimate of one hour to reach the area of the sighting. At about 5:30 pm, Team #1 reached the base camp and reported back that there was no sign of Otto and they were going to widen their search around the base camp.

At about 6 pm, all of our worst fears were confirmed when Team #2 radioed back to confirm that they had reached the area of the sighting and found Otto dead. Otto was found on a lower portion of the Southeast Glacier at about 11,500 feet. It appeared he fell some distance and the resulting fall caused severe head trauma. It was Team #2’s assessment that he was dead by the time the body came to rest where they found it (37.6842 N, 119.1934 W). The location of the body made it impossible to extract it from where it was found. It would be necessary to move the body down hill to a location where it would be safe to extract it. The helicopter flew to the area of the base camp to pick up Team #1 and insert them near Team #2 to assist with moving the body. There was not enough daylight left to move the body and set up for the extraction so with the approaching darkness, the helicopter had to return to its base. The four Search and Rescue Team members worked into the dusk moving the body down the mountain for pickup the next morning. They settled in for the night up on the mountain and would resume activities on Tuesday morning (August 10th).

Jeff had other commitments so the Command Center coordinator roll was passed on to Greg Enright for the evening. There was little more to be done at the Command Center for the evening so most of the staff headed home for the evening. Anne Knoche invited me to stay at their home for the night. It had been a long and difficult day and I was grateful for the company, shower, dinner and a bed to sleep in.

Tuesday morning we left Anne’s and headed back to the Command Center arriving about 7:30 am. Sgt. Charles Bump the Madera County Sheriff Search and Rescue Coordinator was at the Command Center and had taken over the coordination of the extraction since Mt. Ritter is just across the county line and is in Madera County. The initial word was that the helicopter would be returning about 9:30 am. In the interim, the Search and Rescue teams on the mountain did a cursory exploration to try and determine exactly what may have happened. There were several items that were not found with the body (trekking pole, baseball cap, etc) so the thought was that if those items could be found, they may have a better idea of the point of the actual fall. The body was found in a location similar to the bottom of a funnel. There were several places where a fall from above could have resulted in the body coming to rest where it did. The search did not reveal any of the missing items. While they waited for the helicopter to arrive, the Search and Rescue team erected a memorial cairn near where Otto’s body was found and said a prayer on his behalf. The helicopter arrived earlier than expected and the body and the four team members were extracted and dropped off at the Command Center at about 9 am. The helicopter returned to its base. Sgt. Bump inventoried the items found with the body and the body was taken to a Mortuary in Bishop, CA.

Otto’s car keys were found with the body and from arrangements made with Otto’s family on Monday night, I was to pick up Otto’s car and head to Bishop to meet with the family later Tuesday evening as they were driving over from the South Bay area during the day Tuesday. Anne Knoche had volunteered to line up some of the Search and Rescue people to help extract our equipment that was still at the base camp but during a telephone conversation we had later during the day, another Search and Rescue operation was getting underway. I told her I would call her later in the evening after I talked to the family. That evening I meet with Otto Jr. and Shirley, Erik and Summer, and Alma at the Bishop Holiday Inn. They had received little information about the accident from the police and wanted to get as much information as possible. I shared with them all the information I had. We discussed the events before, during and after the Search and Recovery, people to notify and the logistics of recovering the equipment that was still at the base camp. The family had enough to deal with, so with their permission, I kept Otto’s car and it would be my task to extract our equipment from the base camp.

I called Craig and Anne Knoche after the meeting with Otto’s family but got their voice mail. I assumed they were involved with the rescue operation that Anne had mentioned earlier in the day and informed them that we would take care of extracting the equipment. I decided at that point that I would extract the equipment myself. I felt a very strong need to get back to the base camp and spend sometime alone there to get my mind around the events of the last couple days.

I left Bishop at about 4:30 am Wednesday (August 11th) so I could drive directly to the Agnew Meadows trailhead and not be forced to take the “Mandatory 7 am to 7 pm Shuttle”. Since I would have to make a couple trips to extract all the equipment, having the car at the trailhead would be very convenient to have a secure place to leave the equipment between trips. I arrived at the Agnew Meadows Trailhead about 6 am and hiked into the base camp arriving about 9:30 am. The first thing that I noticed was that the tent fly had several large tears, a couple broken poles and the tent had been turned into a “figure 8”. I assumed that the damage was caused by the prop wash of the helicopter when it picked up the Team #1 members to airlift them up the mountain Monday evening to assist Team #2 with Otto’s extraction. Equipment had been blown about and I found the ground cloth about 150 feet from the tent. I spent the remainder of the day Wednesday repairing the tent and collecting the gear and getting it ready to take out. The plan was simple. The tent would be the last thing to go. I would hike out half the equipment Thursday morning and return to the base camp Thursday afternoon and prepare to hike out the remainder of the equipment Friday morning.

After dinner Wednesday evening, I was surprised by two guests. Craig Knoche and David Michalski stopped by the base camp about 7 pm. They had been in the area doing a follow up on another rescue operation. That operation concerned 6 climbers on Mt Ritter that were reported “overdue” on Tuesday. As it turned out, all returned safely. Since they were in the area doing a follow up at the six climber’s base camp, they decided to see if they could haul some of the equipment out that they knew was still at our base camp. Craig apparently did not get my message and was as surprised to see me there as I was to see him and Dave. We chatted for a while. Craig mentioned that he had the pictures that the Rescue Team took of the extraction and I could pick them up at his house. It was getting late and they still had to hike out that evening. We discussed the possibility of hauling everything out that evening but with their gear and all of our gear, there was too much for the three of us to get out in one trip so I would have to return for the rest anyway. I convinced them it was not a problem for me to get all the gear out. I thanked them again for their assistance with Otto. We said our good byes and they headed down hill toward Lake Ediza and the trail back to Agnew Meadows.

The next day and one-half went as planned. I made the trip out and back on Thursday and packed the tent and remaining equipment up Friday morning and hiked out by noon. I called Alma to let her know that I had completed retrieval of the equipment and that I would be on my way back to the South Bay area later in the day after I had notified everyone else that I had completed the extraction of the equipment. Alma told me that the service for Otto would be held on Sunday. I called back to the Midwest to make sure that the word about the service had reached Otto’s friends there. I called and talked to Sgt. Weber and Sgt. Bump letting them know that all the equipment had been extracted and thanked them for their efforts on Otto’s behalf. I also left a voice message for Sgt. Boyer. I called the Knoche’s to see if anyone was home to pick up the pictures. Anne was there so I had the opportunity to thank her again for all her support and assistance. I picked up the pictures and headed back to the South Bay area.

As I headed North toward Highway 120, a severe thunder storm was moving in from the West. It hit Tioga Pass about the same time I did. The storm combined with the Friday afternoon traffic made for slow going. Finally about 7 pm I had enough and stopped for the evening near Manteca, CA. I called Alma to let her know that I would not be back until Saturday.

I arrived at Otto’s home about 2:30 pm Saturday. Alma was preparing some of the flowers that Otto grew at the house to be used in the Memorial Arrangement that the family constructed at the funeral home in Mountain View, CA. We took the flowers to the funeral home in Mountain View later that afternoon. Otto’s sons had constructed an alter that supported a large picture of Otto and the Urn that contained his ashes. The alter was surrounded by many beautiful wild and traditional flowers.

The service was held Sunday August 15th at noon and was attended by many of Otto’s friends and relatives. It was a very informal service which Otto would have greatly appreciated. Friends and family had the opportunity to share and reflect on the impacts that Otto had made on their lives. The funeral home put together a video chronology of pictures of Otto with friends and family over the years.

On behalf of Otto’s family and friends, I would like to thank all the law enforcement and Search and Rescue personnel who assisted in Otto’s recovery.

Otto will certainly be missed but he will not be forgotten!


One year after the tragedy, I returned to Mt Ritter and placed a plaque on Mt. Ritter’s summit in memory of Otto. The climb to the summit and a picture of the plaque can be seen at
--John Dickinson

Webmeister's note: Please click below on John Dickinson's adventure website. It contains links to photographs of the climb.


"Mt. Ritter 1971 tragedy provides experience for Sierra climbers"

Memorial Day Accident on Mt. Ritter in 1971
by Harv Galic

"The worst accident in the modern history of Sierra mountaineering happened on Mt. Ritter, during Memorial Day weekend in 1971. This event strongly affected an entire generation of Sierra hikers and climbers, but it is almost forgotten now. Precious lessons can be learned from that tragedy. It is the hope of the people who bring you this online version of the Mt. Ritter Accident Investigation Committee Report, that you will take its message seriously. The Report was originally prepared by a Sierra Club committee, and published in Accidents in North American Mountaineering, 1973 Edition, American Alpine Club, New York, pp. 5-11. The text is reproduced here with permission from the publisher. A copy of a newspaper article in this Web rendering, the aerial photo of the Ritter Range, and marginal comments within square brackets [like this], are not part of the original Report, and were added by the transcriber. The Report is followed by a commentary by Lowell Smith, one of its principal authors. A recollection by two other climbers, Ian Leslie and Bob Agazzi, who were on the mountain at the time of the accident, provides a few previously unknown details about the event (see below). The concluding paragraph shows a matrix that identifies the main potential causes of mountaineering accidents."
Fine Print: © 2005.
Please note that all material on this page is copyrighted, either by individual authors, or by publishers, as indicated in the text. No part of this online document, including photos, can be reproduced without written permission(s) from the copyright owner(s). Harv Galic

Read Harv Galic's story of an earlier mountaineering accident at the web page below:

Lonely Grave in the Sierra
by H. Galic
"There is a lonely grave in the Sierra. It is in a high valley, rarely visited, and far away from popular hiking trails. The few climbers who reach that place on their way to Banner Peak or Mount Ritter usually just pass by, hurrying towards the glacier that will lead them to their destination. Many don't realize that midway up the valley, and within steps of a perennial spring, there is a stone cairn with a bronze plaque, a forgotten memorial to two climbers who died on Banner Peak in the summer of 1934, more than seventy years

Read also here, the detailed official Accident Report of the Mt. Ritter 1971 tragedy that we describe above and below.



Mt. Ritter on the left and slightly lower (yes) Banner Peak on the right

Webmeister's Note:
This tragedy, occurring on a scheduled Sierra Club climb in the Sierras, was the central presentation of the final guest lecture of the Basic Mountaineering Training Course (BMTC) conducted each year by the Sierra Club's Los Angeles Chapter. BMTC, a 30 hour indoor and four weekend long outdoor program trained up to 1,000 Club Members per year, with a cadre of up to 250 volunteer leaders and assistants. The Leaders and Assistants for 20 Groups in five geographical areas of Southern California, were tested and qualified at up to four levels of technical expertise and responsibility in a separate Leader Training Course. I was the responsible Mountaineering Committee Chairman for three years in the mid- 1980s.

The final lecture, with permission of the next of kin, included a slide presentation of images from the frozen camera of one of the deceased  climbers. The slides showed seemingly well equipped and competent climbers cheerfully on the way to a spring Sierra summit. Soon the photographs focus on incoming clouds. The climbers continued slowly on, belaying one at a time up the steep snow and rock with a single rope. They were inadequately equipped with extra clothing insulation layers and they gradually became hypothermic. Too late, they decided to abort the climb. They chose the "wrong" chute to return down the mountain, a classic error near a summit. They did not have snow shovels to "dig a snow cave" or the strength to climb back up to find a climbable way down out of the wind and storm. The final 35mm slides were from the cameras of the rescuers and showed the bodies of the young men strewn down the chute and partially covered by spindrift.

BMTC Lecturers attributed the tragedy to inadequate clothing and the failure of not having carried two ropes which caused very slow climbing and standing in place as shown in the slides and secondly, the decision failure not to abort the climb as the weather deteriorated and hypothermia took hold of individual climbers.

I personally organized and led this climb in the early summer for the Sierra Club with a group of twelve BMTC graduates and two BMTC Assistant Leaders. We did not find our ropes necessary. One person elected to stop below the summit and two of the Leaders escorted him down; the rest of us summited. One climber dislodged a talus block on the summit and sure enough, sprained his ankle. We strapped his ankle with athletic tape we all carried, in the stirrup configuration, and he was able to glissade the consolidated snow and walk a bit, back to camp at Lake Ediza. With more tape and TLC and without a backpack, he was able to hike the trail out to the cars.
--Webmeister Speik



Mountain climbing has inherent dangers that can in part, be mitigated





Read more . . .
Mono County Sheriff's Search and Rescue

Lonely Grave in the Sierras by Harv Galic

Sierra club, Angeles Chapter
American Alpine Club
Oregon Section of the AAC
Accidents in North American Mountaineering

Climbers swept by avalanche while descending North Sister's Thayer Glacier Snowfield
Mt. Whitney's East Face Route is quicker!
Mt. Whitney's Mountaineer's Route requires skill and experience
Report: R.J. Secor seriously injured during a runaway glissade    
Mount Rainer . . . eventually, with R.J. Secor by Tracy Sutkin
Warning!! ** Belayer drops climber off the end of the top rope ** WARNING!!
Runaway glissade fatal for Mazama climber on Mt. Whitney
Sierra Club climb on Middle Palisade fatal for Brian Reynolds
Smith Rock - Fall on rock, protection pulled out
Mount Washington - Report to the American Alpine Club on a second accident in 2004
Mount Hood - Solo hiker drowns while crossing Mt. Hood's Sandy River
Mount Hood - Solo climber slides into the Bergschrund and is found the following day
Notable mountain climbing accidents analyzed 
Mount Washington - Report to the American Alpine Club on the recent fatal accident
Mount Washington - "Oregon tragedy claims two lives"
Mount Jefferson - two climbers rescued by military helicopter
North Sister - climbing with Allan Throop

Mount Hood - climbing accident claims three lives -Final Report and our Analysis 
Notable mountain climbing accidents Analyzed 
Mount Hood - Solo hiker drowns while crossing Mt. Hood's Sandy River
Mount Hood - Solo climber slides into the Bergschrund and is found the following day
Mount Hood - The Episcopal School Tragedy
Mount Hood - experienced climbers rescued from snow cave
Mount Hood - a personal description of the south side route
Mount Hood - fatal avalanche described by Climbing Ranger
Mount Hood - avalanche proves fatal for members of Mazamas climbing group
Mount Hood - snowboard rider dies on Cooper Spur
Mount Hood - fatal fall on snow, Cooper Spur Route
Mount Hood - fatal fall on snow from the summit
Mount Hood - climb shows the need for knowledge
Mount Hood - climb ends in tragedy
Mount Hood - rescue facilitated by use of a VHF radio

Climbers swept by avalanche while descending North Sister's Thayer Glacier Snowfield
North Sister - climbing with Allan Throop
North Sister - accident report to the American Alpine Club
North Sister fatal accident news reports
North Sister and Middle Sister spring summits on telemark skis
North Sister, North Ridge by Sam Carpenter
North Sister, the Martina Testa Story, by Bob Speik
North Sister, SE Ridge solo by Sam Carpenter

Warning!! ** Belayer drops climber off the end of the top rope ** WARNING!!
Smith Rock - Fall on rock, protection pulled out
Smith Rock - WARNING - belayer drops climber off the end of the top rope
Smith Rock - inadequate top rope belay
Smith Rock - climber injured on the approach
Smith Rock - WARNING - belayer drops climber off the end of the top rope
Smith Rock - belay error - novice sport climber injured
Smith Rock - fall on rock, protection pulled out
Smith Rock - fall on rock - poor position, inadequate protection
Smith Rock - pulled rock off - fall on rock, failure to test holds, exceeding abilities
Smith Rock - belay error - fatal fall on rock

Mount Washington - Report to the American Alpine Club on a second accident in 2004
Mount Washington - Report to the American Alpine Club on the recent fatal accident
Mount Washington - Oregon tragedy claims two lives
Injured climber rescued from Mount Washington
Mount Washington - fall on rock, protection pulled out
Playing Icarus on Mount Washington, an epic by Eric Seyler

Report: R.J. Secor seriously injured during a runaway glissade
Mount Rainer . . . eventually, with R.J. Secor by Tracy Sutkin
Mt. Whitney's East Face Route is quicker!
Mt. Whitney's Mountaineer's Route requires skill and experience
Sierra Club climb on Middle Palisade fatal for Brian Reynolds
Runaway glissade fatal for Mazama climber on Mt. Whitney
Slip on hard snow on Snow Creek route on San Jacinto
Notable mountain climbing accidents analyzed
California fourteener provides an experience
The Mountaineers Club effects a rescue in the North Cascades