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Climbing accident on Mount Washington has good outcome

JWS(40) and I, BC(42) attempted the West Face route on Mt. Washington on August 21. It is rated a 5.6 in Jeff Thomas', Oregon High. We are average climbers, 5.6/5.7 trad and 5.9 sport. We have done several multi-pitch routes - alpine and in climbing areas.

We climbed Washington a few weeks before (standard route) led by my wife so we could walk around the other side to scope out the route. We then attempted it two weeks later. It started raining lightly while we gained the ridge. While it was probably dry enough to climb we turned around thinking we needed/wanted perfect conditions to climb this route.

Our next attempt was the following weekend. We left the van at 4:30 a.m. Started climbing at 9:00 a.m. JWS led the first pitch over fractured blocks and set-up a bomber belay where we saw other slings and an old pin. I followed and started out on the second pitch. I went up and around a small corner. The rock seemed incredibly loose. Even more loose than the SE Spur that we climbed the year before.

I put in three pieces (cams). My last piece (#1 Camelot) was in a horizontal crack/flake. I climbed about 7 or 8 feet above it. The rock seemed even worse here. I was pulling over a slight bulge when the rock I committed to came off in my left hand. I fell approximately 7 or 8 feet striking my left foot on the small ledge where my last piece was located. I think, I then flipped backwards and fell another 7 or 8 feet before JWS caught the fall. This was at 10:15 a.m. (note: after talking with someone who has climbed this route twice, I may have been off route)

At that point, I was probably only 10-15 feet above her but out of sight. JWS then lowered me slowly while I used my right foot and left knee to traverse down and over to her. As I got closer to her, she threw me two four-foot slings tied together so I was on two belays now (in case the piece that was holding my fall failed). From what I could tell, all three pieces held.

I reached JWS at 10:30 a.m.. She tied me in and I sat down on a block just slightly below her where I used my cell phone and called the two friends who knew where/what we were doing. I alerted DK of the situation who then promptly called the Sheriff's office. I untied, JWS pulled the rope and then retied in to my harness. JWS then slowly lowered me down while I used my right leg. At the steeper sections I sort of slid on my side/butt. After I reached the scree, JWS cleaned up the belay station and rapped down.

On the scree field, we stopped and made a plan. Fearing shock, I wanted to get in the sun so I laboriously slid on my butt/side/back down the scree toward the sun (it was still cool in the shade), while JWS retrieved the packs before joining me. At one point, a very helpful man, Walter Suttle from Salem, assisted us.

At around 2:00 p.m. in the afternoon after sliding down the scree for approximately several hundred feet, we did make contact with Deputy Greg Klein from the Linn County Sheriff’s Office, who was incredibly professional and helpful. We talked about a plan to extract us. At around 3:30 and with help from the Camp Sherman Hasty Team (thank you Camp Sherman SAR - you were fantastic), a Blackhawk helicopter from the 1042nd National Army Guard reeled me up in a basket. JWS was hauled up on the Jungle Penetrater. Jason Johnson and Chris Skidmore and their Guard crew who operated the Blackhawk were amazing - thank you.

I was treated in the Salem emergency room for a fractured talus (bone in the ankle). At the time of this writing, I am recuperating well.

1. Climb with someone in whom you have complete confidence. My wife was/is absolutely amazing.
2. Tell people where you are going and what you are doing (many thanks THDS and DK).
3. While I have mixed feelings about the use of cell phones in a wilderness area, in this case it was extremely helpful. We'll never rely on a cell phone but having one that works can make a big difference in how long it takes to get out and the severity of your injury.
4. A wilderness first aid class and training with the Obsidians helped us tremendously in terms of making a plan to help ourselves as much as possible.
5. Appreciate and thank your local SAR groups. Without them, extracting ourselves would have been very difficult.
6. The Salem hospital could not have been more professional or helpful. They were very impressive.

Analysis of Accident: What knowledge and techniques will help prevent future accidents?
Many accidents are really incidents that are caused by the participants ill advised actions or failures to act. In this case, a selected rock came loose and the lead climber fell, striking a small ledge with his foot. Everything worked mechanically as was intended. The belayer caught the fifteen foot leader fall, recovered and stabilized the injured lead climber and they determined together that a rescue was medically necessary. An emergency cell phone call was made to responsible friends who coordinated with the local County Sheriff’s Volunteer Search and Rescue Unit. The two climbers self rescued off the face and across a scree field. A passer-by supported the climbers. SAR arrived in about three and a half hours and soon determined that a National Guard helicopter extraction was best. BC is recovering well from a very painful injury.

Additional Comments
We are fortunate to have the personal description of this informative accident.

Report filed by Robert Speik for the 58th edition of ANAM, year 2005
Copyright© 2004 by Robert Speik. All Rights Reserved

Mount Washington, from Highway 20 to the east of the peak.





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