Accident Analysis Archive -October, 1998
Mt Shuksan, WA - Fall on 4th Class Rock, Personal Account
There are always a number of accidents which could be commented on.
Unfortunately I have a first hand account this time. It is a fall taken
by a partner on the descent of Mt. Shuksan via the infamous Fisher Chimneys
route. It was a simple slip on relatively easy but very exposed fourth
class terrain. This simple slip had big consequences. The good news
is that he not only survived the fall but is on his way to a recovery
which should be essentially full in the end.
We were climbing as partners and were traveling unroped on fourth
class terrain at the time of the fall. Neither of us was uncomfortable
with this. He fell while downclimbing a short slab along the mountaineers
path. At the bottom of the slab the fall-line turns down one of the
chimneys towards the Lower Curtis glacier far below. He fell down this
about 100 ft before coming to a stop on a small ledge - the last one
for a while. Few people who have fallen have been fortunate enough to
stop here, and my friend is very lucky to be alive today. There were
various trauma injuries but no loss of consciousness and nothing immediately
life-threatening. Only very painful.
Remember that many accidents happen on descent. I consider fatigue
and haste to be possible contributing factors here, especially haste.
He was in a hurry and felt that we were done with the hard climbing
and on the hike out. For this same reason he had just taken his helmet
off, an action he is lucky not to have paid a steep price for. (However,
a fall could have happened here even with more caution. Numerous falls have occurred
here, most or all of them fatal. It is a treacherous spot.)
Be prepared to respond to an accident. Getting to my partner involved
a rappel. The I had to create an anchor for myself, him, and ultimately two rescuers. It was too late for a helicopter to come in until morning,
so we were there for the night. On a route such as the Fisher Chimneys
it is possible to travel without some of the gear which was necessary.
We had some items from ascending the N Face (such as a few pitons)
and some that he or I (or both) carry for emergencies (such as an insulating
Don't risk anyone else. I was in a hurry to get to my partner and
debated downclimbing the same slab. Setting up a rappel was much safer,
especially since there was another 100' of chimney to descend after
the initial slab. It may be unsafe to get to the location at all, and
this may have been the case had he continued down the chimney beyond
the ledge he landed on.
Get some wilderness first aid training. On one hand it was painfully
obvious that I couldn't do too much for him. However, had certain
injuries occurred my training could have made a difference. I was
also able to do a secondary survey (correctly identifying and reporting essentially
all injuries) and monitor vital signs through the night. While my ability to help was limited my partner felt that my training was
Consider carrying a cell phone (or other means of communication). His cell phone made a great difference
in the rescue response time.
Don't call for help until the scene and the injuries have been
assessed. My partner was on the phone by the time I was able to reach
him, with the county sheriff dispatch. The dispatcher kept him on
the line too long, using up battery life. The information passed on
was very inadequate. Call once the scene is under control and the
location and injuries have been assessed and even then speak to the
deputy who will oversee the rescue response. Or better yet, the mountain
rescue crew responding. By the time we did this the batteries were
Finally, accept that this can happen. While we work hard to manage
our safety we still accept certain risks in mountaineering. Getting
"bitten" by this risk may mean a painful night on a ledge, or it may
mean worse. Choose your activities and objectives in accordance with
the risk and your level of risk acceptance.
Those are some of my conclusions from this firsthand experience. We
can always look for improvements and lessons, but fortunately everything
went almost as well as it could. The weather was good. Bellingham Mountain
Rescue and the Park Service responded in an effective and professional
manner and between us we were able to get the patient packaged and short-hauled
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