Safety Highlight – Glissade Rescue
Lessons from Mountaineer Incidents
Seattle Climbing and Seattle Safety committees are experimenting with raising awareness of safety issues that can arise on climbs, scrambles, backcountry skiing, and other Mountaineer activities. These incidents will soon be available on the Safety Committee’s web page.
There have been a number of recent incidents involving falling/sliding on snow. Fortunately, injuries were few and minor. This incident (from 2011) illustrates the potential danger of glissading, and the impressive response by a Mountaineer Basic Climbing team in the area.
Identifying information has been removed or disguised.
-- Dave Shema, Seattle Branch Safety Officer
Eldorado Peak/Inspiration Glacier
Event date: July 23, 2011
Category: Logistics – Helping another party
Fall – Fall on snow
The accident did not involve any of our party, but we effected the rescue.
Joshua (23 y/o) completed a solo climb of Eldorado in North Cascades National Park the morning of July 24, 2011. Our group of 12 from the Seattle Mountaineers had met him on the summit, and saw him walk by in the snow as we were breaking camp. Shortly thereafter he was glissading when he went into a hole made by a stream flowing beneath the snow. Two nearby hikers saw him fall in; that was probably what saved Joshua. They called to our group who were just above, and we came to help. Joshua managed to climb out by himself despite his injuries. He had pain in his ribs and hip but the immediate problem was that he was severely hypothermic, so cold he could barely speak and was shivering uncontrollably. Members of our group got him out of his wet clothes (jeans!) and into two nested sleeping bags with a space blanket over and insulating pad under him. They then got a camp stove and made a hot drink with lots of sugar to warm him. At that point he was able to speak sufficiently to describe his injuries and give us his name. Using the first aid training that is part of our climbing course, they also gave him an examination to assess his injuries. Joshua was a model patient, lucid and cooperative.
We had no way of knowing what internal injuries Joshua might have. Thinking he might need to be flown out, we sent two strong, fast party members out to initiate the rescue. Within a half hour, however, Joshua felt he might be able to walk out with assistance. The descent involved some difficult terrain - 2,000' of talus followed by another 1500' of steep trail. Joshua was in pain but did seem to be improving and made steady progress. Members of our party took his pack and equipment so at least he had no pack to carry, and we gave him poles for balance.
Part way down, we encountered an Alpine Ascents guided party. One of the members was a nurse and the leader had a satellite phone. The nurse did an examination and concurred that Joshua could probably continue unless he worsened. The guide phoned out and told Park officials to cancel the rescue our two were going to request. Near the road, we met a park ranger who was coming up to meet us. He agreed to convoy Joshua to the Park office, and then we said our farewells. Subsequently we heard form Joshua's parents in Hawaii that he went to a hospital in Sedro Woolley where x-rays showed that he had no fractures. Our main concern throughout was that he might have a fractured rib, which could be dangerous.
Joshua is a fine, strong and (excepting a bad glissading decision) sensible young man. Though our climb was in late July, the snow level was what one expects in June; i.e., well down into the trees and talus zone. Joshua does not have a lot of high altitude experience, and probably did not recognize the danger of continuing to glissade after reaching the level where the snow is retreating and moats are forming.
Our party of mostly Basic Course students performed an excellent rescue, recognizing and treating hypothermia, assessing injuries, giving TLC, and formulating a reasonable rescue plan in a calm and reasonable manner. It could not have been done better, I think. One student commented that it was just like a scenario in his recently completed first aid course. This speaks well of our training, and of course of the character of the people involved.