Forbidden Peak Incident - Summary Incident Report

In 2017, The Mountaineers community experienced the tragic loss of Sue Bennett when she fell while descending Forbidden Peak during a climb of the Mount Torment - Forbidden Peak traverse. The Mountaineers initiated a critical response process, including creating an incident review committee that compiled an incident report.
Bill Ashby Bill Ashby
Operations Director & Incident Review Team Member
June 18, 2018
Forbidden Peak Incident - Summary Incident Report
Photo of Forbidden Peak by Sarah Holt.

In July of last year, The Mountaineers community experienced the tragic loss of Sue Bennett, a cherished super volunteer and extraordinary leader of the Bellingham climbing community. As a result of the incident, which occurred on a Mountaineers trip, The Mountaineers initiated a critical response process including the formation of an incident review committee.

The goals of the incident review were to: (1) understand the immediate causes and other contributing factors that led to the incident, and (2) create an informative report The Mountaineers can use as a source for education and key lessons learned to share with our community.

The incident review committee spoke with the climbing party members, evaluated reports on the incident from North Cascades National Park, and documented findings and lessons learned in this summary incident report. Senior volunteer and staff leadership at The Mountaineers reviewed the report and authorized sharing it with our community. In the report, you’ll find specifics of the incident and an analysis of lessons learned.

The report focuses on risk factors associated with rappelling away from the natural fall line and the  increasing lateral forces which contribute to more challenging foot placements and larger, more-forceful-than-anticipated pendulums. The report also reinforces the importance of employing back-up risk management techniques during rappel, such as knots at the ends of the rope and  the use of a backup system like an autoblock.

The report highlights several opportunities for The Mountaineers to re-evaluate climbing curriculum, including emphasizing the increased risks of off-the-fall-line rappels and further reinforcing the importance of employing back-up systems while climbing.  

As Mountaineers, we are committed to learning from our experiences. We examine every incident that happens on a Mountaineers trip for opportunities to improve the ways we explore and teach. Sharing incidents creates an opportunity to analyze possible contributing factors and also identify larger incident trends. We present this review with the utmost respect for Sue, and we’re grateful to the other members of the climbing party for participating in this review. Our deepest sympathies go out to Sue’s family, the others who experienced the tragedy of this accident, and the Bellingham climbing community. We ask that readers engage critically and respectfully in the spirit of sharing and learning.