West McMillan Spire - Slipped, Slid, Bounced, Finally Arrested

He slid down the snowfield, on his right side, for about 200 ft and hit a talus field/boulder area and slid right over the rocks/boulder on his right side. Shortly after sliding over the boulder he was able to self arrest.
David Shema David Shema
Safety Committee Member
February 13, 2020
West McMillan Spire - Slipped, Slid, Bounced, Finally Arrested

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. Our volunteer safety committee reviews every incident report and picks a few each month to share as examples of ‘Lessons Learned’. The trip report below describes what happened on this trip, in the leader’s own words, and outlines the lessons the leader has identified. In some cases, we offer additional key learnings from the incident.

Sharing incidents creates an opportunity to analyze specific incidents and also identify larger incident trends. We appreciate every volunteer trip leader who takes the time to share their incidents and near-misses so that others can benefit. We ask that readers engage critically and respectfully in the spirit of sharing and learning.

West McMillan Spire (WMS) - 30 July



We summited WMS around 9:30am. The climb down was on class 3 rock and then onto a snowfield that was between 45 and 55 degrees steep. 

On the way up the snow was firm and then on our way down the snow was softer with a few firmer sections. We all had crampons, ice axes, and helmets on. We slowly traversed back and forth down the snow finger. One climber slipped but quickly self-arrested so we all slowed down even more. 

Then another climber suddenly slipped and fell. He said his foot slipped and he lost his balance. He stated he was unable to grab the end of his ice axe to self-arrest. 

The climber quickly gained momentum and was struggling to turn over to self-arrest. He slid down the snowfield, on his right side, for about 200ft and hit a talus field/boulder area and slid right over the rocks/boulder on his right side. Shortly after sliding over the boulder, he was able to self-arrest.

He quickly stood up and said he was okay and then slowly moved off the snowfield and onto a boulder area 25ft away. This happened around 11am.

The rest of us decided to down climb facing into the snowfield for added safety. Another climb leader on the trip and I reached the injured climber first. His entire right side, arm, elbow, hip, and upper leg looked like road rash from falling off a bicycle. Mostly abrasions with one laceration about 1.5 inches in length located on his upper right thigh. The laceration wasn't deep.

We cleaned all the injured climber's wounds with water. Placed bandage on his hip area which was the place with the most abrasions. We placed 5 Steri-Strips on his laceration and covered it with a bandage to keep it clean.

The injured climber's right elbow was pretty swollen and had numerous abrasions on it. He was able to move his elbow in full range of motion without any difficulties or pain. Initially, he had a little numbness in his middle and ring fingers but that went away after about 15 minutes. He was able to make a fist with his right hand and move all his fingers without any problems. He had a couple of small contusions on his lower leg near his ankle that were swelling up.

We did a full body check for any additional injuries or bleeding with none found on chest, stomach, back, head, and face. He did not hit his head on the rocks and had no complaints of neck or back pain. No loss of consciousness.

We made it back to camp and the injured climber was doing great. He said he had very little pain and no difficulties walking. He was diligent on putting ice on his elbow and his ankle for the rest of the day and evening, that by the next morning the swelling was  minimal. No additional bruising nor increase in pain.

On Monday, we left camp at 5am to get back to the cars before the heat was unbearable. Our injured climber had no difficulties hiking out, despite the steep terrain. 

Once at the car, I checked all his injuries again to make sure there wasn't any changes. Took off his bandage over his laceration to make sure there was no signs of infection. Steri-Strips were still attached and his wound looked like it was starting the healing process. No signs of infection. 

I advised our injured climber to keep his wounds clean and seek medical help if he sees any signs of infection and/or any increase in pain or problems with his elbow, hip, or ankle. He stated he will see how he feels once at home, but at this time he said he feels like everything is okay and doesn't think he needs to see his doctor.

Lessons Learned


We all talked about the need to go slow and stay within our comfort zone. Myself and another climb leader led so that the others following would have an easier time staying in our tracks.

I think we all could have stressed the importance of making sure your footing is stable before taking the next step as well as a reminder to walk in balance and be sure your ice axe is secure in the snow before making the next step. 

I was in the lead, but could have kept more of an eye on everyone and see if they were having difficulties moving down in the snow. Best to have someone in the back that can also keep an eye on everyone and provide assistance if necessary. We all did switch from traversing to face in down climbing because it is much safer. We could have stressed the option of face in down climbing at the beginning.

This fall could have been a lot worst. Our injured climber could have easily broken his leg or arm when he hit the boulder area. 

It is a reminder to all of us on how important it is to have those self-arrest skills and the need to be quick at self-arresting before you pick up so much momentum. Good to practice that skill often. 


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