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Ice Climbing

September 7, 2019

Coordinator: Mark Barnard

Accident Report

September 7, 2019

Mark Barnard

On September 7th 2019 I lead a group of students and members up Mt.Hood to the White River Glacier for an Ice Climbing course. During this outing an accident occurred in which I was the primary witness. The following report will describe to the best of my recollection what happened.

The group was lead to an area on the south face of Mt Hood on the White River glacier at approximately 9000 feet. Leaving the climbers trail we walked out onto the glacier. Everyone put on their helmets, harnesses and crampons. I lead them to a large opening in the glacier where there was a long ice wall that had a fairly shallow angle and wasn’t too high. It was a good place to begin the instructional portion of the day by setting up two anchors from which the participants could learn different methods for building anchors and the gear used in doing so. I had brought 3 ropes, two pickets, six ice screws and several slings and webbing to use in building the anchors. I also brought three sets of technical axes.

I set about building two anchors using pickets, ice screws and alpine ice axes as well as slings and webbing. The students were shown where to place the anchors to facilitate their being able to see the person being belayed and to be backed up on an anchor for their protection. They then took turns belaying one another down and up the routes and practicing using two tools to climb.

After watching and giving instructions, I then took a fellow club member who had been on a handful of ice climbing outings with me, and together we climbed higher up the ridge in search of additional places to set anchors, so the students could climb steeper and longer routes. When we got to what looked like a good site I realized we had used most all of the gear to make the previous anchors. All that was available was a short ice axe one of the students wasn’t using and some sling material. I wanted to find a new site for a climb station but needed to have someone climb down the wall at that location to determine if it was a suitable route for learning. Dozens of times in the past, I have used a single ice axe to make a dead man anchor. I have seen 6 people pull on a dead man and not be able to dislodge it. For expedience, so students wouldn’t have to stand inactive and be bored, I believed we could make a simple anchor to allow one of us to make a quick, one time, down and up climb to survey the site.

I dug a slot and tethered the sling to the axe and buried it in the snow. I checked it by tugging firmly on the sling but wasn’t confident it was solid. I retrieved the axe and made the slot deeper, then placed the axe in the slot and packed it down. This time if felt strong. I had my friend tie into the rope and then ran the rope through my belay device and belayed him off of the dead man. I did not have another piece of gear to back myself up. I believed for just one trip down and up the anchor would hold. I lowered him down to where he was almost to the bottom when the anchor failed. He was able to easily jump down to the base of the wall. I however, was pulled headfirst tumbling down the wall and landed on the snow at the bottom of the crevasse.

One of the students who had been close by saw me fall and rushed up and called down to see if we were injured. My friend was fine. I was not sure if I had been injured but was able to stand up on my own in a couple minutes. I was quite pleased that several of the students that had taken the Crevasse Rescue course just a month before were able to set up an anchor and lowered a rope to us in just a few minutes. We both climbed out under our own power. I told the group I was okay and to continue their activities. I built one last anchor and had each student climb and belay at this site, including one of the students that had not felt secure enough to climb before. Except for my fall, the day was a success.

The cause of the accident was easy to determine. I thought that we could build a simple dead man to allow us to make one trip down and back up to scout out the route. As mentioned above, in the past I have used a single dead man with 100% success. It was not my intention to have any of the students climb off of that anchor. The plan was to have them build a new anchor with gear from the previous anchors. Additionally, I did not have a back up for myself. In retrospect, obviously, it would have been better to wait until I had sufficient gear to build an anchor like the previous ones. I believe the condition of the snow, being fairly icy and the smaller sized axe together were simply not strong enough hold a fall.

I would encourage all who read this report to be diligent, don’t make compromises with safety, even if you have a high level of confidence that something will work. Back up your anchors and make them as strong and redundant as possible.

On a personal note, I was very grateful it was me that was in the accident and not one of the students. I would rather fall a hundred times and be injured each time than have one of the student be injured.

Mark Barnard


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