I am just concluding my reading of a book that primarily talks about and analyzes why accidents happen to people in the outdoors. So many times we create our own survival situations by the actions we choose to take, the tragedy is that most of the time, we realize the danger we put ourselves into, and go ahead anyway.
One of the stories that is detailed in the book is about a bunch of climbers, mostly well experienced, who make an ascent of Mt Hood in Northern Oregon. The route is not difficult and not particularly dangerous, it is very common and well used. The group makes it to the top and is on the way down. They are all roped together, for safety, with the most experienced climber at the high point on the rope, bringing up the rear and belaying the others, before starting down himself.
As they descend an icefield the top guy pulls his ice ax that was fixing the rope at the top, and starts going down, he slips and falls. Quickly he picks up speed and is unable to self arrest.
Now the theory to roping up is if one guy falls, the others can save him; or if one guy slips into a crevasse the others can stop his fall and bring him back. Sounds like a good idea and a great safety measure.
In this instance several people lose their lives and others are injured, some severely. How could this happen? There is a rule, the top guy belays the others, he should be fixed, if he is not, then the second part of the rule, “the top guy cannot fall.”
As Jim fell he began accelerating rapidly on the ice, he was 40 feet apart from the next guy, that means he will fall 8 stories or 80 feet before the next guy can stop him. By this time due to his weight and speed, there was a tremendous amount of energy to deal with. Well the next guy had no chance of stopping him and was injured trying, now 2 guys are careening down the icy slope. In the end no one could stop this group of climbers who were roped together, all sliding quickly down the mountainside, “clotheslining” all other climbing parties below. They all went into a crevasse and were slammed at high speed into its icy wall and each other, breaking bones and tearing ligaments, and worse, killing some.
One experienced climber and rescuer made this statement about people roped together, “A rope without fixed protection is a suicide pact.”
Really the point of this blog, is that we need to think, just because we are doing one thing safely does not mean that there are not other dangers. We must train ourselves to be aware, don’t underestimate threats and danger. When dealing with nature don’t discount the forces of energy, how powerful they can be, and how destructive. This whole accident, the death and injuries was only about 5 seconds, start to end.
The reason I bring this up was the news I got yesterday of the same scenario taking place with experienced climbers on Mt Rainier. Lee Adams a very experienced climber was swept to his death.
Sometimes familiarity breeds accidents as we let our guard down. Experienced climbers are said to be those who have repeatedly cheated death.
Use caution and common sense to avoid creating for ourselves deadly situations.
Until next time – Simplifying Survival, this is Perry Peacock