Jump to content
  • Announcements

    • olyclimber

      WELCOME TO THE CASCADECLIMBERS.COM FORUMS   02/03/18

      We have upgraded to new forum software as of late last year, and it makes everything here so much better!  It is now much easier to do pretty much anything, including write Trip Reports, sell gear, schedule climbing related events, and more. There is a new reputation system that allows for positive contributors to be recognized,  it is possible to tag content with identifiers, drag and drop in images, and it is much easier to embed multimedia content from Youtube, Vimeo, and more.  In all, the site is much more user friendly, bug free, and feature rich!   Whether you're a new user or a grizzled cascadeclimbers.com veteran, we think you'll love the new forums. Enjoy!
Sign in to follow this  
NEWSTIPS

North Cascades Climbing Accident

Recommended Posts

From Komo:

SEATTLE - We now know what triggered the rock fall that killed three climbers in the North Cascades.

 

One of three survivors says the climbers used a boulder as an anchor, but that boulder gave way.

 

Climb leader 61-year-old Jo Backus was hit by falling rock and badly injured and needed to be belayed down the mountain (anchored in) so she wouldn't fall.

 

Survivor Janel Fox told her family and boyfriend that the climbers set up a belay - using a boulder for an anchor. They were helping to move injured climber leader Jo Backus down a steep gulley.

 

But once weight was put on the rock anchor, it gave way. Survivor Janel Fox's boyfriend said Janel described the boulder as crumbling and crashing down. It released the anchor and the crumbled rocks headed straight for the climbers -- one boulder as big as a refrigerator.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Park service trying to learn more about fatal falls on Sharkfin Tower

 

BY RANDY TRICK, STAFF WRITER, Skagit Valley Herald,

 

The National Park Service is trying to learn more about what caused three people to die in a fall during a climb of Sharkfin Tower in the North Cascades National Park on Sunday.

 

Kelly Bush, the park's search and rescue coordinator and the ranger who managed the rescue and recovery operation, said it appears that the fall occurred as two climbers were rappelling while tied to a third, injured climber.

 

"Sharkfin is no more or no less dangerous than it was before," Bush said.

 

A six-person climbing group from The Mountaineers, an outdoor education organization based in Seattle, was ascending Sharkfin Tower when a rock came loose, striking Jo Backus in her face and hands. Backus, 61, of Tacoma, was one of two instructors on the climb. The group decided to abort their ascent and take Backus to safety.

 

But as four members of the group were attempting a rappel, the refrigerator-sized rock to which they were anchored let loose, sending the four 300 feet to the rocks below. Three people were rappeling and the fourth was at the anchor rock.

 

Backus and 34-year-old Mark Harrison, of Bellevue, the other instructor, died in the initial fall. John Augenstein, 41, of Seattle, lived through the fall, but succumbed to his injuries as dusk fell.

 

A fourth climber, Wayne McCourt, of Tacoma, was in satisfactory condition at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle this morning. He suffered a head injury but survived a night on the mountain.

 

Two climbers, Michael Hannam, an Olympia man in his late 20s, and Janel Fox of Seattle, were not injured. Hannam and Fox had safely made the rappel, going one at a time. Bush said the weight of three people may have been too much for the boulder. Jim Backus, Jo's husband, said that after 41 years of marriage, the pair had a special way of facing the dangers of mountain climbing, Jo's other love. ‘‘We'd say to each other, ‘Everybody dies sooner or later','' Jim Backus said Monday, ‘‘but if it's sooner, you'd better be doing something you really, really love.''

 

Backus and their three grown children, Dean, Sara and Emily, are now dealing with the reality of that philosophy following Jo's death Sunday in the North Cascades National Park. ‘‘I usually worried about broken legs and things like that, nothing like this,'' Jim Backus said. ‘‘But climbing was her love, her passion.''

 

Monday, when rangers and members of the park's search and rescue team returned to the Marblemount ranger station, the team held a quick debriefing. The meeting focused mainly on how the rescue and recovery were carried out.

 

Tuesday, Bush and fellow rangers sorted through all the gear delivered from the mountain, setting aside the rangers' gear and looking for clues in the gear from the climbing group.

 

Today and during the rest of the week, Bush and the other rangers that participated in the rescue will talk more about what may have caused the accident. The rangers will also have the chance to debrief about how responding to a fatal accident has affected them.

 

Bush said her staff of rescue rangers includes employees who are peer counselors, and are trained to help other employees deal with the stress and emotion that can follow a fatal accident.

 

Bush said she asked at the debriefing on Monday whether her rangers would like to have someone from the Skagit County Critical Incident Stress Debriefing program visit the park. The county program helps professional rescuers and members of law enforcement handle post-incident stress.

 

National Park Service search and rescue rangers have not been involved with a fatality recovery in the park since 2000, according to the park's annual climbing reports.

 

Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.

 

Randy Trick can be reached at 360-416-2145 or by e-mail at rtrick@skagitvalleyherald.com <mailto:rtrick@skagitvalleyherald.com> .

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Park service trying to learn more about fatal falls on Sharkfin Tower

 

BY RANDY TRICK, STAFF WRITER, Skagit Valley Herald,

 

...it appears that the fall occurred as two climbers were rappelling while tied to a third, injured climber.

 

But as four members of the group were attempting a rappel, the refrigerator-sized rock to which they were anchored let loose, sending the four 300 feet to the rocks below. Three people were rappeling and the fourth was at the anchor rock.

 

Hannam and Fox had safely made the rappel, going one at a time. Bush said the weight of three people may have been too much for the boulder.

 

confused.gif

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I got an email from John Augenstein's niece looking for pictures, if you have any send me a PM and I'll give you her email address.

 

-------------------

 

Hi Guys-

I’m John Augenstein’s niece and I was wondering if anyone had pictures of

John they would be willing to either copy and mail or email to me. If you

do, we would really appreciate it since we don’t have too many pictures of

John other than at family gatherings and holidays. We’ll pay for shipping

and such if you have actual photos we can have. Just shoot me an email and

we can make arrangements.

 

Thanks to everyone who sent out warm wishes to us. We know that climbing

was John’s passion and joy and that you guys were like family to him. My

condolences to his friends and fellow climbers.

 

--Rachel Augenstein

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This is the press release prepared for the McCourt family for the media etc...:

 

As a result of the climbing accident in the North Cascade National Park, Wayne McCourt, Tacoma Mountaineer, has suffered a serious head injury and is in satisfactory conditions at Harborview Medical Center. Though not fully alert, he continues to make progress in his recovery. We wanted to offer our condolences to the families of climbers who died and let them know that our thoughts and support are with them during their time of grief. They also wanted to thank fellow climbers, Seattle/Tacoma Mountaineers Club, the Park Rangers, Alpine Ascents International, Airlift Northwest, and American Medical Response. Because of their heroic efforts we feel Wayne is alive today. Thanks also for honoring our request to decline interviews. Our focus is on Wayne's recovery, and well wishes can send notes of encourage to Wayne by visiting Harborview's website at www.harborview.org <http://www.harborview.org> . Just complete the e-mail a patient form.

 

Thanks,

Melinda McCourt and Family

 

This message is from Wayne's wife & Family on his condition as of 9:00 am 7/14/05:

 

Wayne's current condition is officially satisfactory and improving. He will not require any surgery at this time. Wayne is answering some basic questions, and following simple commands. The swelling in his head they believe has improved. Wayne has been asking where he is at, and they are going to see if he can eat today. Wayne is able to move all his extremities (arms and legs). They are hoping by this Friday to establish a plan for rehabilitation although it might be early. At this time the doctors have suggest his visiting to be kept to a minimum because they do not want over stimulate his brain.

 

Melinda and Family want to thank everyone for their thoughts and support since the accident.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

this weighs heavily on me. every year since i began climbing, an accident in the alpine has befallen somebody i know, or know off, heck - even on my own climbs. it's a disturbing one degree of separation. the anticipated trend worries me.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

While there is always an element of risk, this incident seems somewhat out of the norm in that those most at risk are generally either beginners or those pushing the limits. I guess a major lesson is that where it matters never let down your guard and question everything, and encourage those with you to do the same. Maybe they felt pressured for time or lost some critical focus due to Jo's injury - just speculation, but one can imagine this possibility.

 

I had a friend loss his life to an anchor, a very large boulder, that had been used regularly at a climbing area in Montana.

 

Condolences to all affected by this tragic incident.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This doesn't sound too preventable, other than not going climbing. Using boulders as anchors is an accepted practice. Complacency is one thing, but I think it was just poor luck for three experienced leaders with the Mounties. A refrigerator sized boulder is one big-ass chunk of rock... maybe 6,000 pounds?

Just off the top of my head, the last single rap from the beloved Tooth is a slung boulder. The N face of Concorde has a bolted rap station attached to a frickin large boulder resting on a ledge, and assuming this is the same Gary, we rapped off a slung boulder on Sherpa.

 

Ditto the condolences to the friends and family of the deceased. It's depressing to hear about someone getting killed climbing and yet that danger is what lures us.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I don't care if this has been said before. i'll say it again if it has

 

 

ALWAYS BACK UP YOUR ANCHOR!!!!!!!!!!!!

ALWAYS HAVE FATTY RAP FIRST!!!!!!!!!!!!!

NEVER CLIP INTO THE RAP ANCHOR!!!!!!!!!

 

then skinny can clip into the anchor, and clean the backup after the fatso has rapped.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

You need to clip into some anchor in many situations, even if it isn't the rap anchor. It may be a temporary one.

 

In this case, what might have prevented the tragedy would have been to have a separate belay from a separate anchor with a separate rope. There were three ropes in the party and it would have been possible to do a double rope rappel and still have a belay.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
This doesn't sound too preventable, other than not going climbing.

 

(snip)

 

It's depressing to hear about someone getting killed climbing and yet that danger is what lures us.

 

I must disagree with the first part, and really appreciate the insight of the second part.

 

It's hard to assess from the reports that this was not preventable. There may have been many options to back up the anchor, or other anchor options, any of which would have made it preventable. We don't have enough info to know.

 

It may make us feel better to chalk it up to bad luck and say that it was not preventable, but I think that does a disservice to the potential learning that can come from such terrible accidents. Reading Accident in NA Mtneering is a good tool for analyzing incidents and recognizing ways in which many accidents are preventable.

 

I greatly appreciate the insight of the second point, which is that the dangers and risks associated with climbing are part of what makes it such a rewarding, alluring human experience.

 

Again, I am sad for the deceased, and especially for their families and friends.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I attended the memorial gathering at the Seattle Mountaineers clubhouse this evening. I went to pay my respects, even though I didn't know any of the victims. But when I looked at the pictures I realized that I had met Mark Harrison last winter at a Mountaineer ski leader clinic. He impressed me, and the evening suddenly became more personal for me.

 

I won't speculate on whether the accident was preventable or not. I tend to think every accident is preventable on some level. The best we can do is try to learn from them.

 

What hits me hardest about this accident is that Mark Harrison and John Augenstein died not in the course of a routine descent, but while helping an injured companion (Jo Backus) who also tragically perished. So this wasn't just a case of three people who died "doing what they loved" (an expression I've never liked). It was a case of three people who died helping each other get home. The accident would not have happened if they hadn't been working together to help her. It's inspiring and heart breaking at the same time.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Park service trying to learn more about fatal falls on Sharkfin Tower

 

BY RANDY TRICK, STAFF WRITER, Skagit Valley Herald,

 

Three people were rappeling and the fourth was at the anchor rock...Bush said the weight of three people may have been too much for the boulder.

 

confused.gif

 

Why/how were three people rappelling at once with a fourth anchored to the rap station?

 

Granted this is a newspaper story, and seeing as how I write newspaper articles, I distrust anything I read in a newspaper.

 

But this one detail made me curious.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Cross posted from the Mounties website and the NPS report

North Cascades National Park (WA)

Three Climbers Die in Fall Near Sharkfin Tower

 

At approximately 4:00 pm on Sunday, July 10th, a party of six climbers attempting Sharkfin Tower in North Cascades National Park suffered a mountaineering accident resulting in the deaths of three members of the group. A fourth climber received severe head injuries. The group was on a trip organized by the Tacoma, Washington, branch of the Mountaineers, a climbing and hiking club based in Seattle. Sharkfin Tower is above Boston Basin along the ridge between Forbidden and Boston Peaks east of the town of Marblemount. While the party was negotiating the gullies below the granitic cliffs of Sharkfin Tower and above Quien Sabe Glacier, a rock struck the group leader. Due to this minor injury, combined with deteriorating weather, the group decided to abandon the climb and began descending. At the top of a snow- and rock-filled gully they had earlier ascended on the approach, a rappel was rigged and two members of the party successfully descended one rope length and began constructing a second rappel station. Two people in the upper party began a simul-rappel with the injured member with them. Preliminary accounts indicate that the large boulder used as the rappel anchor, to which the fourth member was also tied, broke loose, sending all four and the boulder down the gully. Two of the climbers died at that time and a third some time later. The two climbers in mid-gully miraculously avoided injury, despite one falling 20 feet into a moat. They descended safely to the gully bottom, and one began descending the glacier alone for help. Another climbing group nearby, affiliated with Alpine Ascents International, a commercial permittee in the park, was met on the way, and, using a cell phone, made a call which led to the park being contacted. A team of park rangers led by Craig Brouwer and including Alex Brun, Joe Cook and park volunteer/paramedic Brett Bergeron ascended to the accident scene for six-and-a-half hours during the night, arriving just before dawn. They were supported by a team of rangers who carried additional gear to the base of the glacier in the event of a carryout. At daybreak, the rain had stopped and the cloud cover lifted enough to allow an Airlift Northwest medical helicopter to land near the accident scene and transport the injured climber directly to Harborview Hospital in Seattle. HiLine Helicopters, operating under contract with the park, then brought out the remaining two climbers, uninjured but now nearing hypothermic condition. Rangers Kelly Bush and Kevork Arackellian then joined the rangers on scene investigating the accident site and recovering the deceased climbers.The recovery operation and transfer to the Skagit County coroner were completed around noon. Media attention was extensive from Sunday night through Monday. The climbers who died in the accident, all of whom were Washington State residents, were group leader Johanna Backus of Tacoma, Mark Harrison of Bellevue, and John Augenstein of Seattle. The injured climber is Wayne McCourt of Tacoma, and the two climbers who were not injured are Michael Hannam of Olympia and Janel Fox of Seattle. NPS incident commander for the incident was Kelly Bush. [submitted by Kelly Bush, Wilderness District Ranger, and Tim Manns, Chief Interpreter]

 

So it appears that 2 people were simul-rappelling and assisting the initially injured person who was suspended between them, with a 4th person tied into the rap anchor, and the combined weight was too great for the anchor.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks to all who attended the memorial last night. There was a large crowd of several hundred, including family members, friends, co-workers, climbing partners, and others in the Mountaineers community. Several spoke in appreciation of the show of support. thumbs_up.gif

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

In this case, what might have prevented the tragedy would have been to have a separate belay from a separate anchor with a separate rope. There were three ropes in the party and it would have been possible to do a double rope rappel and still have a belay.

It seems to me that a separate belay wouldn't have been any help once that rap anchor rock cut loose! It would still have taken out the rappellers and either broke the belay rope or pulled the belayer down along with them.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

In this case, what might have prevented the tragedy would have been to have a separate belay from a separate anchor with a separate rope. There were three ropes in the party and it would have been possible to do a double rope rappel and still have a belay.

It seems to me that a separate belay wouldn't have been any help once that rap anchor rock cut loose! It would still have taken out the rappellers and either broke the belay rope or pulled the belayer down along with them.

That very well may have been the case here, but it doesn't invalidate the practice, which is a common rescue technique.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Why/how were three people rappelling at once with a fourth anchored to the rap station?

 

This one got me too. I was thinking that they were doing a spider rappel, to help the injured down. But, usually, that would only put 2 people on rappel at the same time.

 

With 4 people at the rap station, 2 spider raps could have gotten all 4 down to the next station.

 

Again, my condolences to friends and family.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It seems the lesson to learn here is the relative strength of freestanding boulders for rappel anchors, rather than the technique used to lower the patient. How many times have you lassoed a rock and rapped off it with a nonchalant "looks bomber to me" because you want to get out of there? I know I have a few times. Clearly it does pay to minimize the number of lives exposed to risk should it blow though. Very sad.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
It seems the lesson to learn here is the relative strength of freestanding boulders for rappel anchors, rather than the technique used to lower the patient. How many times have you lassoed a rock and rapped off it with a nonchalant "looks bomber to me" because you want to get out of there? I know I have a few times.

 

definitely. i've rapped off stuff that is far sketchier than a refrigerator sized boulder. while it's possible this accident may have been avoided, it's certainly a long way from being the stupidest thing done in the mountains.

 

perhaps the discussion of "could this have been avoided" could be moved to the rockfall thread or it's own thread? we could leave this one as a place to share memories and offer condolences to the friends and family of these folks.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

Sign in to follow this  

×