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North Cascades Climbing Accident


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Sorry if it's a duplicate...


Dan Lauren has sent this to 2005 Climb Leaders, Intermediate Students & Basic Students.


The North Cascades National Park has published the preliminary accident report, it can be found at this link, select July 14 in the Recent Editions box.


http://data2.itc.nps.gov/morningreport/morningreportold.cfm <http://data2.itc.nps.gov/morningreport/morningreportold.cfm>


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]



The memorial service Thursday night at the Seattle Clubhouse was very moving. Almost 3 hours was spent with an open mike as folks got up and described their friendships and experiences with the deceased climbers. Both Janele Fox and Michael Hannam showed extraordinary courage by speaking, there were not many dry eyes in the crowd. I was particularly moved by Janel's description of Jo's enthusiasm while on the approach and climb, and her description of Mark's tender care of her after the first rockfall.

Dan Lauren

Climbing Chair

Tacoma Mountaineers

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yeah, i should'a given that statement with some background. i meant those things when you're setting up a rap in the mountains, not bolted rap stations.


i also should have said that this whole incident made me very very sad and i wish i had known those folks in life.

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This is being forwarded for JOHN MCCAFFERTY <jhmccafferty@msn.com>

Wayne McCourt's wife Melinda called this morning to provide an update on Wayne’s condition.


I'm very happy to report he is really improving faster than the doctors expected.

He is able to walk with a little assistance and eat without any problems. The doctors expect he will be cleared to be moved to an in-patient rehab facility on Monday.

He is holding brief discussion and recognizes the family members visiting him. She will let us know on Monday where he was moved to.

It was equally enjoyable to hear him say "Hi" in the background.


Melinda and family asked I once again convey their appreciation for everyone's support and prayers.

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  • 2 weeks later...
  • 2 weeks later...

This will probably be my only message on your board, but I just feel compelled to say something to all of you who took the time to express your thoughts and condolences.


I went to elementary school with John, haven't seen him since graduation day in 1981, and I doubt he would have even known my name. Yet, I need to say thanks to the whole climbing community for their thoughtful words.


My brother, who grew up in the same town as John, was left paralyzed after an anchor pulled loose on Sandia Peak and he fell 30 feet. We are thankful every day to have him still in our lives, and it is because he was rescued extremely fast by his fellow climbers. They knew exactly what to do and had the equipment, skills, and most importantly the communication equipment needed to get him off the rock in less than an hour!


I know only what I have read through this thread about what happened on Sharkfin Tower, and it sounds as though immediate help probably wouldn't have made a difference to any of the three who perished.


When my brother had his accident, I felt isolated from the world. No one called or wrote or stopped by to check on the family, although his wife was never left alone. But, reading this out-pouring of care and concern for a long lost classmate seems like I finally have come to peace with my brother's accident.


I guess what I want to say, is that now I am sure that people really did care and worry and pray for us, even though we couldn't see you, and hear you... your prayers were answered and he has continued to lead a full life although he is physically disabled.


The news of John's accident only made his hometown newspaper yesterday, and I am sure that there are many more of his childhood friends that are saddened and shocked by the loss of all three climbers.


My best wishes and prayers for many successful, safe, and happy climbs to each and every one of you.



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