Mountaineers changing how climbers taught
The worst accident in the 99-year history of the Northwest's most storied climbing group, The Mountaineers, led to the deaths of three people...
The worst accident in the 99-year history of the Northwest's most storied climbing group, The Mountaineers, led to the deaths of three people below a North Cascades peak in July.
Six months later, experts still are reviewing the details of that tragedy and are changing how the group teaches outdoor buffs to climb mountains safely.
On July 10, six mountaineers, including two students who were finishing a basic climbing course, were backing down from a failed attempt to climb 8,120-foot Sharkfin Tower above Boston Basin when their leader was struck by a falling hunk of granite. After the team tried to move her to safety, another, larger boulder struck the party.
The rockfall killed trip leader Johanna Backus, who had spent 20 years with The Mountaineers; and climbers Mark Harrison of Bellevue, and John Augenstein of Seattle. Climber Wayne McCourt of Tacoma was seriously injured.
Survivor Janel Fox, a novice climber, spent a frigid night on a glacier caring for McCourt. Several times, survivor Michael Hannam took his coat and shirt off and hugged McCourt, flesh to flesh, to keep him warm — "and that really saved his life," said mountaineer Dan Lauren.
Since then, McCourt — who was in a coma for a few days — has returned to hiking.
Meanwhile, Lauren, an engineer, helped assemble a team of climbers who visited the accident site, took photos and is painstakingly reconstructing what happened during the accident. The team presents its report to The Mountaineers in February.
"It was the worst thing we'd been through as a club, so it took some time for us to take a big breath and figure out what to do," said Steve Costie, executive director of The Mountaineers.
The group plans to add a new lecture to an intermediate climbing class in which students — who generally are taught always to try rescuing themselves — are taught to evaluate whether, in some cases, waiting for professional help from the National Park Service, for example, might be safer.
Craig Welch: 206-464-2093 or email@example.com
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