Each year the American Alpine Club publishes a little book titled Accidents in North American Climbing, on the theory that reading about accidents is one way to avoid them. Usually, most of the reports are from out west or Alaska. Occasionally, an accident in the Adirondacks makes the book.
This year, however, a full three pages are devoted to our region, with four mishaps described in detail. All occurred in 2016 (the year covered by the book). I will summarize them below, using the headlines from the book.
Leader Fall on Ice: Thin Ice, Inadequate Protection
We wrote about this accident last year for the Adirondack Explorer and Adirondack Almanack. On January 26, an ice climber from Connecticut fell from a route called Screw and Climaxe on the north side of Pitchoff Mountain. His partners estimated that he plummeted 130 feet; fortunately, he had clipped the rope to an old sling, preventing him from hitting the ground (he stopped about five feet short). As it was, he struck a ledge on the way down. He fractured his leg and knee cap and cracked his sternum and skull.
In Accidents, the victim gives his own account of what went wrong. He could see that the ice was thin at the bottom of the route, but he couldn’t assess conditions higher up, due to snow. He did see thick ice at the top of the route.
“When the ice revealed itself to be in poor shape partway up, I should have retreated,” he writes. “I can’t say precisely why I continued, except that I was motivated to finish so my partners could have a good day of climbing. Better communication with my partners would have helped. As it turns out, they had also been thinking that a retreat would have been the best option, given the conditions. If one of us had verbalized this suggestion, we probably all would have agreed to turn around.”
Forest rangers and volunteers spent hours rescuing the climber. He underwent surgery to repair his leg and has made a good recovery. He says he now avoids routes…