Posts tagged ‘ANAM’

Accidents in North American Mountaineering (ANAM) 2010

As I say every year, I read ANAM every year, though with less and less interest as the years pass. Eventually you feel like you’ve seen them all, although this year featured the most bizarre accident ever (a leader strangled by her gear sling when the trigger bar for a cam got caught on a horn–tragically implausible).

The theme this year was bad belaying. There were more “lowered off the end of the rope” accidents than usual and a couple of uncommon “belayer didn’t catch the fall” accidents. I’d almost gotten complacent enough to believe those didn’t happen.

Being in the process of teaching a beginner to climb, I’m rethinking some of my techniques. Monkey see, monkey do. And when you see the monkey do what you have (apparently) been doing all these years, it leaves a different impression. All excuses (I’m more experienced) and rationalizations (I haven’t dropped anyone yet) aside, I don’t ever want to reproach myself with having been less than the safest belayer possible if I’m ever involved in an accident. So I’m reviewing my own belay technique with an eye towards setting an example worthy of emulating. No more one-hand slide when taking in slack. From now on, I grab and go.

Accidents in North American Mountaineering 2009

Every year the AAC sends me Accidents in North American Mountaineering as part of my membership. It’s an annual recounting of some of the accidents and fatalities that happened in climbing and mountaineering that year. It can make for depressing, though educational, reading.

Usually there’s at least one incident that stands out for me, but this year there weren’t. It did remind me of last year’s standout though, which happened on Cathedral Peak in Tuolumne where I just happened to be climbing a year ago. When I read the story last year, I’d never climbed in Tuolumne and this accident report didn’t help my uneasiness about the area.

Now that I’m back, I re-read the story and although it’s a reasonable story of small but mounting mistakes/misfortunes that ultimately turn fatal, I now have the perspective to see that they made an odd, and critical, choice very early on. Right from the beginning they were planning to rap the route and it’s those rappels that put most of the nails in the coffin. Nowhere have I seen a topo suggest that you should plan to rap Cathedral. Not that their unusual choice means they should have died, and not to suggest I wouldn’t ever make a similar set of mistakes, but it does help take the story out of the nightmare realm and move it to sad-but-possible.

ANAM 2008 by the AAC

I read Accidents in North American Mountaineering every year because it comes free as part of being an AAC member. As the years go on, there are fewer and fewer surprises. Truth is, accidents are caused by the obvious things (exceeding abilities, under-protecting) and mitigated by the obvious things (wearing a helmet, tying stopper knots). There are no new ways to die.

But every year something stands out, if not for novelty then for tragedy, or perhaps pure presentation. This year there were two such incidents for me. One was the death of a well-known climber at Wind Rivers, Wyoming caused by a tourist throwing a rock off the top of a formation. A seemingly random, horribly preventable, tragedy. I was particularly sensitive to this accident when it occurred because Steve was on his way out to the Wind Rivers the very next day. The climbing community was naturally very angry at the tourist, who ultimately wasn’t charged, but who among us has never thrown something off the top of something? It’s like skipping stones on a pond: a natural human impulse. I feel for both the tourist and the climber’s family. There were no winners here.

The other incident was more memorable for its retelling. Sometimes climbers send their own accident reports into ANAM and this was one of those. Told in the first person, they have a greater immediacy, and this particular incident was recounted without foreshadowing. When one of the climbers dies before the tale is done, the reader is as surprised as the narrator must have been at the time. This was a prime example of how small mistakes and bad luck can accumulate into an unexpectedly fatal epic. I expect we’ve all been there, except with a few fewer mistakes, or a bit less bad luck, and so we live and have a good story to tell and never know how close we came.

2007 Accidents in North American Mountaineering

I read ANAM every year since it comes free with my membership in the AAC. I thought this was a rather uninspired edition. It seems like they’re covering fewer areas and fewer accidents each year. Plus, they seem more reliant on the climbers’ own accounts, which are bound to be skewed and are occasionally incomprehensible. For free, I’ll keep reading it, but it’s not the resource it used to be.

Or maybe I’m just getting jaded. To some extent, they’re the same accidents every year. I guess I’d like to see the AAC seek out the accidents that teach real lessons and cover those in more depth while summarizing the frequency and causes of the more obvious accidents. Instead, we get as much depth as the victim was willing to provide which is sometimes a ridiculously long version of “my belayer lowered me off the end of the rope” and sometimes a two line summary of what was obviously a complex and interesting situation.

Accidents in North American Mountaineering 2006 by AAC

I read Accidents in North American Mountaineering every year because it comes free (because I’m a member) and in hopes of learning something that will help me avoid an accident myself. At this point in my career there are few surprises left and I understand the vanity of believing it will never happen to you. Now I suppose I just read in a rubber-necking way.

Accidents in North American Mountaineering, 2005 by the American Alpine Club

I get my copy of Accidents in North American Mountaineering free every year from being a member of the AAC but I would probably go out and buy it anyway. Although the nature of the accidents doesn’t change much from year to year, that’s the whole purpose of reading about them. It’s the common mistakes we need to avoid, because we can.