North Cascades National Park Service Complex
Climbing Notes 2002
National Park Service
U.S. Department of the Interior
2001 Search and Rescue Incidents|
Whidbey Island Navy helicopter search and rescue
team training with NPS Rangers.
In 2001 search and rescue personnel responded to 18 incidents including
a fatality on Mt. Baker.
North Cascades National Park's search and rescue
personnel responded to 18 incidents in 2001, including assistance given
to the Whatcom County Sheriff's Office with two incidents on Mount
The total unprogrammed emergency cost to the National
Park Service was $15,225, of which 47% was for contract helicopter
services. These figures do not include costs assumed by military and
volunteer programs that also work on Park incidents.
The 2001 accidents were consistent in the
long-standing trend that the majority of climbers evacuated are injured
in the non-technical approach or descent, not the actual climbing
Also noted in 2001 was that more trail hikers were
injured and evacuated than those with mountaineering objectives.
Five of the 2001 incidents are summarized below.
Klawatti Glacier, May 22
A ski-mountaineering party reported a non-critical, but disabling knee
injury to one member. The skier had taken a slow, tumbling fall near the
base of Klawatti Peak after a descent of Klawatti's south face. He was
evacuated by helicopter to Marblemount.
Quien Sabe Glacier, July 14
A climbing party was descending the Quien Sabe Glacier when one climber
punched through a snowbridge, falling onto rocks and injuring an ankle.
He was unable to continue so party members carried him to flatter ground
and alerted rangers via cell phone. The climber was evacuated to
Marblemount by helicopter.
Goode Mountain, August 1
Two climbers were below the Goode Glacier en route to ascend the NE
Buttress when ice fell from above their location, slid across snow, hit
rock, then showered the climbers with football sized chunks of ice. They
had heard the icefall and were scrambling to take cover when they were
struck. Both suffered minor injuries, including a crushed hand, but they
were able to extricate themselves, provide self first-aid and hike out
to the Stehekin ranger station for further treatment.
Bacon Peak, August 7
A climber on Bacon Peak's north side slipped on steep ice while
travelling with a full pack. The fall was arrested in a rocky area and
he absorbed most of the impact on his head.
The group continued travel for several hours, but
when the injured climber's neurological functions deteriorated a
ground-to-air radio transmission eventually alerted park rangers.
The climber was evacuated to a hospital and treated
for a skull fracture.
Mount Baker, September 2
Four climbers on one rope were ascending Coleman
Glacier when one member slipped on steep ice at 8600'.
All four climbers were pulled off their feet, slid
down the icy section, cleared a large open crevasse and landed on a
narrow ice shelf.
Interested in climbing condition reports?|
So is the Wilderness Information Center in Marblemount! While
rangers themselves send in reports from their daily patrols, all climbers are
encouraged to report firsthand findings through one of several avenues:
Leave information in the space provided on your Volunteer
Climbing Register upon signing out.
Write in the trail and climbing conditions log kept on the front
counter at the Wilderness Information Center.
Give the Wilderness Office a call 360-873-4500
The one uninjured member left to summon assistance,
leaving at the scene one climber with minor injuries, one semiconscious
climber with serious spinal and leg injuries, and one member who likely
died upon impact in the fall.
NPS rangers and an ER physician (volunteer Mountain
Rescue member) were flown to the scene.
The critically injured climber was helicopter
short-hauled 2000 feet down, off the glacier. The remaining climber was
assisted down to a bivouac for the night.
Impending darkness, high winds and an oncoming storm
precluded flying the injured completely off the mountain.
Volunteer mountain rescuers carried in supplies
through the night to sustain the ER doctor's efforts with the critical
patient. The next day, several western Washington Mountain Rescue
Association units and rangers conducted an overland carry-out to the
trailhead due to the continuing storm.
The fatally injured climber was recovered several
Blue Bags use them to reduce your impact|
Climbing rangers continue to find piles of human
waste when patrolling at snow, glacier and rock camps.
To say the least, the presence of human waste on snow
or in the rocks around your camp is visually offensive, unpleasant and
possibly a serious health hazard.
The NPS has addressed the issue with toilets in some
areas, but this is obviously not feasible for all climbing
At the Wilderness Information Center in Marblemount
(and some other stations where permits are available) you can pick up
blue bags or the more deluxe WAG bag free of charge.
The WAG bag contains biodegradable plastic bags, hand
towelettes and a gelling powder to solidify the waste.
While North Cascades National Park has no specific
collection facilities, these bags (with waste) have been approved for
disposal in any proper waste receptacles in Skagit and Whatcom
Use of the bags is especially encouraged for snow
camps on the Sulphide Glacier prior to compost toilet melt out, (about
mid-July) and on the approach to Eldorado (year-round).
The Chopping Block NPS photo
Coleman Glacier ©Greg Mroz
Mount Shuksan NPS photo
Addressing Wilderness Climbing Impacts|
Rangers of the North Cascades National Park
Wilderness District have measured and inventoried human impacts in
"trailless" areas of the park since its establishment.
Methods have varied and progressed with recent
efforts including the use of GPS mapping and measuring miles of access
routes with digital cameras and measuring tape.
This documentation of climbing trails and camps is
done in accordance with the Park's Wilderness Management Plan, which has
a goal to limit and even rehabilitate the human impacts. The plan was
approved in 1989 after much of North Cascades National Park was
designated by as Wilderness.
During the summer of 2001, patrols were conducted in
areas such as the Picket Range, Inspiration Traverse, the Sulphide
Glacier approach to Mount Shuksan, and Triumph Col in order to update
previous years' inventories.
In addition to the anticipated bivy sites and
climbers trails, a surprising number of firerings were noted, and
subsequently removed. Fires in subalpine areas leave long-term scars and
are only allowed in designated low elevation camps. The firerings were
found in very remote areas, such as the headwaters of Access Creek, the
margins of the Challenger Glacier and Triumph Col.
The North Cascades Wilderness Committee continually
reviews and discusses options to address human impacts in off-trail
areas. Topics of discussion in 2002 include:
Further restrict use. A permit
system that limits the numbers of parties allowed in each cross-country
zone has been in effect for many years. One consideration for preventing
impacts is to lower the number of parties allowed in areas where
statistics show a correlation between amount of use and impact.
Restoration of cross-country
impacts. Parts of the seriously gutted climber's trails into Boston
and Eldorado Basins have been rerouted and restoration attempts are in
progress. If funding and policy challenges are met, this type of effort
might be expanded to other cross-country areas.
Expand efforts to promote Leave No
Trace principles. Not just the amount of use but also the type of
use plays a dramatic role in wilderness impact. The key LNT
considerations for climbers are camping on rock or snow, not trampling
fragile vegetation, limiting party size, managing waste and using a
What to know when you take a cell phone climbing|
Notification of backcountry emergencies by cell phone
is no longer an unusual occurrence, although reception in mountain areas
is far from dependable.
Rangers at the North Cascades National Park neither
advocate nor discourage packing a phone on a climbing trip.
Cell phone distress calls have had positive and
negative results. In a number of incidents, phones have successfully
alerted rescuers to mountain accidents, allowing rescue to begin hours
earlier than it would normally. Just as often, however, poor reception
has resulted in confusing communication, and unnecessary responses.
When calling the Park Communications Center 360-873-4500, x37
(best) or 911 regarding an emergency, state your location and phone
number early in the call in case of a connection failure.
Clearly communicate the purpose of your call and if you are
requesting assistance or not. Failure to do this has resulted in
unnecessary rescue responses.
Be prepared to handle your emergency as you would without a
Fee demonstration program continues|
The Recreation Fee Demonstration Program remains in
effect for most land management agencies. North Cascades National Park
participates through the Northwest Forest Pass.
Parking areas for all climbing destinations along the
Cascade River Road and the Sulphide Glacier approach to Mount Shuksan
(among others) require a pass.
The Northwest Forest Pass is available at most ranger
Park officials are also exploring ideas to
standardize the backcountry permit, reservations and fee programs
between North Cascades, Mount Rainier and Olympic National Parks.
While backcountry permits for any overnight camping
have been in effect for decades, no fee or reservation system for the
general public currently exists at the North Cascades National Park.
Rangers are interested in your thoughts about the
possible addition of fees and/or reservations for permits. Climbers are
encouraged to inquire at the Wilderness Information Center.
Northwest Forest Pass
The Northwest Forest Pass is available at most Forest
Service or Park offices, via phone (1-800-270-7504) and online at
An annual pass costs $30 and a day pass costs $5.
A PDF version is also available.
Last Updated: 28-Oct-1998