Accidents 2005

Published annually since 1946, Accidents in North American Mountaineering has served as an invaluable resource for climbers. It details what has happened throughout the previous season as well as analyzes what went wrong in each situation to ultimately give climbers the opportunity to learn from the mistakes of others.

Accident Themes and Trends

One of the most instructive features of Accidents in North American Mountaineering is its summary of themes and trends of the previous year. As noted in the introduction to Accidents 2005 by editors Jed Williamson and Edwina Podemski:



  • "2004 seemed to be a year where spontaneous rockfall, icefall, and avalanches were common. We are starting to notice a decrease in ice on various alpine routes in the Canadian Rockies. Rockfall incidents seem to be on the increase, partly as a result of this phenomenon.”

  • “Various other accidents occurred as a result of holds failure. Climbers are reminded that gravity is not their friend. Neither, it seems, is global warming or erosion!”


United States

  • “Just when we think incident rates are stabilizing, along comes a year when the fatality rate goes back up to its highest level.” (35 fatalities/160 reported accidents in 2004 vs. 18 fatalities/118 accidents reported in 2003)

  • The majority of fatality increases were in California (10; the big storm in Yosemite was a contributing factor), Colorado (3), Utah/New Mexico (4), and Washington (5).

  • “The number of ‘falling rock, ice, or object’ incidents increased. As with last year, the majority of these (10) were the result of hand and foot holds coming away, leading to falls.”

  • “Increases in reports from Arizona/Nevada/Texas (5), Oregon (12), and Utah/New Mexico (15) are as much due to new reporting sources as to the seriousness of the situations.”

  • “The increase in reports from Washington (18) is attributable to more accidents on Mount Rainier and in the North Cascades.”

  • 30 percent of the incidents in the “descent” category (13 out of a total of 40 incidents) happened on Mount Shasta—mostly in Avalanche Gulch. Avalanche Gulch “is like a magnet because of easy access and deceptively easy looking terrain…First time ice-ax users –one who fell was carrying her ax upside down—lose control on voluntary and involuntary glissades. First-time crampon users—who don’t take them off coming down—end up tumbling and spiking themselves….It is apparent from the incidents that the vast majority [of individuals involved] are inexperienced…Unfortunately they contribute to the data in Table III [number of accidents per category for U.S. and Canada, pp. 113-115 ] and probably to media bias that portrays climbing as a risky activity.”

Additional Statistics

  • In the U.S., the highest number of accidents reported since the 1951 debut of Accidents in North American Mountaineering occurred in 1986 (203 accidents). In 2003, the total number of accidents reported was nearly half that (118) but increased again in 2004 (160 accidents reported).

  • In 2004 in the U.S., California saw the highest number of reported accidents (42), followed by the Atlantic-North region (31), Washington state (18), Utah/New Mexico (15), Oregon (12) and Alaska (11).


- Adapted from Accidents in North American Mountaineering 2005, John E. Williamson, Editor (American Alpine Club Press, $10.00 paperback)

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