Veteran Climber Killed in Icefall at North Cascades

A climbing accident at North Cascades has claimed the life of 49-year old Craig Luebben, a climber-mountaineer with 25 years of experience and a stellar reputation.

Luebben, a resident of Golden, Colorado, made quite a name for himself on the international scene as a climber, inventor, author, instructor, and guide. In addition to Mount Everest guiding, instructing, and putting up an impressive batch of first ascents, he famously invented the BigBro Tube Chock for off-width cracks, published articles in premiere climbing magazines, wrote seven books on climbing, and had two more book projects underway at the time of his death.

Last Sunday morning, August 9, Luebben was attempting the Torment-Forbidden Traverse in North Cascades National Park with partner Guillermo Benegas of Sandy, Utah, in preparation for an upcoming American Mountain Guide Association certification exam. To negotiate the traverse, a route along a rock ridge connecting the summits of Torment and Forbidden, they had to climb the Taboo Glacier toward the southeast-facing flank of Mount Torment.

After ascending most of the way on the glacier, the pair reached a large crevasse-like gap (bergshrund) that had developed between two major sections of the glacier and began to cross it, a task that actually required climbing down into the bergshrund and up the other side. Luebben, who was leading on this section of the climb, had made it to the upper part of the glacier when a huge slab of ice broke off under him and dropped him about 40 feet into the bergshrund. Although his protection held and climbing partner Benegas was able to secure him on a ledge before calling 911 for help, Luebben was fatally injured by falling ice and died before the SAR helicopter arrived on the scene. Benegas, who was also struck by falling ice, suffered a non-life threatening leg injury.

Craig Luebbem is survived by his wife Silvia and daughter Giulia.

Postscript: This accident is eerily similar to the one that claimed the life of world-class mountaineer Mugs Stump on Mount McKinley on May 21, 1992. Mugs was guiding two clients down Denali's South Buttress in a storm when he had the bad luck to stray too close to the unstable edge of a huge crevasse. It collapsed without warning and buried him under tons of cascading ice.