I have never met Arne Backstrom, but I have met a lot of people from the Tahoe area that knew him well, including Kip Garre who was with him when he died and his brother Ralph, who was on the IceAxe.tv trip to Antarctica last year. Arne died on June 3rd while on an acclimatization climb and skiing Pisco (5752M) in the Cordillera Blanca of Peru. He, along with Kip Garre and Dave Rosenbarger were warming up for an attempt on Artesonraju, a peak I dream about skiing someday. Arne’s ski popped off as he gained speed on firm snow while on the face of Pisco and inevitability fell to his death. Tragic to say the least.
This is truly a sad story and one that I know many of us fear might happen to ourselves one day. Maybe we are caught in a tricky situation in the mountains and we feel the only way out is down. Maybe we get into some icy snow, think we can make our way thru it…and then bam…things change in an instant and we are fearing for our lives. Not only do I send my condolences to Arne’s family and large circle of friends, but I also sympathize with Kip and Dave, who I’m sure are going thru some serious emotions right now. Hang in there guys…time heals all wounds.
Account of Arne Backstrom Accident on Pisco
At 9:45 am on June 3rd Arne Backstrom was killed while skiing Pisco (5752 m) in the Llanganuco Valley of the Cordillera Blanca, Peru. With him were Kip Garre and Dave Rosenbarger. The team arrived in Peru on the 28th of May for a month long ski mountaineering expedition. On June 1st the team established a base camp at 4650 m in the Llanganuco Valley with intentions of climbing and skiing Pisco as apart of their acclimatization process. At 4:45 am on June 3rd Arne, Kip, and Dave started their climb from base camp under clear skies and calm winds. They ascended the Standard Route via the Huandoy/Pisco Col and SW Slopes with no difficulties. The team made the summit at 9:00 am and began their descent at 9:25.
Snow conditions off of the summit were consistent and ideal for skiing. An inch of warmed, soft snow overlay a firm base. Approximately 150 m below the summit the team stopped at a ramp leading to Pisco’s S Face, a 400m 50-55 degree slope of snow and rock. The S Face was a feature that the team had observed and discussed during the two days prior to their climb. At 9:45 am, after some discussion, Arne decided to descend the ramp to assess the snow conditions of the face. He made a few turns down the 40-degree ramp in soft conditions before encountering hard snow or ice. Arne attempted to traverse onto the S Face to what appeared to be softer snow. Conditions on the face remained firm and the team noticed Arne accelerate. His downhill ski released causing Arne to fall out of Kip and Dave’s sight.
The South Face of Pisco in the Cordillera Blanca of Peru.
Not able to see Arne or the entire S Face, Kip and Dave tried to make verbal contact with no success. Realizing self-arrest was highly unlikely, Kip and Dave descended the route of their ascent knowing it would be the safest, fastest way to reach Arne. At 9:55 Kip and Dave encountered a guide and client just below the Huandoy/Pisco Col and informed them of the accident. At this point Kip and Dave roped up and began to traverse/skin, maintaining a high route under Pisco’s S Face through heavily glaciated and crevassed terrain. At approximately 10:55 am they found Arne beneath the face. Upon thorough examination Arne had neither a radial nor a carotid pulse and had sustained head trauma despite wearing a helmet.
Unable to move Arne back through the glaciated terrain, Kip and Dave were forced to descend in search of help. At 11:30 am Kip and Dave reached two guides who had been informed of the accident and were coming to assist in the rescue. All unnecessary equipment was left behind and the rescue party walked roped up back to Arne and reached him at 12:15 pm. An improvised litter was created using a rope and skis. The four person rescue party began moving Arne back towards the trail leading to base camp at 1:15 pm. Due to soft snow and complicated terrain, progress was slow. Wanting to avoid any further accidents from serac and rock fall from the face above, the decision was made after two hours of work to leave Arne in a safe location and return the following morning with additional help.
At approximately 4:15 pm, with the use of a satellite phone, the team contacted a friend in the United States to help with coordination of a rescue and to notify members of Arne’s family.
The following day, with the help of several local porters and guides Arne was brought down to a refuge located adjacent to the team’s base camp. Currently formalities are being taken care of to return Arne back to his family in the United States.