Climbing guide tumbled to her death on California mountain after late winter storm

A climbing guide died after tumbling more than 1,000 feet down a California mountain amid dangerously icy conditions from a late winter storm, authorities said Tuesday.

Jillian Elizabeth Webster, 32, was one of five people who fell while climbing Mt. Shasta on Monday morning, the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office said in a news release.

Webster, of Redmond, Oregon, was tethered to two other people when they lost their footing and slid between 1,500 and 2,500 feet in an area known as “Avalanche Gulch,” the release said. The fall was reported at 8:35 a.m.

Mount Shasta, outside of Weed, Calif., on Feb. 23, 2021.Katie Falkenberg for NBC News file

A nurse who was climbing nearby administered CPR to Webster, who was unresponsive, the sheriff’s office said. She was later pronounced dead at a local hospital.

One of the climbers tethered to Webster suffered head trauma and a fractured lower leg, the sheriff’s office said. The other climber also had a fractured lower leg.

In two separate incidents at 12:31 and 4 p.m., two other climbers also tumbled roughly 1,000 feet down the mountain. Both were airlifted to a local hospital, where their conditions weren’t immediately available.

The sheriff’s office said Monday that two of the injured climbers in the three incidents were in critical condition. 

A sixth person who fell Tuesday suffered a leg injury with possible broken bones and was also airlifted to a local hospital, a spokeswoman for the sheriff’s office said. The person’s condition wasn’t immediately clear.

Webster’s experience level wasn’t immediately clear. It also wasn’t clear what climbing outfit she was affiliated with.

Tim Keating, who’s summited Mt. Shasta 450 times and founded a mountain guide company in 1981, said that Webster’s group was likely following the standard route on a peak popular with climbers — a two to three day trip that begins at just under 7,000 feet and eventually reaches the summit, at 14,179 feet.  

Keating’s company wasn’t involved with the trip and he didn’t know Webster. He said that recent snow had likely refrozen, creating a layer of ice that can make for an arduous, treacherous climb.

“It can change the nature of the mountain,” he said. “Something that can be a beginner slope 80 to 90 percent is very dangerous the other 20 percent of the time.”

He added: “The general public, they go up there and they don’t have any idea what they’re getting into.”

Keating said that his company guided a group up the mountain over the weekend without incident, though they didn’t reach the summit because of 90-100 mph winds.

Siskiyou County Sheriff Jeremiah LaRue said Tuesday that while it was “prime time” for climbing, “people need to stay off until we can better evaluate the weather and the conditions up there.”

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