Matterhorn Climber Defeated by Mt. Whitney : He Finds Realityland in Hospitalland

Times Staff Writer

Once, twice, maybe three times a week, Jeffrey Harris is paid to climb Disneyland’s make-believe Matterhorn to wow crowds of admiring tourists. Never had a problem.

On Friday, the 30-year-old Anaheim resident tried to climb a real mountain--Mt. Whitney, the tallest in the contiguous 48 states. He slipped, fell, broke two vertebrae in his back and sprained his ankle.

From his hospital bed at Southern Inyo Hospital in Lone Pine, Harris denied Sunday that the accident was an embarrassment for someone who earns money climbing.


‘Danger at Any Point’

“It is a sport that includes danger at any point,” he said. “This time all reasonable care and safety could not prevent the accident.”

The accident occurred as Harris was descending from the peak of Mt. Whitney by a steep descent on the north face of the mountain. The trail is rated as requiring some rock climbing techniques but no safety ropes.

“In retrospect, it would have been nice to have a rope on,” he said.

His foot slipped on a mossy rock.

‘Very Scary Feeling’

“I was bumping along--large boulders that I was hitting. It was steep,” he said. He was heading for a ledge, “out of control . . . a very scary feeling,” worried about “where I would end up.” Below the ledge was a sheer drop of hundreds of feet.

“I was very fortunate to have stopped my fall,” he said.

A rescue team from the China Lake Naval Weapons Training Center reached Harris and stayed with him Friday. He was lifted out by helicopter Saturday. His injuries included compression fractures of two vertebrae, a sprained ankle and numerous cuts and bruises.

Harris said he will continue his mountain climbing after he recovers.