American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing


  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1953

California—Arrowhead: On May 23, 1952 two ropes started up the Arrow-head slightly to the right of the regular route of ascent. They planned to join the regular route which they felt lay directly above them. The climbing was 4th class. Ray Van Aken had led the first rope up two pitches and was starting on the third. Spencer Austin, leading the second rope, had climbed the first pitch and brought up his second man whom he secured in a firm belay position. The third man was still on the ground. Austin went up a moderately difficult 12 feet and then out onto easier climbing. When the rope was out about 40 feet he went above a tree for safety. 20 feet farther he was on an easy ledge where there was a moderate pull up to another ledge. The holds in the area of first selection did not appear to be satisfactory so he selected another site. He tested a large block and then pulled on it. Following this he braced himself with his feet wide apart and held on with his left hand while his right reached for another hand hold. The whole block came off and due to the pressure of his legs he fell backwards and head down. He fell about 35-40 feet when the rope caught him in midair and jerked him into the wall. The next thing he knew he was standing on a ledge with the rope pulled taut around him. In the fall Austin struck his head, sprained the arch of his right foot, smashed his right hand, and badly sprained his back which gave him much discomfort. The other rope climbed down to him and set up a rappel down which he was belayed to the talus slope below. In the course of the fall the 3½ year old rope which was little used 7/16" nylon absorbed much of the fall. There was a 4½ foot friction mark 44 feet from the end of the rope. Austin’s belayer was well secured but was pulled up into the rock. Apparently the natural stretch of the nylon rope about the tree and the movement of the belayer absorbed much of the shock. The belayer, Height, did not have time to apply any dynamic belay and Austin was conscious of coils of rope following him in his fall.

Source: Spencer Austin.

A summary of Austin s own analysis follows: The hold took a downward test but could not withstand an outward pull. It also points out that when a fall takes place in 4th class climbing, it can be serious. Other members of the party tried to calculate the striking force and have estimated it to be about 1000 pounds.

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