Colorado—North face of ridge between Twin Thumbs and Peak 11, Needle Mountains: On 26 July 1953, Barry Bishop (21), Walt Bailey (35), and Phyllis Anderson (25) were returning from a successful ascent of the
Twin Thumbs. At about 4:30 p.m. they set up a rappel using a new 5-inch angle piton. The piton was driven into a vertical crack. Considerable time was spent finding a good crack and piton rang with the characteristic tone indicating a good seat. A sling of avalanche cord (nylon) and a 2-inch descending ring were attached, then two 7/16th 120 feet climbing ropes were knotted through the ring and dropped. The rappel followed an 85° slope for 60 feet to a rocky ledge then a 25-foot vertical drop to the top of a 24-30 degree snow slope which ended 300 feet below in another series of cliffs. The rappel point was tested with a horizontal pull. Bishop, weighing 170 lbs., descended first using a sling and Karabiner rig. Phyllis Anderson began to descend next. Since neither Bailey nor Bishop were watching Anderson at the moment of the accident the exact cause is not known, but it is presumed that about half-way down the 85° slope the piton popped out of the crack and Anderson fell over backward; she landed on her back on the ledge and her pack which protected her somewhat was torn from her shoulders. She bounced and landed 25 feet below Bishop on the snow bank on her back with her head up the slope. She began sliding down the snow slope with increasing speed. The rappel ropes with piton, sling, and ring attached were trailing behind. Bishop was able to grab the rappel ropes and arrest the slide just above the second set of cliffs. Bishop made Anderson comfortable with extra clothing. She was conscious, but had received cuts about her face and forehead, and had considerable pain in her right arm, left shoulder, and chest. Bailey, meanwhile, by some excellent climbing descended to the snow slope and joined Bishop and Anderson. Bishop returned to the AAC CMC camp and a rescue party was organized. Anderson was evacuated by a well-organized team from the mountain to base camp and later taken across to the train which transported her to Durango. She had suffered considerable injury: a broken pelvis, one broken rib, a compound fracture of her right elbow, multiple fractures of her left shoulder and multiple cuts and bruises.
Source: Barry Bishop.
Analysis: Bishop has stated that “perhaps the accident would not have happened if (1) a double piton anchor had been used and (2) the rappels had been belayed.” The second statement is certainly in accordance with conservative climbing techniques, but there may be times when it is too conservative. A third procedure would be to check the piton after each use and reseat it if necessary. It seems likely that Bishop weighing 170 lbs. could have loosened the piton sufficiently so that Anderson who was much lighter could have pulled it out. Bishop commented further that the rock in this area, which is a granite containing 70+ per cent orthoclass feldspar with large crystals and well weathered, might be treated with more caution in the future.