American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing
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California, Guadalupe Rock, 15 Miles from San Jose

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1959

California, Guadalupe Rock, 15 miles from San Jose—On April 20, a pleasant sunny day, about 20 members of the Stanford Alpine Club were at the practice rocks. The majority of the party was on the larger rock doing some of the easier climbs. Five were at a smaller more difficult cliff about 25 feet high and slightly overhanging. Some of the candidates for leader status were taking turns leading up the pitch which was 5th class and required several pitons in the rather rotten rock. The first person made the climb successfully. As the second man was leading it there were four persons below him, the belayer and three ‘kibitzers.’ Karl Hufbauer (20) was one of the kibitzers and as a leader was also observing the technique. Near the top of the pitch the climber had a rather large handhold crumble out and he peeled off. His first piton came out but the second held and his fall was only about 12 feet. Meanwhile a shower of rocks rained on the spectators. Hufbauer was the only one hit by a large rock and was knocked unconscious, not even feeling it hit. Apparently he regained consciousness within a minute or so but his memory retention was poor. Hobey DeStaebler, leader of the trip, arrived about 5 minutes later with a first aid kit. After testing his reactions and bandaging the wound the decision was made to walk him to the cars about ½ mile away. This course was chosen as the fastest since he was losing blood and time might be a factor. (Doctors later said the decision was probably right; it was apparently a 50-50 question). Hufbauer was taken to a hospital where emergency surgery was performed for a fractured skull. He remained in the hospital for a week. DeStaebler is to be complimented for a well executed rescue with a minimum of fuss (practice climb continued with many persons not realizing the accident had occurred) and a maximum of speed.

Source: Karl Hufbauer.

Analysis: Practice climbs are not as safe as normally assumed and precautions which are taken on longer, more difficult climbs should be adhered to. Since Hufbauer's accident he has checked with many people and nearly all of them said that their own clubs made the tacit assumption that all loose rocks on practice climbs had long since been pulled out. This assumption certainly is not warranted, as this case demonstrates.

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