American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Connecticut, Ragged Mountain

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1960

Connecticut, Ragged Mountain—On Saturday, May 16, Bert Puchtler (22), John Magyar (20), John Kopf (22), George Ganung (22) and Bob Glass (20) set out to climb Berts’ Folly, class 5+. The day was sunny and warm. The climb consists of an easy 70 ft. chimney that leads up behind a large fault block and emerges through a hole onto a ledge about 6 feet wide. From there a crack about 6 inches wide and 35 feet long leads to the top. The faces are vertical and very smooth, offering a few small handholds and almost no place to drive pitons. The comer is rounded and does not permit the use of layback technique. The face drops off for about 90 feet at an angle of 60° and offers an easy climb to the ledge.

The Accident: Puchtler and Magyar climbed the chimney and onto the ledge from which Magyar belayed Puchtler at the first piton as he proceeded to climb up the corner. It was hard going and he had a difficult time finding good places to drive pitons. At times he had to take tension. After about ¾ of an hour Puchtler had progressed approximately 25 feet. He was standing there gently leaning on his piton while trying to place a better one when it suddenly pulled out. He fell, and the next piton also pulled out as the rope strained on it. He landed on the ledge, breaking his right femur as well as several small bones in the right foot, and rolled over to the hole. There was very little friction in the system and Magyar felt almost no pull at all on the rope as the pitons came free.

Luckily Puchtler was conscious and was able to straddle the hole while Magyar took up the slack and tied the rope to his piton. He unroped and John Kopf rappelled down to the ledge and together they moved Puchtler away from the hole. Neither Magyar nor Kopf had had any first aid training, so Puchtler had to direct their splinting his leg while others went to a telephone for help. After splinting Puchtler’s leg, they proceeded to rig a lowering system using carabiner brakes and were ready to lower him as soon as an ambulance arrived with a litter. They waited over a half hour for the litter to arrive, and when it did, they had much difficulty getting Puchtler into it. Magyar lowered him down the 90 foot face while Kopf rappelled with him in order to guide his descent. Due to an error in tying the litter it shifted during the descent and Puchtler descended head first. At the bottom he was picked up by the ambulance men and a few other climbers, and taken to the Middlesex Hospital in Middletown. He fell at about 4:00 p.m. and was off the face about 7:30 p.m.

Source: Puchtler, Magyar.

Analysis (Puchtler, Magyar): This entire accident was due to a definitely avoidable piton failure. This seems to be the cause of the majority of climbing accidents. There appears to be a natural tendency on the part of the climbers to continue their climb on ‘psychological pitons’ when they cannot put in any good ones. Once one starts a climb one does not like to turn back just because one is unable to drive good pitons. As climbers we should adopt the attitude that it is just as necessary to turn back when confronted with a lack of places to put good pitons as it is to turn back when confronted with a lack of holds. A person climbing on bad pitons may just as well climb without a rope!

Secondly, a second must be just as competent at his job as a leader is at his own. Not only should he know dynamic belay and have practiced it, but he should also carry equipment and know how to use it. Of what use is a second who catches a leader’s fall but lacks either the ability or the equipment necessary to get the fallen leader off the face? Seconds should also be instructed in first aid; I know I could have used it. It should be realized that a second must be more than a second rate climber, his leader’s life is in his hands and he may be called to do his duty at any moment.

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