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California, Yosemite National Park

California, Yosemite National Park. On December 17, Steve Roper (20) and Frank Sacherer (21) started to climb to the base of the face of Half Dome, hoping to get a little practice at easy ice climbing. They carried ice axes and crampons, but no rope or other climbing equipment. The climbing was easy and gradual until they reached wide, granite slabs covered with 2 inches of powder snow over ΒΌ inch of ice. Angle of the slabs ranged from 45 to 55 degrees. A third-class summer route winds up beside these slabs.

Donning crampons, the two started out angling up the slabs. A few feet below the top, Roper found the going difficult, as the ice on the rock was thin. His crampons slipped out and he fell, going immediately into a self-arrest position. He maintained this position for about 200 ft. with no apparent reduction in speed, as the pick was ripping away the thin cover of ice and snow and baring rock. At this point, the axe was torn from his hand, although the wrist loop held for a considerable distance. Roper fell a total of 600 ft. before landing in a pile of avalanched ice at the base. Sacherer said that his speed was so great that he bounced clear of the rock for the last 50 ft. When his fall stopped, he immediately sat up and shouted that he was all right but would require assistance. His left arm appeared to be broken (later found to be deeply bruised). He had assorted deep bruises and abrasions over his body, and contusions of the kidneys. He noted several symptoms of shock. The two started down immediately and were forced to pick a poor route between slabs and sloping ledges. Route finding was difficult and steps had to be retraced frequently. Roper was in great pain, had lost his glasses, and had difficulty in maneuvering. He credits Sacherer with doing a superb job of helping him down. Roper was hospitalized for 2 weeks but has completely recovered.

Source: Wayne P. Merry, Park Ranger, and Will Siri.

Analysis: Roper noted that he thought that they used extremely bad judgment both in regard to lack of equipment and in attempting to climb the thinly-covered slabs. Investigating rangers concurred.