American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Colorado, Boulder Canyon, Castle Rock

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1963

Colorado, Boulder Canyon, Castle Rock. On July 6 Robert Sayre (49) and two young companions were attempting a route called Cussin’ Crack (a fifth class deceptive dihedral with smooth walls) on a warm, sunny, windless day. Sayre led up the crack and did not like it. He returned to the belay ledge to rest. He re-ascended without clipping into two pitons until he was 30-40 feet above the belay ledge. At this point he was inside the dihedral (one wall of which overhangs) and in a delicate position. He drove a piton into a wide, short crack and pulled out on it to test it. The piton failed, and he slid down the dihedral and tumbled out of control over some small ledges onto the wide belay ledge. The belayer, who was well tied in, reached out and grabbed Sayre’s rope as he went by, and stopped him on the ledge. A conventional dynamic belay would have left Sayre hanging free over the wall below. The two boys attracted attention by shouting. Sayre fell at about 12:15 P.M.

The Rocky Mountain Rescue Group received the call at 12:45 P.M. and sent a party of four immediately. This party drove to the rock and climbed the first two leads of the Cussin’ Crack climb and reached Sayre at 1:30. First aid was given to Sayre, and the two boys climbed down to the ground on belay. Sayre’s major injury was a compound fracture of the right patella. He also had a fractured right wrist, two shattered teeth and many cuts and bruises. Morphine was administered, and after it had taken effect, Sayre was placed in a stokes litter with a traction splint on his right leg. Six additional members of the rescue group arrived at the scene at 2:30 P.M. The evacuation was completed by lowering the litter with two men over a slightly overhanging face, 100 feet to the ground. The litter was placed directly in an ambulance, and Sayre arrived at the Boulder Community Hospital at 4:00 P.M.

Source: Jonathan Hough.

Analysis: Fell while testing piton. Climbers should be in a safe position when testing new pitons or holds. The injuries were made more severe by the fact that Sayre did not clip into two pitons he had passed and thus had no pitons between himself and his belayer 30—40 feet below. He had not clipped in because he was carrying only two carabiners with him. This climb is not usually attempted without at least four or five carabiners.

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