California, Taquitz Rock. On July 29, James Michael McLain (24), joined a scheduled climb at Taquitz Rock with Don Rappolee (38). They decided to climb the “Switchbacks” (Route #28, Climbers Guide to Taquitz Rock by Charles Wilts) and left the group about 10:00 A.M. after Don had signed them out. The two men had not met prior to this time.
Quite a bit of time was expended on the first two pitches (the first one being classified as the most difficult of the climb). They alternated leads, Don taking the first and third. Don had made the third pitch placing three pitons: (1) behind the “Flake,” and (2) a more secure one about 8 feet below the “Flake” to the left of the “Step Around,” and (3) about two feet to the right of the “Step Around,” then traversing approximately 33 feet to the right to a small ledge. He tied in and started to belay Mike to him.
Mike called for slack, removed his anchor and started to climb. Apparently, Mike removed the first two pitons before the accident occurred. About 15 minutes after Mike had called for slack, Don noticed that the rope, which had been lying along the 4th ledge, had suddenly dropped below the ledge. This concerned him as he thought the rope might have come out of the carabiner. He called to Mike about this, but there was no reply. Just about this same time, Mike said, “I think I’m going to fall!” and Don heard a scuffling noise. Don is unable to recall exactly what happened after this. The accident occurred about 1:20 P.M.
From the report of the people who heard the fall, it sounded as though there were two separate falls. Don called to a group at the base of the rock that there had been a bad accident. Within one minute, three members of this latter party were at Mike’s side. Mike was found, unconscious, lying on his right side, doubled up, on top of several feet of rope. He was bleeding from the back of his head and neck. There was no bleeding from mouth, nose or ears. The rope had not been broken; there was no carabiner or piton on it. He appeared to have fallen in a fairly straight line since he landed almost directly below the “Step Around.” First aid was administered for the head and neck wounds. Two young members were dispatched to Idyllwild Sheriff’s office for help. Within seven minutes, Mike was strapped in a litter (kept permanently at Taquitz Rock) and was enroute to the roadhead. The litter party arrived at the roadhead at 2:30 P.M. having been reinforced by a rescue team from Edyllwild about 15 minutes earlier. The ambulance and doctor arrived almost immediately, Mike was given a sedative, placed in the ambulance and taken to Hemet Community Hospital where he was admitted at 3:15 P.M. Trip leader, Vic Hett, took responsibility for all details necessary at hospital and with Sheriff’s office.
Mike died at 3:50 A.M. without regaining consciousness. Reported injury was brain stem edema and torn vessels in the neck.
Source: Rock Climbing Section—Sierra Club.
Analysis: Evidence points to the possibility that Mike hit a protruding ledge about 55 feet below the “Step Around,” probably receiving his fatal injury there and falling, unconscious, the last 30 feet to the ground. It may be assumed that there was some breaking action because Don’s right hand had second and third degree burns to the bone.
The climbing conditions and weather were excellent. Both climbers were experienced and, as far as is known, were in good condition. Neither Don nor any other person was in a position to see Mike at the time of the fall; nor could Don see the third piton and carabiner.