American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Falling Helmet

Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park, Practice Cliffs

  • Accident Reports
  • Author: Robert Fenichel
  • Accident Year: 1963
  • Publication Year: 1964

On August 10, Paul Ramer and I were climbing in separate parties on the practice cliffs near Hidden Falls in Cascade Canyon. Ramer, standing on a talus slope about 200 feet below me, wore an aluminum hard hat, while my helmet was a mesh-reinforced fiberglass model.

As I bent to coil my rope, my helmet’s loose chin strap proved to be inadequate. The helmet rolled and fell toward Ramer’s party, finally hitting Ramer in the head after a free bounce of about 30 feet. Only at the last moment did Ramer’s party realize that my cries of “Rock!” were intended for them, and at no time did they see the helmet falling toward them. Ramer’s helmet prevented all injury, and he continued climbing immediately after the accident.

During last-moment evasive action, another member of Ramer’s party happened to step on their 7/16" goldline rope, severing it in two places. As the rope was not in use at the time, this unfortunate side-effect had no serious consequences.

ANALYSIS

Ramer certainly could have sustained some injury if he had not been helmeted. This incident supplies another straightforward argument for the use of hard hats by all rock climbers. The incident never would have occurred if I had been more attentive to the possibility of dropping an inadequately secured helmet.

This incident shows that stepping on ropes, a mispractice classed by some climbers with such mild errors as letting ropes drag on mud, actually can be a far more dangerous offense. (Source: Robert Fenichel.)

Editor's note: This incident vividly demonstrates that climbers need to be wary of falling objects even when natural or climber-caused rockfall or icefall is unlikely to be an issue. Dropped equipment is common and could be deadly.

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