American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing
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North Carolina, Durham

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1965

North Carolina, Durham. On 23 November a party of climbers from the University of North Carolina were practicing rock climbing technique at an abandoned rock quarry about one mile south of Durham. George Huppert (20) and Joseph McSwain started to climb an obvious crack up an inside corner using direct aid. Huppert, who was leading, had placed one piton and was placing another between the corner and the main cliff. The piton sounded good for the first two blows, but on the third, the piton went into the eye unexpectedly, acted as a wedge, and pried a huge block (which had been the inside corner) from the main cliff. All pitons came out, and both Huppert and the block tumbled fifteen feet to the ground. He was crushed when the block hit him.

Several of the other members notified the Durham County Rescue Squad, while others tried to relieve the pressure of the rock against Huppert. The members of the Rescue Squad estimated the weight of the block to be around 3,000 pounds.

Huppert was rushed to Watts Hospital in Durham. The doctors said that he suffered a dislocated pelvis, a fractured hip, and a severe laceration of the coccyx. He is now making a complete recovery.

Source: George E. DeWolfe.

Analysis: Huppert is an experienced climber and was using every safety precaution one can employ on a direct aid ascent. No procedures were violated. I think that a hard hat could have prevented any damage done to Huppert’s head, although there was next to none. It was a freak accident that could have happened to any of us, and I feel sure that Huppert feels lucky to be alive.

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