American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Arizona, Carefree Area (Near Phoenix)

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1967

Arizona, Carefree Area (Near Phoenix). On 13 March, a climbing group consisting of 11 climbers, three being Arizona Mountain members were engaged in a practice climb. The climb is a short 3 pitch route consisting of a vertical crack face, an 18 to 20 foot layback, divided in the middle by a 3 inch ledge, and finally an easy chimney. Larry Fisher, who had climbed it before led the middle pitch. Rex Lambert (14), with several months experience gave him a dynamic belay. This was a sitting belay with piton anchor on the ledge above the first pitch. On reaching the 3 inch ledge, Larry reached up and snapped in a carabiner to a previously placed anchor bolt, located about 3 feet below the chimney and 16 inches above the main ledge. He proceeded upward to where he was in position to move into the chimney about 6 feet above the last anchor. When making the move off the layback and into the chimney, which requires jamming technique, he fell 12-14 feet, the stretch in the belay line and the belayer adding a few more feet. This placed him about 2 feet above the main ledge before the dynamic belay could become effective. With the beginning dynamic belay he hit the rock and was eased to a sitting position on the ledge.

As his actions did not indicate serious injury Aleith removed his boot to check his ankle. At that time it was a little numb but showed no swelling or discoloration. Climbing was called to a halt so Larry could catch his breath. Swelling then began so a pulley brakebar arrangement was set up for lowering. This was backed by an anchored belay. They eased his boot back on for further support, unlaced to give a boot braced ankle support from slings. He was tied in by both seat and chest slings. An extra rappel was established to assist him. On descent, the rappel line dropped off his shoulder, the carabiner slacked open and the rappel line came loose, but did not effect the control of the descent from above. At the base, three carried him a short distance and Aleith rappelled down to him. By then the swelling had increased and pain was considerable. Four carried him to the car while the others cleared the rock. He was placed in a station wagon and driven to the hospital. X-rays there revealed a fracture of the right ankle.

Source: Dick Aleith (leader) and Larry Fisher

Analysis: (Aleith) In my mind, there was no apparent negligence of either belayer or climber. The climber’s actions showed no signs of tension, and the pitch was not beyond his ability. The injury was caused by either striking the 3 inch ledge midway or the bottom wide ledge. Because of the location of the bolt, the belay was ineffective. Another location of the bolt would change the climb from a Class 5.

(Fisher) I fell off; no excuses. I just didn’t do it right. In my opinion, I fell well clear of the small ledge, and hit only the bottom (starting) ledge. This is important since it means that the bolt was so low that the rope stretched and let me hit the bottom. Bad luck, a locked knee, and a low bolt caused me damage. We learned the belayer did as good a job as possible, but there was no room. Unfortunately, the bolt is already as high as possible. My back-to-the-rock semi-rappel was not a success and it came off. After that the rope made a useful hand line for control and traversing. Aside from that, the rescue was well managed.

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