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California, Owens Peak

California, Owens Peak. On 19 March, Richard Johnson (18) was starting to climb the Southeast ridge of Owens Peak. Richard was leading a 5.8- 5.9 layback perhaps 55 feet high. His belayer was sitting on the soft sand at the base of the cliff. Richard placed one piton 15 feet up, and another 30 feet up. He reached a point 50 feet up, and found the layback crack arching to the right and becoming, in essence, an overhanging flake. His fingers became fatigued and he came off shouting, “Falling!” The highest piton came out without a perceptible jerk, either to the belayer or to the falling climber, and of course, the second (lower) piton was too low to do any good. He landed on his feet and buttocks in sand. He suffered minor injuries and was taken to the hospital.

Source: James R. Nichols

Analysis: Under the circumstances Richard should have climbed 10-15 feet above the upper piton, placed another, and rested. Climbing too far above the last piton, combined with the difficulty of the climb and climber’s finger fatigue, caused this accident.