California, Yosemite National Park, Phantom Pinnacle. On 5 July, Robert Foster (22) and Jeffrey Schaffer (23), both of Berkeley, began a climb on Phantom Pinnacle at about 10:15 a.m. The first two pitches went easily. The third pitch, a long, strenuous (5.9) layback, was attempted by Schaffer. He fell off it. He attempted an alternate route and fell again. Foster then took the lead and went to the top of the layback, where he was able to clip into a piton 2 feet over his head. He then started a traverse, on a very narrow ledge, allowing little foot purchase. Much of his weight was carried on his hands. Feeling his fingers tiring, he started to move back to the last pin, when his fingers went numb and he fell. The time was about 3:00 p.m. Schaffer was belaying, clipped into a pin in the bottom of a chimney. His neck had gotten tired and he was not watching the climber. He says he thought the hard part of the pitch had been completed. The unexpected fall pulled the rope through his hands, blistering them and causing him to lose his grip on the rope, which remained around his back. He was able to regain control of the rope and made a “smooth” dynamic belay after Foster had fallen an estimated 80 feet. The only rock contact Foster remembers was with a ledge, below the belayer, and about 75 feet below the point of the fall. He says he hit the edge of this ledge with his left hip and his right heel, bounced off it and was caught on belay five feet lower.
Foster climbed back to the ledge five feet above him. Schaffer, belayed by Foster, went up and cleaned out all hardware except the top pin, from which he rappelled back to Foster. A slow, hobbling retreat was made, and the party reached Park Headquarters at 7:30 p.m. to sign in from the climb. A visit to the hospital revealed minor abrasions on Foster’s hip and a mild sprain of the ankle.
Source: David F. Roach, Park Ranger
Analysis: Foster stated that had he realized his fatigued state, he could have held onto the pin above him, preventing the fall. Schaffer feels that the wearing of gloves, while belaying, would have made the unexpected fall a routinely stopped incident. In the opinion of this investigator, this accident points out the increasing tendency of young climbers to try to fly before their wings are dry. The ability to judge one’s own state of fatigue, and the importance of a belayer’s constant preparedness, are basic to even beginning climbing. Grade IV (a full day or one-and-a-half) 5.9 climbs are not designed for the intermediate, weekend climber. Experienced climbers hearing of the accident asked this question, “Has Schaffer ever had belay practice?”