American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Washington, Spokane, Tower Mountain

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1969

Washington, Spokane, Tower Mountain. On 22 May Frank Tavares (42) and his son Russell (Rusty), age 19, began a climb of the west face of Big Rock at approximately 6:00 p.m. PST. Rusty led to a point about 80 feet above the base of the route, anchored himself with a well placed piton, and then belayed Frank up to his position. Up to this point Frank’s climbing was observed as being very smooth. Frank then took over the lead as Rusty remained on belay. At a point approximately 40 feet above and a few feet to the right of his belayer, Frank solidly drove an Austrian horizontal piton into a vertical crack under a large flake. He then moved up on to the flake and traversed diagonally on a delicate fingertip traverse for a distance of about 10 feet above and 40 feet to the right of the piton, arriving at the most difficult move on the route. At this time, observers had occasion to talk with him and his comments led them to believe that he was aware of his delicate position and did not want further distraction, but he appeared to be in command of the situation. At this time the observers moved out of sight. About five minutes later, having apparently decided to drive another piton, Frank fell, pushing himself away from the face in approved technique in order to fall clear. The time was 7:40 p.m. After falling about 38 feet the force on the system caused the piton to twist and fracture at the neck and the carabiner to bend. The gate of the carabiner was not forced open; neither was it jammed shut so that it could not be opened later. Frank continued falling for another 70 feet at which time Rusty applied such a dynamic belay as was possible with Frank, by now, only 10 feet or so above the base of the rock. Frank’s initial impact was on his hips, having been flipped by the rope, then he bounced and hit his head and came to rest on his back. Accepted mountain rescue procedures were initiated by sending one of the other climbers in the area for help, while others gave aid to the injured and gave moral support to Rusty as he made his own way off the face. Upon arrival of the county sheriff’s deputies and an ambulance crew, litter evacuation was carried out over rough terrain. Frank remained unconscious and was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital.

Source: Miles B. Henderson and Tom Dillon, Climbing Committee, Spokane Mountaineers, Inc.

Analysis: Both Frank and Rusty were experienced climbers and mountaineers, and Frank was the Climbing Committee Chairman of the Spokane Mountaineers, of which both were established members. In spite of an obvious lack of protective pitons, it is believed that the fall would have been severe but not fatal had the piton not fractured under stress. Rusty’s belay anchor held solidly and he would have been able to hold the fall but for the apparently defective piton driven by Frank. In the 60 feet between Frank and Rusty only the one piton was placed. Rusty was wearing a hard hat and Frank was not. Had Frank been wearing a hard hat he may have sustained lesser injuries. We strongly urge all climbers to wear protective head gear during all climbs. Rusty was wearing a short sleeved T-shirt and suffered severe rope burns on the forearm and back.

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