American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

West Virginia, Wolf Gap Recreation Area, East Face of Big Schloss Mtn.

  • In Memoriam
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1973

West Virginia, Wolf Gap Recreation Area, East Face of Big Schloss Mtn. On 5 August at about 1545 Dave Templeton (46) of the PATC Mountaineering Section fell 60 feet to his death from a ledge near the top of Big Schloss. He landed head first on some rocks and died instantly from head and neck injuries. Cause of fall was failure of protection.

Dave had been conducting a training session on lead climbing with two beginners, Gregory Christopulos and another person called Marty. Dave led the climb (a fairly difficult one-pitch climb with a long traverse) belayed by Greg and set up his top belay by placing a single three-quarter inch hexagonal wedge nut down into a crack in a large rectangular block. The vertical crack was open at the top and the side away from the cliff. The nut was wedged about three inches down and between some horizontal ribs which extended in from both sides. [Pete Gardiner saw Dave test the nut by pulling hard several times to the left and perpendicular to the crack, in the same direction as the rope (see diagram).] Then he tied off with a clove hitch and a carabiner on the nut runner. The distance from his single bowline waist loop to the nut was about two feet and probably a secure belay considering the rope angle and his sitting position on the smooth block.

Marty started climbing and fell at the beginning of the traverse 15 feet off the ground. He was belayed from the top and bottom and recovered successfully. After a total of about one and a half hours he finished the climb and had cleaned all of the hardware. Then he untied from both ropes. The rope down to Greg was now allowed to run straight over the edge from Dave instead of to the left as it had before. Also, it ran in the same direction as the crack and at this time there was two feet of slack behind the belay system — from the nut to Dave. Greg started to climb and asked for tension at the beginning of the traverse, fell to the ground unhurt and saw Dave land just beside him. Dave was not wearing his hard-hat which he had on during the lead. According to John Bonine and Jan

Lane who were at the top a few feet away when tension was requested, Dave shifted his position slightly to the left and was pulled quietly over the edge.

When Sproull arrived at the bottom two minutes later Dave was lying motionless on his stomach. No pulse was detected. John had run down to the camp ground one-and-a-half miles away to notify the ranger. At about 1800 three National Park Rangers arrived and one-half hour later four members of the Woodstock Rescue Squad came up from a road and trails to the east of Big Schloss. By 2000 they had transported Dave’s body to an ambulance at the campground.

Source: Charles B. Sproull II, other members of the party, and Arnold Wexler.

Analysis: The tightness of the clove hitch and the curved grooves in the beveled sides of the nut suggest that the nut failed at several hundred pounds of force. Also, upon inspecting the belay area while waiting for the rescue parties, it was found that Dave could have provided adequate protection for both climbers by tying a long sling or rope completely around a section of the large rectangular block. This also indicates the need to check the placement of nuts regularly, and, as recommended by Chouinard, more than one should be used.

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