American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Rappel Failure, Inadequate Equipment, California, Yosemite Valley

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1979


California, Yosemite Valley

Paul Whippo (27) and Doug Meerdinkt (26) were descending from the top of Crack Center Route (YDS II, 5.6 or 5.7) at 6 p.m. on October 2. They had been unable to find an existing rappel anchor at the top of the climb. (It is necessary to downclimb a fourth class corner about 120 feet to reach the nearest rappel anchor.) Not wanting to leave behind their own gear at the top as an anchor, they downclimbed the route about 40 feet to a fixed (already placed) wired bashee and threaded the rappel rope through the eye loop of the wire.

While Whippo stood unroped on a large foothold, Meerdinkt began rappelling. The wire broke and Meerdinkt slid and bounced about 450 feet to the ground, sustaining fractures and lacerations. Whippo then anchored himself as best he could and began shouting for help. His anchor was a #2 stopper and a #3 stopper individually connected. (This anchor would be considered inadequate by experienced climbers.)

A camper in nearby Upper Pines campground heard the shouts and phoned Park Dispatch at 6:15 p.m. Responding Ranger Andress arrived at the scene at 6:35 p.m., followed by Rangers Rohrback and Patterson. Rescue teams and gear were organized for a night rock rescue of Whippo and the stabilization/scree evacuation of Meerdinkt. Whippo later stated that he had noticed that the wire contained broken strands, but he had previously talked to some other climbers who said that they had successfully rappelled from that point. Whippo also stated that he and Meerdinkt had both read the article (Off Belay, August 1978) about the three climbers who had died in a fall from El Capitan because they had anchored to a single point with no back up. (Source: C. Patterson, Yosemite National Park)


This accident was due to extremely poor judgment. Meerdinkt and Whippo were on an established, well-known climb, one which is described in at least two popular guidebooks along with the rappel route. To attempt to rappel on a single, fixed, old wired bashee is to tempt the devil. It also was not necessary because, with a bit of downclimbing, a safe rappel route with solid anchors could have been found. Even if the two could not have found this, yelling for help would have been much better than to attempt to rappel the route on one single, shaky anchor point. It was only by a miracle that Meerdinkt fell as far as he did and was not killed. (Source: Tim J. Setnicka, Yosemite National Park)

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