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Fall on Rock, Climbing Unroped, California, South Sierra Nevada, Spanish Needles


California, South Sierra Nevada, Spanish Needles

Frank Riseley (45) was showing Explorer Scouts how to downclimb a pitch. His feet slipped and his handhold was too weak. He fell five feet, jammed his left foot into a crack, fell over backwards. His left leg bones broke above the boot top and he hung for half an hour before his companions extricated him. He crawled to a bivouac spot without splintering, where he was left with his son. The other four Explorers continued to vehicle with double mission of returning partway with gear and notifying the authorities. Eventually, after vehicle mishaps, they did notify the Kern Valley unit. The son left the next day to look for gear (none was brought to rendezvous) and then walked out in opposite direction and notified the CLMRG. CLMRG and KV units arrived simultaneously at Lamont Meadows and drove high with four-wheel drive vehicles. The son led the CLMRG team to the area, but in the clouds and falling snow he could not locate the exact spot. Search and some tracking (and considerable luck) led to finding the victim by 5 p.m. The victim was wet and cold. First aid took two hours, evacuation seven hours to the four-wheel drive vehicles of the IWV team. Evacuation went east to avoid a traverse toward the original entry. (Base camp was transferred 30 miles.) The stretcher was brought down 2500 feet of snow-covered boulders and brush in snow, rain, and occasional moonglow. The original 11-person team was joined by eight others who climbed from the east. (Source: Carl Heller, China Lake Mountain Rescue Group)


When a climber stops on class 3 to converse, eat, etc., he should have a supersafe position with good hand and footholds. It is common practice to coach a climber down a pitch and this makes sense. However, the coach should be very secure in his own stance. In this particular case, Riseley may have felt secure, but clearly had not checked carefully enough.

Perhaps a rope could have been used for the inexperienced climbers and would have prevented this accident. Certainly, I have always carried a rope on this particular set of peaks (ridge traverse). However, we have also done the ridge without using a rope and the presence or use of a rope might not have prevented this accident. Therefore, some additional aspects of note here. First, Explorer Scouts should know how to splint a broken leg. Additionally, as the victim was hoarse from so much shouting, the desirability of carrying a whistle is emphasized. (Source: Carl Heller, China Lake Mountain Rescue Group)