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Fall on Rock, Falling Rock — California, Pinnacles National Monument


California, Pinnacles National Monument

On May 8, 1982, Chad Carvey (18) and his unde, Crile Carvey (33), were attempting a route up a black waterchute on the Balconies when this accident occurred. They later learned that the name of the climb was “Lava Falls.” At the time, they only knew it was rated 5.8–5.10 and had first been climbed a few weeks previously.

They selected a belay stance about ten meters away and to the right of the base of the climb. Chad took the first lead while Crile belayed, using a Sticht plate clipped to his harness in front; Crile also tied into a huge tree. Chad climbed through some steep 5.9 rock and made steady progress. When he was approximately 40 meters up the wall, Crile advised him that there was only ten meters of rope left. At this point, Chad was on a resting stance, facing a difficult section. As he was tired, low on carabiners and saw no double-bolted belay stance, he expressed his desire to come down for lunch. As Crile was ready to climb, he encouraged Chad to either figure out a way to belay him up to Chad’s position or go a bit higher and look around. After discussing the options, Chad agreed to move up. As he did so, he spotted a good belay stance a few meters above. In order to give him more rope to work with, Crile moved his belay spot a few meters closer to the wall. In response to Chad’s request, Crile fed the rope to him with a good amount of slack, to help him deal with the enormous rope drag. As Chad moved into the next hard section, Crile was careful not to pull him off his tenuous holds by feeding line in pace with his swift motion.

It was at this point that Chad fell. It took Crile several moments to realize that he was falling and to apply the brakes. His fall was slowed mostly by the friction from the running belays. He had at least eight points of protection, mostly runners clipped to bolts. At one point, the placement consisted of a single carabiner clipped to a bolt in such a way that the rope dragged quite directly on the rock. Chad fell about ten meters until he was able to grab a sling and clip in.

The cause of the fall was the sudden dislodging of a foothold. Chad had tested the large block before committing himself to it but found, as he moved off of it and applied some outward pressure, that he was suddenly minus a foothold.

The basketball-size block ended its 40-meter flight on the right side of Crile’s lower back, breaking five ribs and five transverse processes and slightly injuring a kidney. Not wishing to compound a possible back injury, he remained on his back until he was evacuated by NPS staff, on-the-scene volunteers and a MAST helicopter from Fort Ord. (Source: Crile Harvey, letter to the U.S. editor)


Sometimes, even though you feel you have done everything thoroughly, this kind of unexpected event happens. Looking at a block which you are about to grab or step on, knowing the kind of rock and its probable cleavage, testing it by the usual means of hitting it, pushing and pulling on it, and exerting pressure on it from different angles, especially if you are concerned about it, help to increase the margin of safety. (Source: J. Williamson)