American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Rock, Inadequate Protection — Washington, Leavenworth—Icicle Creek

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1985


Washington, Leavenworth—Icicle Creek

This accident related to a fall taken by Don Novak (49) on April 7, 1984, about 1530. Don was attempting to lead the left hand portion of Z Crack. He had climbed this particular route three times earlier the same day, once top roped, once top roped placing protection, and once cleaning the protection. This was his fourth trip up the route. I was alongside him on a rock buttress about three meters away from the actual route and was observing his progress and made comments at different points either to him or his belayer. Don moved up from a stable platform about two meters above his last point of protection and placed a #6 hexentric on perlon in a portion of the crack. This protection is needed or one is exposed to a potential ground fall due to the slope of the hillside. I am sure Don was aware of this as I had personally supervised the placing of a piece of protection while he was climbing top roped to prevent a possible pendulum and ground fall while climbing top roped. With his climbing partner, I had personally placed the protection myself and remember explaining the rationale to him again.

As Don moved up past the needed piece, it was either kicked out or rope drag pulled it out leaving Don exposed to groundfall. He moved down about one and a half moves and appeared stable. He looked at his rack and appeared to select a chock slung on red perlon. I refrained from interrupting his concentration at this point as he seemed to be following what I would have told him to do anyway. Don made the half move to where he would have needed to place the piece and instead of placing it, hesitated and them moved up with his right arm to a rock nubbin. Before I could get a yell out to put the piece in, his feet slipped and he was unable to hold himself. He fell between four and five meters to the sloping rock/dirt surface and rolled another two meters before the rope really took hold. There was absolutely nothing his belayer could have done short of pulling in three meters of rope during the fall to have helped.

Don came to rest wedged between a tree and a rock. It took less than ten seconds for him to be reached by myself and the other instructor, Bill Busacca. Other people came to aid: three medically trained persons and about five people with MOFA training. We determined that his back was not a problem and repeated our survey a second time to be sure before allowing him to even move. He felt more comfortable sitting and complained of his wrist and left hip area. He had some abrasions on his left side near where the kidney is and we were concerned that he might be injured internally. His wrist problem was obvious and was treated. We also treated him for some mild shock from which he rapidly recovered. We continued his treatment during the evacuation, which was made by a sitting carry to the road and a waiting car. From the time of the accident to the arrival at the hospital was about 45 minutes. The physician’s analysis was a broken radius near the wrist with a possible fracture of the thumb bone. (Source: Randy Nelson, Instructor, The Mountaineers)


The rock was wet enough to require additional caution and even though the victim had climbed the route several times, adequate protection still needed to be in place. (Source: The Mountaineers, Accident Report Form, dated April 7, 1984)

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