American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Stranded, Weather, Fatigue, California, Yosemite Valley

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1987


California, Yosemite Valley

Clint Cummins (29) had 13 years’ climbing experience in various mountain ranges, including ice climbing in the northeast and three El Capitan climbs in 1985. About 0600 on May 3, 1986, Cummins and his partner John Lockhart started climbing the Direct North Buttress of Middle Cathedral Rock. About 1100 it started raining when they had reached the top of the twelfth pitch. They rappelled off the route by mid-afternoon.

About 1630, Cummmins left Lockhart at the Church Bowl parking area to go and work on cleaning a proposed climbing route on the Church Bowl Cliff. Cummins hiked up the talus field to the west of the Church Bowl cliff. It was still raining and Cummins was wearing Nike Approach shoes, wool socks, polypro pants, knee pads, rain pants, a cotton T-shirt, a cotton long sleeved shirt, a Gore-tex parka, and an acrylic hat. (Most of his wool clothing was wet from the DNB climb.) He had two climbing ropes with him (9 millimeter and 11 millimeter), six carabiners, three slings, and a nut cleaner.

Cummins made a two-rope rappel without incident. On the second rappel, Cummins ran the ropes through a sling that was connected to two sturdy bushes. The end of the sling was about 30 centimeters away from the edge of the drop. He rappelled down about three meters, then test pulled the ropes, which moved with difficulty. He continued down the ropes, tied off, and began cleaning dirt and moss out of a crack. About 1930, as it was getting dark, he decided it was time to descend. Cummins finished the rappel to a tree and tried to pull the ropes down, but he could not. He tried several different techniques to “yard” on the ropes but could not budge them, so he yelled down to Lockhart for help, who in turn reported the situation to the SAR Office.

After he was contacted by SAR technician John Dill, Cummins tried to prusik up his ropes using his nylon webbing sling. He made it up about 12 meters, but feeling cold and tired, was reluctant to prusik through an overhanging section because he was afraid that he would get stranded in the middle of it. Cummins waited at the location until his rescue was effected by NPS rescue climber Bill Russell, assisted by Cummins’ partner, John Lockhart. (Source: Michael Murray, SAR Officer, Yosemite National Park)

(Editor’s Note: It is interesting to speculate as to whether (a) something other than webbing would have served better for prusiking under these conditions or (b) a Heden knot, or better yet, a Bachman knot, might have slid easier than a prusik knot.)

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