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Fall on Rock, Failure to Follow Route, Inadequate Protection, No Hard Hat, California, Tuolumne Meadows



California, Tuolumne Meadows

Allan Chaneles (31) and John Gonzales (30) arrived in Tuolumne Meadows on August 30,1986, at 0200. They had come to the area in the company of Nancy Jensen, Ray Fong, and Dale Hanes in a private vehicle. The party camped in the Tuolumne Meadows Campground, Group Section, Site H, which was reserved for the weekend by the Southern California Mountaineering Association, of which Gonzales was a member.

Chaneles and Gonzales woke up at 0730. At 1015, they left the campsite to go to Daff Dome in the company of Fong and Hanes. They arrived at the base of the dome at 1030. At this point, Chaneles and Gonzales separated from the other two members of the party and went to the west side of the dome to look for possible climbing routes. They carried and referred to the guidebook, Rock Climbs of Tuolumne Meadows. The partners found most of the routes occupied and selected “Apparition” because it was free of other climbers. They began to climb at 1145.

Chaneles led the first pitch of 25 meters without incident. He told Gonzales that he felt that he was climbing well and would like to continue leading. Chaneles started the second pitch. He was unable to place protection, and continued to climb to a point where he thought that a bolt, shown in the guidebook, would be. He called to Gonzales that he was having trouble finding the bolt and would “go for it.” Chaneles then indicated that he saw the bolt three meters to his left and would traverse to it. Immediately after this exchange, Gonzales heard Chaneles say, “Oh, no!” and realized that Chaneles was falling.

Gonzales was using a Bachli Seilbremse belay device. He had used a #2 Hex and two Friends, a 2½ and a 3½, for his belay anchor. Gonzales said that he was unable to pull in a directional belay. When Chaneles fell and came to the end of the rope, the impact pulled his belayer 180 degrees from his stance facing the rock. In addition, Gonzales’ right hand was pulled into the belay device. Gonzales suffered contusions and abrasions on his right hand, and rope burns on his left wrist and right leg. Gonzales said that he was unable to gain control of the rope. Gonzales stated that after he gained control of the rope and stopped Chaneles’ fall, he lowered Chaneles to a ledge because the victim was dangling from the end of the rope.

Gonzales remained on the belay ledge until other climbers in the area reached him and lowered him to the ground. (Source: Joanne Gill, Ranger, Yosemite National Park)


The route Chaneles was climbing is face climbing of a 75 to 80 degree angle with few points of protection. Chaneles was not on the correct route. He was climbing about 2.5 meters to the right of the route indicated in the guide book. Climbing routes in Tuolumne frequently follow old water courses indicated by dark streaks on the rocks. Both the correct route and Chaneles’ route consisted of such streaks. Had Chaneles been on the correct route, he would have found at least one point to place protection, approximately 15 meters above his belayer. There was no opportunity to place protection on Chaneles’ route. When Chaneles reached the bolt 20 meters above his belayer, he realized that he was off course. He saw the bolt to his left and attempted to traverse to it and the correct route. The traverse probably would be rated 5.9–more difficult than the rest of the climb. It was from this point that Chaneles fell.

Measurements indicate that Gonzales, the belayer, was 25 meters above the sloping ledges at the base of the climb. Chaneles climbed 20 meters above his belayer without protection. When he fell, his first point of impact, determined by small pieces of clothing and hair embedded in the rock, was 43 meters below his last position on the rock. Chaneles bounced three meters to the base of the dome, then tumbled another 12 meters before he came to rest on a ledge below. According to Gonzales, he was unable to hold his partner and let him fall about two meters before regaining control of the rope. Gonzales probably let more rope pass through his belay device than he realized, but Chaneles undoubtedly received fatal injuries at the first point of impact. The stress that Gonzales felt likely occurred after Chaneles’ first contact with the rock. Chaneles had climbed so far above Gonzales without protection that the belay was ineffective.

Given Chaneles’ experience, he was probably climbing to the limit of his ability. He inadvertently chose the wrong route which he was unable to protect. When he reached the bolt and realized his mistake, he was unable to make a safe correction. (Source: Joanne Gill, Ranger, Yosemite National Park)