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Fall on Rock, Exceeding Abilities, Inadequate Equipment, Climbing Alone, New Hampshire, Cathedral Ledge


New Hampshire, Cathedral Ledge

(Donald Estep [26] dictated this report regarding his accident on August 5, 1986.)

I had intended to do an ascender-protected (using a hanging rope for protection) solo ascent of Starfire, a 5.11 route on the south end of the east face of Cathedral Ledge. I approached the route from the top, fixed a rope hanging down Repo Man, a somewhat harder route which I mistook for Starfire, rappelled to a ledge 12 meters above the ground, fixed a Clog Ascender to the 11 millimeter rope with one locking Clog carabiner to my set harness and one locking Chouinard Reverse Gate D carabiner to my makeshift chest harness, consisting of two slings. I weighted the rope by tying my pack to the rope, and I started climbing.

The route was harder than I expected; I fell a few times (that is, I weighted the Clog Ascender) before the accident. My self-belay was working successfully. When I was 12 to 15 meters above the small starting ledge, I fell; my feet came off the 80 degree slab and my chest hit the rock and the Clog Ascender. My fall was not stopped by the ascender until I had fallen back almost to the starting ledge.

During the fall I grabbed the rope, thinking that it had come out of the ascender. (I had read that this was possible with a CMI Ascender.) My hands received severe second and third degree friction burns. (Skin was hanging in flaps from the fingers and palm of each hand.) I let go of the rope when I realized that the ascender was still on the rope; I rolled out of my face-to-the-rock position, and at that point the ascender caught me. My landing on the small ledge was soft because of the stretch in the rope.

The slings which made up my chest harness were abraded completely through. My seat harness was not injured.

Three other climbers assisted me by lowering me to the ground. (I could not use my hands.) I was able to walk to a car for the drive to the hospital. (Source: Donald Estep via George Hurley, Mountain Guides Alliance)


Probably the Chouinard locking carabiner which was in place in the upper hole of the standard Clog Ascender, and which attached the ascender to the chest harness, twisted and held the cam of the ascender open while my chest pressed against these items. When I turned away from the rock, the ascender became effective. (Source: Donald Estep, via George Hurley, Mountain Guides Alliance)