American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Rock, Placed Inadequate Protection, Failure to Follow Route, Exceeding Abilities, California, Tahquitz

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1988

FALL ON ROCK, PLACED INADEQUATE PROTECTION,

FAILURE TO FOLLOW ROUTE, EXCEEDING ABILITIES

California, Tahquitz

On June 13, 1987, Myles Twete (29) fell while leading the sixth pitch (5.6) of Whodunit (5.9) at Tahquitz Rock. After six hours of climbing, Twete and Garth Magee were nearing the top with each having shared the lead on the way up, The climbing conditions were excellent and both climbers had done well up until the time of the accident.

After following up the fifth pitch, Twete began leading the sixth pitch. Roughly ten minutes into the climb, there appeared to be very little protection or good holds to rest. (The pitch seemed far more difficult than the 5.6 rating.) With four or five pieces of protection placed (no Friends) and about 15 to 20 meters into the climb, Twete was about 4 meters past the last chock placed and had tried futilely to reach a good hold. He slipped from the hold and slid downward until his right foot met a rock which crushed his tibia and fibula in the ankle. This sent him flipping end over end cartwheel fashion as three pieces of protection pulled out of the rock during the fall.

Shortly, Twete bounced over Magee and slammed the belay ledge (breaking his femur just below the hip). Continuing to fall end over end, Twete sustained two broken wrists and a broken right elbow before coming to a halt. At least one chock had held and most of the shock from the fall was transferred to it and not the belayer. After the fall (about 30 meters, total), the climbers were still some 200 meters above the base of the climb.

Calls for help by Magee were responded to by Tom Kordis and Garr Opdegroff who had just arrived at the climb’s base. After about two and a half hours of climb-

ing, the two rescuing climbers had reached Twete with extra water, Gatorade, and ropes. For three and a half hours more, all four climbers rappelled down, with the injured climber rappelling down on the back of one of the rescuing climbers. Once down to the base of the climb, the Riverside Moutanin Rescue Unit team had several volunteers and a helicopter ready to transport the injured climber. Seven hours after the accident, the injured climber arrived at the Hemet Valley Hospital. (Source: Myles Twete)

Analysis

Although the next-to-last pitch was rated within the capabilities of the injured climber, after six hours of climbing, fatigue and misjudgment began to take effect. The primary causes of the fall were physical and mental fatigue, inexperience, and leading off route (protection was scarce, holds and friction poor for the climber’s abilities). Contributing to the severity of the fall was the placement of inadequate protection for such a fall. Thankfully, the belayer properly took up slack rope and held the fall with little difficulty. Luckily, the injured climber sustained only one compound fracture (right ankle) which was kept from bleeding significantly by a high-top climbing shoe. Also, he was lucky not to have any left-leg, head, back or torso injuries after the 30- meter fall.

The rescue operation was successful largely due to the skill and quickness of the two rescuing climbers, the climbing partner, and the help and skills of the RMRU team. Also, the fact that the injured climber never lost consciousness and lost little blood during the rescue made the 200-meter descent much quicker than it might have been. All in all, the injured climber was lucky to come out of this one alive. (Source: Myles Twete)

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