FALL ON ROCK, PROTECTION PULLED OUT,
INEXPERIENCE, EXCEEDED ABILITIES, NO HARD HAT
California, Mount Whitney
On June 27, 1987, Ron Robinson (32) and Rick Maschek (35) were on the third pitch of Mount Whitney’s East Buttress Route (Class 5). Maschek led the first two pitches without incident. Weather was partly clear, but deteriorated to light snow during the climb. Rock was dry, but frequent snow patches sometimes made footing tricky and may have hidden some good placements. Robinson led on the third pitch. He came across two fixed pins on what (for him) was a difficult move up a notch. Without properly protecting his moves, Robinson used a pair of #8 hexes to aid up this notch. He clipped into a preplaced Lost Arrow (without testing it), then proceeded on slings. As he was attempting to clip into the second fixed pin (this one with a ring swaged into the head), he fell. Maschek later stated that although he heard Robinson shout, “Falling,” there was no strain on the rope due to friction along the traverse preceding the notch. The other party on the route later said they heard Robinson bounce “three or four times.” Robinson fell about 13 meters, pulling out two or three hexes and the Lost Arrow.
After recovering his senses, Robinson shouted to Maschek that he was conscious. Moments later, Robinson discovered that he was somewhat injured, and that he was wedged in a gully by his pack and ice ax. After extricating himself from the gully, Robinson climbed back toward the route, establishing visual contact with Maschek again. He noted that “an astonishing” amount of hardware littered the rope between his harness and the hex which had held his fall. Robinson mentioned at this point that he wished to continue the climb, but Maschek recommended descent/self-rescue. Robinson immediately agreed, not trusting his own judgment, as by now he had determined that he had a head injury, extent unknown. Robinson was badly shaken up the the fall and was longing for the safety of a secure ledge. He began to climb back, recovering what hardware he could. Arriving at the belay ledge, he then belayed Maschek who climbed out to recover more hardware, then Robinson and Maschek began to plan their descent.
At this point Maschek also gave Robinson a determined questioning to ascertain Robinson’s orientation and fitness for descent. Although Robinson had earlier shown some disorientation in wanting to continue the climb, he was now more oriented and appreciative of their situation. A rappel point was selected and Robinson’s rope was used as a fixed line to protect the traverse to the rappel point. (This rope has since been retired.)
Robinson walked out to Whitney Portal the following day. Maschek and another partner attempted the route the next day, recovering the fast-draw that Robinson had been attempting to place in the swaged ring (it was in the ring, but the ’biner gate was not closed) when he fell. (Source: Ron Robinson)
This was my first fall ever. Controlled falls in a practice situation would have given me a greater appreciation for the seriousness of a fall. I purchased a helmet several days later. A chest-harness element in my harness system might have prevented the back strain and might have prevented my getting lodged in the rock gully. In any case, I now know why UIAA does not approve harnesses without a chest element present. I didn’t adequately place or test my protection. Although I had been as exposed on technically easier climbs, and had climbed much more difficult rock involving less exposure, I had never been so unnerved on a route (by the exposure) and had never had the chance to note exposure’s effect on my ability to climb technical rock. For me, the effect was real, I was affected by the exposure, and this did have an effect on my technical performance. When I climb this route again, or others like it, I don’t intend to lead until I have completed a route or two like this as rope second. (Source: Ron Robinson)