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Inadequate Protection—Rappel Anchor Failure, California, Starlight Peak

INADEQUATE PROTECTION—RAPPEL ANCHOR FAILURE

California, Starlight Peak

On September 15, 1987, Ed Wallacer and A1 Johnson were climbing the northwest ridge of Starlight Peak when they decided to retreat at 1430.

Upon reaching the Thunderbolt/Starlight couloir, they elected to rappel rather than down-climb the loose chute. A sling anchor was already in place from a previous descent and they decided to use it, also backing it up with one of their own. They did not check the knot on the first sling. Wallacer reportedly was bouncing as he rappelled, and when both slings gave way (one came untied and the other was cut), he fell 60 meters to his death. Johnson climbed down the chute without a rope and reported the accident.

China Lake Mountain Rescue Group fielded nine members who were transported into the Palisade Glacier and climbed about 60 meters above the bergschrund to retrieve the body. The climbers’ rope was intact, which substantiated that the fall was due to anchor failure. We lowered the body about 25 meters to a ledge, where a Forest Service helicopter was able to lift it with a haul line. (Source: China Lake Mountain Rescue Group Newsletter)

Analysis

Both men reportedly had been climbing for 15 years, with Johnson the more technically experienced. Both had accomplished several climbs this summer. Wallacer had done several peaks in Colorado, and ascended Leonard Minaret in July.

They ate a good breakfast that morning and left at 0800 to climb Starlight. They had plenty of water which they consumed on the climb. Therefore, fatigue or dehydration seem not to be factors in the accident. (Source: China Lake Mountain Rescue Group Newsletter)