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Falling Rock, Inadequate Protection, Failure to Test Anchor, No Hard Hat, Washington, Leavenworth



Washington, Leavenworth

This accident occurred on June 14, 1987, to Bleecker Morse (37) and Jim Turk (30), as reported by Turk.

Bleecker and I have climbed Icicle Road area a lot, but not since 1984. Since it was our first time out this year, we were only top-roping on clean granite. In the afternoon we decided to look for something unfamiliar to try and hiked away from the roadside climbs. We followed the base of a cliff band that had a lot of rotten- looking rock until we hit a nice crack that intercepted a ledge about 15 meters up. The rock looked much better here, and there were signs of past use (bolts, etc.). Plus, the ledge had a 5.0 gully we scrambled up to set a top rope. Once on the ledge, the anchors seemed self-evident to me. There were two tailgate-sized flakes that were apparently bonded to the rock formation on the ledge. Bleecker was a very safety-conscious climber, so we looped webbing around each, then set the anchors so that neither one would take a full load in the event of a fall. (The crack was just at the edge of Bleecker’s ability, so we planned on falling.) Neither flake showed obvious signs of a fracture that may cause it to fail the way they did.

I climbed first, with Bleecker belaying me with a belay device anchored to a tree at the cliff base directly under the route. I’m not sure, but I seem to remember hanging on the belay when I got just off the ground. I know for sure that I reached up, grabbed the anchor webbing and hoisted myself over the top to avoid having to knock little rocks down on my friend by using the littered ledge itself. The point is, the anchor got loaded at least once by me. Bleecker climbed next. He got just off the ground and peeled off. I had him reeled in tight, since he was just off the deck. I lowered him to the ground and unloaded the belay. At this point, we were hit by rockfall. There was no sound, just rockfall. Bleecker was struck by one of the anchor flakes and was mortally injured. I was struck by smaller stuff and knocked downslope from my belay stance, but not before seeing the other flake land next to Bleecker and me. Bleecker had suffered a depressive skull fracture and probably a broken neck, but was still breathing and had a pulse. I stabilized his head and went for help, although part of me knew he was already gone. Chelan County sheriff’s deputy, ambulance crew, and fire department all responded remarkably fast. The evacuation was difficult because of the steepness of the approach and distance from the road. Bleecker was dead when loaded into the ambulance, even though v/e had IV, oxygen, and a doctor at this point. It had been two hours since the accident. (Source: Jim Turk)


Just prior to the rockfall, we had discussed helmets. Bleecker’s was forgotten at home—mine was strapped to my pack. I elected not to put mine on because the route looked immaculately clean; there wasn’t a lot of wall left above the ledge, and because Bleecker didn’t have one....

(1) Wear helmets! A helmet wouldn’t have saved Bleecker Morse, but it would have saved my having stitches in my head. (2) Select a belay stance out of the direct route path if possible. (3) Select anchors as if your life depends on it. It does. (Source: Jim Turk)