American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

PROTECTION FAILED, FALL ON ROCK California, Yosemite Valley

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1990


California, Yosemite Valley

At 0845 on June 20, 1989, Kent Kroeker (31) came to my residence saying that his climbing partner, Joe Kristy (43) had fallen on El Capitan and had broken his hip. I escorted him to the SAR Cache where he met with Shift Supervisor Mike Mayer.

Kroeker said that Kristy had taken a leader fall on the 30th pitch on June 19 at 1300. They completed the route with Kristy jummarring. They spent the night on the top. Kroeker said he left Kristy the following morning to go for help.

Mayer ordered helicopter 51 for evacuation. A helitack crew was dropped on El Cap, then went to El Cap meadow to pick up Park Medic Kerry Maxwell and Bob Howard. When we arrived, Kristy was sitting up by a tree. He was evacuated by litter into the helicopter and transferred to the clinic. X-rays at the clinic showed that Kristy had a broken femur at the trochanter. (Source: Greg Jackson, Ranger, Yosemite National Park)


At the clinic, Kristy told me that he was starting on the 30th pitch, climbing to his left. He said he was standing with his left foot in an etrier, that was attached to a fixed Copperhead. He was standing there for about ten seconds when he was saying to himself, “I’m off route.” At that time, the Copperhead blew, Kristy fell and started penduluming to his right. The next piece of protection was described by Kristy as a 3/4" (1.9 cm) sling in a one-meter loop around a rock about two meters down and to the right. That sling blew, and he continued penduluming to his right, to another sling. That second sling was described as an 11/16" (1.7 cm) runner which was two meters to the right of the previous sling. It also broke. About one meter to the right of the second sling was a bolt by a dihedral. The bolt held, and Kristy continued his pendulum into the dihedral, where he impacted about ten meters below the bolt. Kristy estimated he fell 20 meters total.

He said he then climbed up to the bolt, and pulled his haul bag up. He said that he was going to continue the pitch, then started, but could not continue because of the pain. Kroeker, who was on belay, then took the lead. The two were able to make it to the top by Kristy jummarring up, arriving at the top around 2130. (Source: Greg Jackson, Ranger, Yosemite National Park)

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