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Inexperience, Protection Pulled Out, Fall on Rock, Washington, Icicle Creek


Washington, Icicle Creek

On April 29, 1989, I was assigned to lead three students, Tom Del Carlo (30), Bob Dalby, and Ken Wells, up a multipitch route known as “B & D” on the east side of Wadell’s Buttress. The weather was clear, but rain the previous few days had turned the first pitch into a small waterfall. The sound of Icicle Creek made communication at any distance difficult or impossible. I led the first pitch, followed by Dalby. I climbed about one meter to the left of the normal line of ascent on a moderately angled slab that was partially dry. Protection was possible at six meters and ten meters using Friends. (The normal line has vertical cracks that take stoppers.)

Approximately 15 meters from the belay spot, a 1.5 meter step requires one mid-fifth class move. Water was flowing at this spot, though the rock was fairly clean. I inserted a Camalot, setting it three times before attaining good placement. On previous climbs I had used stoppers or hexes, but this time the water discouraged placement. Alternative routes to the left and right were covered with wet moss and lichen. I hesitated a few minutes, as I was unsure how slippery the rock was. I made the move using a hand jam and found the footing acceptable. The remainder of the pitch was fairly dry and unremarkable. Dalby followed me, having only a momentary problem at the step.

Del Carlo led the second team, with Wells belaying, while I belayed Dalby on the pitch above. Yelling down below drew my attention. Wells called that Del Carlo had injured his hand. My thoughts were that he had twisted his hand making the hand jam at the waterfall step.

Del Carlo had in fact followed the same route, placing protection at the six meter level, then had fallen at the step after putting in a Friend, probably in the same indentation I had used. He later noted he had first used Friends two weeks earlier on another climb. This time the device held for a moment and then popped. Wells reported that Del Carlo tumbled a bit on the top part of the slab as he tried to orient himself and began pulling in the rope hand over hand in an attempt to avoid a ground fall. The rope went taut, three meters above the ground, and Del Carlo flipped upside down and stopped 60 cm above the ground. He sustained scrapes and bruises to his legs, back, and arms and numbness in his left hand. His helmet was well scratched up. To his credit, after a short rest, he completed the climb. (Source: Condensed from a report by Dave Shema)


The water running down the rock had an effect on the placement and footing. Inexperience with the Friend also was a factor. The helmet likely prevented serious injury. A chest harness might have kept Del Carlo from flipping upside down when the rope became tight. (Source: Dave Shema)