American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Hand-Hold and Rock Anchor Came Out, Fall/Slip, Off Route, Washington, Mount Thompson

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1991

HAND-HOLD AND ROCK ANCHOR CAME OUT, FALL/SLIP, OFF ROUTE

Washington, Mount Thompson

On July 22, five climbers left base camp between Mount Thompson and Bumblebee Pass at 0500 for a Mountaineer’s led climb of the West Ridge. Steve Sulzbacher led the party, with Diane Magyary assistant leader and designated first aid leader. Other members included Randy Johnson, Bruce Gaulke, and Kathy O’Toole (27). All climbers were wearing hard hats and seat harnesses, though no one was using a chest harness.

The third pitch appeared to go up a gully, which Gaulke led with some difficulty. They concluded that the “correct” route was actually to the left of this gully. O’Toole saw a way up there, and Sulzbacher set up to belay her. O’Toole placed four chocks as she climbed the pitch. Her fifth point of protection was a runner around a sizable rock horn. She was two to three meters above this runner when a handhold pulled out and she fell, pulling a boulder one meter in diameter with her. The rock horn also failed and pulled out. Chocked protection below arrested her fall. She landed upside down, still secure in her seat harness, but suffered a fractured ankle. O’Toole was able to assist in rappelling down to base camp though later had to be evacuated by MAST helicopter. (Source: Compiled from reports by Steve Sulzbacher and Kathy O’Toole)

Analysis

I was climbing a crack system with a fair amount of moss. I perceived the significance of the moss but chose to continue climbing. As the system was more difficult than the route was supposed to be, I concluded I was off route. I fell when I weighted a handhold and the rock broke off.

I landed head down, back against the mountain, but didn’t fall out of my harness because I’d been taught to tighten the waist belt as much as possible, which kept me secure even upside down. My belayer and climbing leader commented that it was fortunate I’d opposed my first two chocks, so as to prevent zippering. The entire party was very supportive. I’m very grateful to the training the Mountaineers provided all of us. It came in handy. (Source: Kathy O’Toole)

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