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Fall on Rock, Fatigue—Food Supply Fell from Ledge, California, Yosemite Valley, Washington's Column


California, Yosemite Valley, Washington’s Column

On May 16, 1991, Ranger Kelly McCloskey interviewed Tom Broxon’s climbing partner, Patrick Sturzenacker. She took detailed notes, from which I transcribed this report.

Sturzenacker told McCloskey that the fall in which Broxon was injured occurred on May 15, 1991, about 1500 on the Prow route of Washington’s Column. They had begun the climb on Friday, May 14, about 0600-0630, and had completed six pitches that day, then bivouacked in a Portaledge that night at the top of the sixth pitch. Sturzenacker said that everything had gone well up to the time of the fall. He said that Broxon was clipping into the top belay when he fell past Sturzenacker a total estimated to be about 100 to 150 feet. The fall caused three pieces of protection to be pulled from their placements. Sturzenacker believed that the pieces that pulled were two TCUs and one Friend. Sturzenacker then hauled Broxon back to the ledge from which he was belaying, covered his wounds, placed him in a sleeping bag, and began to call for help from that ledge.

Sturzenacker recalled that the wind had picked up and had made it difficult for him and Broxon to hear each other. He also stated that at the time of the fall, Broxon said that he was having trouble finding the belay stance and that there were only about five feet of rope left in his (Sturzenacker’s) belay.


On July 9, 1991, I interviewed Broxon by telephone. He told me that he was unsure of exactly what had made him fall. He said that the fall occurred as he was setting up the belay at the top of the eleventh pitch of the Prow route on Washington’s Column. Broxon said that the two bolts at that belay looked bad to him, and that the rock there was “rotten,” so he placed two TCUs in what he also described as “rotten” rock, in a crack. He then went off belay, and was in the process of equalizing a fixed line from the two bolts for his partner to ascend (jumar up). Broxon said that he had estimated that the bolts were sufficient for a fixed ascent, but did not want his weight to be on them in addition to Sturzenacker’s. He also said that he had intended to tie off to the bolts as well, after he got the equalized line in place.

Broxon told me that the entire eleventh pitch had gone well, indeed that the whole climb had gone well, and that he really did not know what had caused him to fall. He said that the eleventh pitch was all free, graded 5.9, and that while he was setting up the belay at the time of the fall, he was on a ledge which was relatively clean and about one foot wide. Broxon had no specific recollection of what led up to the fall, but did speculate that he may have “passed out.” He said that he and his partner had not eaten at all on the day of the fall, as their food had dropped (come unclipped) first thing that morning. Broxon could think of no other possible causes or factors.

Broxon said that he did not remember the fall itself either, but “came to” after Sturzenacker began to haul him back up to his (Sturzenacker’s) belay. He said that the carabiners were still in the bolts on the eleventh (Broxon’s) belay, and that the two TCUs were with him after the fall. (They had pulled.)

Broxon said that he and Sturzenacker had climbed extensively together, including for one year as show climbers on the Matterhorn in Disneyland. He said that his only wall was the Standard route on the NW Face of Half Dome, and that he had led about four 5.12 free climbs. He described himself as an A3 aid leader, and said that they did have a bolt kit on the climb. He and Sturzenacker had never done a wall together. (Source: John B. Christiansen, SAR Ranger, Yosemite National Park)