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Fall on Rock, Old Piton Broke, Maryland, Delaware Water Gap NRA, Mount Tammany


Maryland, Delaware Water Gap NRA, Mount Tammany

On August 11, 1991, Mike Morlock (16) and Rick Lago (24) had finished climbing the Rib (5.3) and started climbing Triumvirate (5.4). Mike led the first pitch to a ledge, set up an anchor system, and Rick started following. Rick got nervous and tightened up. Mike said, “No problem, I will let you back down using the rope.” When Rick reached the ground, he sat down and watched Mike pull the rope up, do some rigging and start down climbing.

Mike threaded the rope through the eye of a rusty steel angle piton that was left by a previous party. He tested the piton by putting weight on the rope. Mike put both sides of the rope through a figure 8 rappel device to use as a back up in case of a fall. He down climbed about 15 feet when he put an estimated 30% of his weight on the rope. The piton broke, Mike lost his balance and fell back an estimated 45 to 60 feet, striking several ledges and hit his head on the bottom. He remained conscious and told Rick to go get an ambulance.

After a few minutes, Mike got up, coiled his rope, packed his gear, and started walking down the steep, rocky path toward the road about half a mile away. Two-thirds of the way down the trail, Mike was met by another climbing party that helped him to the road where he met Park Rangers and Portland Ambulance.


Any climbing area has several resident placements, which are pieces of protection left by previous climbers. Resident protection is known to be risky and often used to supplement other placement. Mike had a full rack of equipment with him but used one old piton for his sole protection. The piton was found on the rope and was about 75% rusted through where the shaft entered the rock. Mike was confident in his ability to safely down climb the route but said he got lazy and put his weight on the rope. (Source: Ronald Matthews, Delaware Water Gap NRA)

(Editors Note: There were two other incidents reported from this area, both of them involving non-climbers who became stranded and had to be rescued. One was a ten year old boy, whose father had allowed him to climb on a shale cliff. The other was a female German Shepard. Both required technical rescue. The dog required some food and water before a harness could be rigged on her, as she seemed to be frightened and angry.)