American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Rock, Off Route, Unplanned Bivouac, Misunderstanding of Rating System, Inadequate Equipment, Arizona, Canyon Spring Wall, De Grazia

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1993


Arizona, Canyon Spring Wall, De Grazia

The purpose of the trip (on December 2, 1992) was to complete a multi-pitch climb. De Grazia was selected because it provided good “exposure” with moderate difficulty. The

description in the guide book led us to believe that the third pitch was the most difficult and the only pitch rated 5.7 followed by two pitches of lesser difficulty.

We left home an hour off schedule and the approach took an hour more than planned. We ate a quick lunch and began climbing around 1130. After finishing the third pitch, we estimated the sun would set in a few hours. We decided to continue up expecting the last two pitches would not take as long as the third pitch. The lead climber (27) went off route, but was able to traverse left gaining the belay station. By the time the second climber (31) reached that belay point, the sun had set. The lead climber continued up, unintentionally going off route to gain a ledge. When the second climber reached the ledge, it was decided it was too dark to continue.

The ledge led up to a large flake which created a crevasse providing shelter. We secured our position in the crevasse and took measures to protect us against hypothermia.

The following morning when it was light enough to see, we prepared to climb again. At this time a truck, presumably from the Arizona Mountaineering Club, arrived and sounded a siren. We made no contact with him and started to climb at 0730. The leader climbed up approximately 15 feet, clipping into existing webbing and then moving right out of the crevasse and onto a small ledge. He continued up the face and began moving left into the crack when he fell. He fell approximately ten feet to a ledge, landing on his feet. He continued down clearing the crevasse and landed on his back on the ledge just below the belayer—a total fall of about 30 feet.

After assessing injuries, we called down to the truck for help, communicating the need for help. He told us help is on its way. In a few hours several vehicles and a rescue helicopter arrived.

We had some difficulty signaling the helicopter, but after several passes we were located. Around 1430 the paramedic had descended from the top to our position.

Tom attended to my injuries, immobilizing my right ankle. By this time we were fairly dehydrated and the paramedic gave us some water and a little food. Tom coordinated how my partner and I would ascend with the rest of the rescue team above. An hour or so had passed and then the haul system was ready. I was fitted with a helmet and chest harness and was slowly hauled to the top of the rock. Once I reached the location of the haul system, I was escorted to where the helicopter could land and pick me up (approximately 50 yards). The helicopter landed once I was in position and flew me down to the parking area. At this same time my partner was being hauled to the top. I was escorted to the ambulance and was checked over for injuries. When Phil had come to the parking area, I refused the ambulance ride to the hospital, since my injuries were not life threatening.

After returning home I had my wife take me to a clinic for x-rays and treatment. Two small fractures to the lower tibula, just above the right ankle.


I have learned that a 5.7 in Arizona is equal to a 5.9 in Yosemite. Previously I thought the Yosemite Decimal System would transfer to other places equally. I was told the day of the rescue by several people that Arizona doesn’t rate their climbs the same as Yosemite, which I’m used to. On future multi-pitch climbs, I will bring two ropes giving me the option to rappel if I lack sufficient daylight to finish the climb. (Source: Will Wakeling) FALLING ROCK Arizona, Flagstaff, Priest Draw ON February 21, 1992, Robert Drysdale (22) was killed when a large block was dislodged from the top of a boulder problem and hit him in the back of the head. Drysdale, originally from Scotland, was a very experienced climber, having started at age 15. He established many difficult climbs, often without much protection. (Source: Magazine and newspaper clips)

(Editors Note: Angelo Kokenakis, from Flagstaff, also reported a fatality from lightning on Mount Humphreys. While this was a hiking accident, it is important for climbers new to the area to know that lightning is common here in the afternoon.)

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