American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Rock, Placed No Protection, California, Yosemite Valley, El Capitan

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


California, Yosemite Valley, El Capitan

On May 16, 1992, while climbing the second pitch of “The Nose” route on El Capitan, Bruce Burns (37) fell about 60 feet while leading. He was injured, and was unconscious for a short period of time. His partners lowered him to the bottom of the third pitch, to within 200 feet above the ground on third and fourth class rock. From there he was rescued by an NPS team.


After the completion of his medical treatment, I interviewed Burns at the Yosemite Medical Clinic. He and his climbing partners, Shane Stewart and Phillip Cobbin, stated, in essence, that Burns was leading belayed by Stewart. Burns was stemming up a corner about 25 feet above the belay station when he tried to reach a long, tied off sling that protects the next section when his right foot slipped off, causing a fall. (The area where he fell is rated approximately 5.9). Burns had placed no protection above the belay station bolts. He fell feet first about 30 feet until hitting a rock projection with his left foot, which flipped him over head first. He fell about 30 feet more head down, impacting his shoulder, thigh and the back of his head before being stopped by Stewart's belay Stewart and Cobbin reported that after his fall, Bums was hanging upside down on the rope and was unconscious and unresponsive for approximately one minute. Stewart lowered Burns to the bottom of the first pitch. Stewart and Cobbin yelled for help, and bystanders left to report the accident.

Stewart and Burns stated that they have climbed “The Nose” route together six times in the past. Burns has been a climber since 1980, and has climbed numerous free and aid routes both in Yosemite and elsewhere up to the level of 5.11c and A3. Burns, Stewart and Cobbin agreed that the accident could possibly have been prevented or its seriousness reduced if Burns had placed protection between the belay and the place where he fell from. (Source: Daniel Horner, Banger, Yosemite National Park)

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