FALL ON ROCK, FATIGUE, LOSS OF CONCENTRATION
California, Yosemite Valley, Cathedral Spires
On the evening of May 27, 1992, the park received a report of an accident on Higher Cathedral Rock. The reporting party had been on the Cathedral Spires at 1800 when they heard yells for help from Higher Rock. They said the climbers in trouble were reporting a person with a broken leg on the route Braille Book. It took the reporting party until 2200 to descend and make the report of the accident to the NPS.
The Valley District night shift rangers organized an initial response consisting of four persons. They hiked up Spires Gully in the dark and were able to make verbal contact with the injured party about midnight. They continued up, and between 0400 and 0500, ranger Mike Ray was able to rappel from the top to the victim's location on the route. He stabilized the victim’s lower leg with an air splint.
The park helicopter was able to lower a Stokes litter. The victim was placed in the litter and then he was short hauled under the helicopter to El Capitan meadow. He was then driven by NPS vehicle to the Yosemite Medical Clinic where he was treated for a comminuted fracture of the lower leg.
Jurek Kopacz (47) is a very experienced mountaineer from Poland. He has climbed for 25 years, including routes in the Andes, Alaska, the Alps, and several big wall routes in Yosemite Valley. He describes himself as able to lead 5.9 to 5.10 rock climbing leader.
Kopacz had led the entire climb of Braille Book before the accident. Around 1800 he was leading what was their eighth pitch of the day, near the end of the climb. He was traversing to his right, to what is described in the Roper guide as the “improbable crack” which leads to the large pine tree near the top of the Sequel route. He was doing a friction move, which he estimates was about 5.4, and was about one foot from reaching the crack. After that, he said, the climbing would have become very easy. He said he was about four feet above, and ten to 12 feet to the right of his last piece of protection. He stated he could have easily climbed a little higher and placed another piece to protect the traverse. However, the climbing was easy, Kopacz was anxious to get off the climb, and he stated that, “I wanted to be in the Valley drinking beer.” Due to these reasons, he said, “I did not have much concentration.” Kopacz further told me that he was very tired, and that he was not wearing his “good” climbing shoes because they were being resoled. He felt these factors also contributed to the fall. However, he added that there was no excuse, the cause of the accident was mental mistakes. (Source: Daniel Horner, Ranger, Yosemite National Park)