American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Rock, Inadequate Protection, New Hampshire, Cathedral Ledge

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

FALL ON ROCK, INADEQUATE PROTECTION New Hampshire, Cathedral Ledge

On October 4, I was climbing at Cathedral Ledge with a friend. We were doing a four pitch 5.9 route called Diedre, and despite the sun, we were on the north side on a cool (but blue) Fall day, which made finger warmth marginal. I was leading the top pitch, a crack book whose left pages were about one meter wide, and had already reluctantly parted with my #2 Camalot to get to it. At the bottom of the crack, perfectly sized for a #2, as guessed from the base, I had to plant my next largest piece, a #1, far back in said crack. It didn’t look too bad, and resisted a few pulls.

I moved up, getting my left foot out on the outside corner and right foot near the crack, to move my left hand up to a high hold near the crack. By the time I’d moved the left foot up and discovered that the only right hand-hold was where the left one was, my left hand was weakening badly. Some combination of it collapsing and my left foot coming off its perch caused me to fall before I was expecting to have to try a retreat. The #1, at waist level, pulled out with no discernible resistance, causing me to go down ten to 12 feet (penduluming a bit) to the next piece (a rap sling), banging the bony protrusion just below and on the outside of my left knee en route and winding up upside down. I quickly righted myself, discovered that I couldn’t stand on my left leg, and got lowered back to the ledge. My partner cleaned the pitch with me belaying from a seated position, and rappelled off the sling, then we roped up to move (hop) back down a levelish flake and rappelled to the ground in a single rope-length. After a few failed attempts to hop or walk supported, my partner (5' 6", 130 pounds) carried me the 100 meters down to the road.

The injury proved to be a fracture of the left tibia, requiring a two hour operation and four titanium screws.

Analysis

One’s health and fitness are far too valuable to mess with for matters as trivial as poorly placed protection. (Source: Bruce Normand—25)

(Editor's Note: There were a few other incidents of interest in New Hampshire during 1992. In April, a hiker tried to descend Huntington Ravine. He slipped in the fresh show covering hard ice and triggered an avalanche that carried him down 900 feet. He suffered multiple fractures, and was not found until nine hours later. Rescuers got him down. He was wearing work boots and jeans, and had no climbing gear.

Another accident, resulting in a fatality, occurred on Cathedral Ledge in the summer. A young woman (19) was walking with family members on top of Cathedral Ledge when she stumbled on an open slab and fell about 150 feet to the tree covered ledge below the route called “Grim Reaper.”

While neither of these is considered to be climbing or mountaineering accidents by our definition, they may be interpreted as such by others, which is unfortunate. It would really be unfortunate if this final description, by George Hurley, were to be categorized as a mountaineering mishap: A 20-year-old from Framingham, Massachusetts, was lost recently for six days on and around Mount Chocorua. During this time he lost his tent and his cigarette lighter (his only fire starter), but otherwise had his camping gear including plenty of food, a sleeping bag, and his battery powered portable TV on which he watched the many searchers and a National Guard helicopter looking for him. If the lost man's explanation is accurate, he did not know what a trail looked like. He expected something grand (like a road), so he crossed trails instead of following them. He also crossed instead of following streams. Had he followed either trails or streams downhill, he would have come to a highway. Instead, he kept moving—mostly uphill—without map or compass or plan until he happened on the Forest Service road which led him out of the woods at the

place he went in. His comment after his six days in the woods was, “Great country.”)

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