American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Rock, Stranded, No Hard Hat, Etc., New Hampshire, Cathedral Ledges and Cannon Cliffs

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1994


New Hampshire, Cathedral Ledges and Cannon Cliffs

(The following excerpt from George Hurley’s personal “Newsletter" he sends out at least twice a year captures the summer accident scene in New Hampshire. George’s letters (a) are full of valuable, pithy, interesting, and useful information, and (b) certainly are way ahead of Christmas letters!)

Early this rock climbing season two climbers fell down the wet 45° slab at the north end of Cathedral. (This is the slab above the orange gate on Cathedral Ledge road; the slab becomes a popular ice climb in the winter.) They suffered abrasions and bruises. Three years ago a climber died in a similar accident at the same place. The two women this year and the man three years ago were trying to find a path to the top of the Practice Slab.

[The path starts at the lower right corner of the wet 45° slab and angles sharply left on a natural weakness, staying very low on the wet slab, to reach a faint climbers’ trail which passes below a rock climb called Thresher and then leads out to the top of the Practice Slab above Kiddy Crack. Fallible people will appreciate a belay on the exposed parts of this approach trail.]

In August a Canadian naval officer died of head injuries when he fell from near the top of the first lead of Standard Route (the direct start) on Cathedral. He had protection below the off-width chimney but none in the chimney which is awkward, strenuous, and hard to protect. His rope stopped him about 25 feet above the ground but his head hit the cliff. He was not wearing a helmet.

On Cannon, two climbers who had previously climbed mainly on sport routes got into trouble at the top of Lakeview. The leader finished the route and anchored to the Old Mans head, but the second could not get up the crux flake (a sandbag 5.5). The leader went for help. The second waited, wearing cotton clothing, for about four hours in rain, wind and low temperatures. He was hypothermic when he was rescued.

If you want time to think about how you would have dealt with this situation, you could cover the next paragraph while you think. There are many solutions to most climbing problems, so mine are only suggestions.

While the second stands on the low angle slab below the crux, the leader could use slings to extend the anchor from one of the giant eye-bolts out to the edge of the cliff. The rope from the second would pass through doubled carabiners on this new anchor and go to the leader's belay device. The leader could then disconnect his previous anchor and then rappel (using his belay device) down the rope which is counterbalanced by the second climber. When the leader is 12 or 15 feet above the crux flake, he could tie-off the rope at his device and then ask the second to try to climb again. This time the second has the advantage of the leader's counterbalanced weight helping him and the advantage of the leader pulling up on the strand of rope running directly to the second. Once the two climbers meet, the leader could establish an anchor and belay the second up the easier final 40 feet in the conventional way.

The leader could have tied loops in his end of the rope (the pitch is only about 50 feet) so that the second could climb those loops while being belayed tightly by the leader.

The leader could have used one of the hauling systems like a Z-pully system to lift the second over the crux.

The second could have prussiked over the crux. Or, he could have asked for slack, tied his own loops, and climbed those loops to get over the crux. In each case he would have to protect himself since he would have no belay. If he were prussiking, he could tie figure-eight knots and clip those to his harness. If he were using loops, he could clip a sling to the highest loop he could reach; by having two slings, each fastened to his harness, he could always be anchored.

The two climbers could have rappelled to the brush ledge below the seventh lead and then traversed off the cliff to the north.

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