ANCHOR FAILURE—SLING BURNED THROUGH, INEXPERIENCE
California, Yosemite Valley, Reed’s Pinnacle
On June 12, 1994, four Swiss climbers were top roping an unnamed 60 foot pitch in the corner formed by the left side of Reeds Pinnacle. Fabian Nuescheler (23) first climbed to the top by an alternate route, rigged a belay anchor and rappelled. For the anchor, he ran the rope through a one-inch nylon sling that was, in turn, looped through slings around a small chockstone.
Andreas Slahel (20) then climbed about 10 feet up the pitch and was lowered by a belayer at the base. Urs Draeger (22) then climbed to the top. When he had been lowered about two-thirds of the way to the ground, both he and the rope suddenly fell free, about 20 feet to the base. He landed on his back, then slide 50-70 feet down a steep slope.
NPS dispatch was notified by phone at 1325. Rangers Ruth Middlecamp and Lane Baker reached Draeger at 1340 and the rest of the SAR team arrived shortly thereafter.
Draeger was conscious but confused, complained of chest and back pain, and had a laceration on his scalp. His friends stated he had been unconscious for two to three minutes just after the fall. He was given oxygen, an IV, packaged in the full-body vacuum splint and, evacuated in a belayed litter down the scree to the road. He was ultimately flown by helicopter to Modesto, where he was found to have a concussion and compression fractures of three vertebrae, T11, T12 and L1.
Ranger Mike Ray climbed to the anchor immediately after the rescue. He found that the sling directly holding the rope had been melted through, almost certainly by the friction of the rope as the climbers were belayed and lowered. Seventy feet of climbing and 50 feet of lowering had done the job.
The climbers stated that they had rigged ropes this way previously with no problems. They refused to believe that the rope could have caused the damage, until we showed them the sling. Draeger and Nuescheler, the most experienced climbers in the group, had each been climbing for about two years and led 5.10a. (Source: Harry Steed & Lane Baker, NPS Rangers)