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Fall on Rock, Inadequate Protection, Rappel Anchor Knot Came Undone, Hand Hold Came Off, California, Joshua Tree National Park


California, Joshua Tree National Park

There were nine climbing and four scrambling incidents reported from this location in 1994. Three of the scramblers were bouldering above their campsites when they fell and fractured various bones. The other incident was a “stranded.” They all required technical rescuing.

The nine climbers, average age 31, all fell, five of them exacerbated by inadequate protection, one of which was a rappel/lowering anchor sling that came undone because it was tied with only half a water knot. There are enough of the latter happening around the country to indicate that most climbers do not back up water knots on webbing slings. These days, most webbing slings we see are sewn, so climbers aren’t in the habit of tying the knot to the extent they once were. Maybe it’s time to reconsider.

The incident reports from this park focus on the rescue operations, so it is difficult to determine some of the contributing causes. They always indicate the length of the falls, which ranged from five to 40 feet. If the falls are more than 20 feet, one can almost assume inadequate protection. In one reported case, the climber was soloing, without a hard hat. That was the 40 footer. Five of the nine climbers suffered fractures, two had serious head injuries, and the other two had multiple abrasions and lacerations.

It appears that most climbers in Joshua Tree do not wear helmets, and there is a lot of solo climbing. There are many guided parties, and at least three adventure programs spend considerable time in the park. There has been much more traffic now that it is a National Park. For the numbers of climbers present, the accidents requiring rescue are very small. There are many “regulars” here, just as in the Shawangunks, so there is a good level of experience. Next year I hope to have an estimated number of climbers and climber days so we can have a better picture of use, SAR costs, and so forth. (Source: Jed Williamson—from JTNP Incident Reports and discussions with park personnel, guides, and adventure programs)