American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Stranded, Fall on Rock, Climbing Unroped, Exceeding Abilities, No Hard Hat, West Virginia, Seneca Rocks, Old Man's Route

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1995



West Virginia, Seneca Rocks, Old Man’s Route

On June 6, 1994, Alex Fraser (23) fell to his death at Seneca Rocks. Here is the account of his partner.

We hiked up to the wall, put on our gear. I had my harness on, but Alex did not. We both had packs on. We started scrambling up a crack, “Old Man’s.” We climbed about 100 feet up. I was ahead of him by about 20 feet. But he didn’t stay on the same crack as me. He went a little over to the right... . He called out to me to drop a rope because he was stuck. So I did, then tied it off to the tree. He had the rope in his hands, but he was getting tired. I told him to try to hand over hand down, but he didn’t. Then he tried to climb up to a spot just above him about two feet. That is when he fell—about 30–35 feet onto a ledge. He was right on the edge. I told him not to move. Then I started down, on the rope, but by the time I got there, he had rolled off the ledge and fell the second time, about 150 feet down. Then I started to down climb. I found him in some bushes. He was alive, but hurt real bad. I helped him to lay flat and get his pack off. He had a big cut in his head and his arm was broken, but he was breathing and it looked like he knew what had happened. By that time a guide had come and helped me. He had some knowledge of first aid and started to help. We called for help. (Source: Brian Julian, 31)


Both Julian and Fraser were in our shop earlier in the day. They perused our shop copy of the guide book. In talking with Julian after the accident, I learned that they were ascending with no particular route or destination in mind. These men were not overly familiar with Seneca Rocks. The section of the route where the fall took place is often climbed unroped, even though the consequences of a fall are obviously severe. The route Fraser was on is more difficult than the one on “Old Mans.” (Source: John Markwell, The Gendarme/Seneca Rocks Climbing School)

(Editor’s Note: AAC member Jim Underwood forwarded a ten page letter from a woman who, with her partner responded to the scene, as they were climbing nearby. Both of them are Wilderness EMTs, but this was their first real encounter with a life threatening accident. The victim did not expire until the litter was nearly at the road head. The letter provides a sobering description of the scene and of managing a traumatic injury. Contact the editor if interested in report. )

This ANAM article has been reformatted into HTML. Please contact us if you spot an error.