American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Rock, Protection Pulled Out, Inadequate Protection, Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park, Irene's Arete

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


Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park, Irene’s Arete

In July of 1994, Scott Putnam and I climbed Irene’s Arete (5.8) on Disappointment Peak in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. We climbed the first five pitches without incident, following the stunning arete to the base of the last pitch. Here the climber is presented with three options, the most difficult being a 5.10a direct finish. I felt I was climbing well and, encouraged by a comment in the guide book that the pitch was well protected, decided to try the 5.10 finish.

After stemming across an initial gap, I found myself standing on a small ledge, underclinging a large flake for balance. I placed a pink Tri-Cam (#1 size) in a parallel quartz-like slot, set it firmly and moved left. After another eight feet, I placed an iffy #0 Flexible Friend in another quartz-like slot. Still moving left, the climbing became more difficult, and after several minutes of searching for holds, bemoaning my predicament, and warning Scott, I fell. Both pieces pulled out and I ricocheted down into the gap over which I had stemmed. The rope caught me after about a 20 foot fall. I sustained a major cut in my left calf, sprained my hand, bruised my ribs and suffered other minor abrasions. After lowering me down to a ledge, we climbed the 5.6 exit, followed the traditional descent, hiked five miles back to our car and went to the hospital for treatment.


I underestimated the difficulty of the pitch, based upon experience climbing 5.10 at other locations. I did not find the pitch easy to protect, something for which I blame myself, not the guide book.

After examining the pieces which pulled, the aluminum had deformed on the small cams of the Friend. I think the greasy nature of the quartz slots that held my placements, in addition to the sideways force that my fall placed on the pieces, aided in their coming out. In retrospect, I should have placed a piece under the flake I was underclinging, giving up a few feet of height for a more solid and less slippery placement.

Although we were able to self-rescue, I was lucky to have not paid a bigger price for falling so far from help. If I had hit my head, getting out of the situation would have been far more serious. In the future, I will be more conservative about the places I choose to “push my limits.” (Source: Alex Miller)

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