American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Protection Pulled, Fall on Rock, Indadequate Protection, No Hard Hat

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1996

PROTECTION PULLED, FALL ON ROCK, INADEQUATE PROTECTION, NO HARD HAT

California, Yosemite Valley, El Capitan

While Biega was being rescued (see previous account), Kirk Bland (33), Luc Mailloux, and Kevin McCracken (23) were fixing pitches on Mescalito, several hundred yards to the east. The second pitch, A2, was Blands lead. Just before reaching the belay he placed a birdbeak on top of a deadhead (the broken remnant of a fixed copperhead). As he reached for the anchor the deadhead blew out. The last fifty feet of the pitch had been completely fixed with copperheads and, since he rarely trusted such placements, he had not clipped the rope to any of them. He fell at least 100 feet.

McCracken looked up just in time to see Bland fall backwards and upside down, striking his head on the rock. Mailloux, the belayer, was pulled upward ten feet as he stopped the fall. Bland hung there unconscious, as blood poured down the rock from a head wound.

They called to a climber at the base to go for help. Then they lowered Bland about 20 feet and pulled him over to the belay. He regained consciousness at that time. McCracken clipped himself to Bland, and Mailloux lowered both of them to the ground. Other climbers provided a first aid kit to bandage Blands headwound while they waited for help.

The NPS team had just driven away from El Cap Meadow after Biega's rescue when they got word of the Mescalito accident. They circled back to the trailhead and headed to the scene. The situation was identical to the previous incident and so were their actions: Bland was immobilized in case of spinal injury, given oxygen and an IV, shorthauled to El Cap Meadow by the park helicopter, and flown by medivac helicopter to a hospital in Modesto.

Bland suffered a scalp laceration and a concussion. Like Biega, he remembers nothing of the fall.

Analysis

Biega and Bland were both experienced wall climbers. Neither was wearing a helmet, but they do now. Also, Bland now clips every piece in sight! (Zegers later told Bland that his favorite method for cleaning deadheads is to weight them with a birdbeak.)

The self-rescue dilemma: Good work by several climbers made for a fast rescue in each case. Had either victim suffered from serious intracranial bleeding—where time is critical—their actions could have saved his life. However there is always danger in moving a patient suffering from trauma, e.g., the motion may cause spinal cord injury from an unstable broken neck or back, or increased bleeding in damaged organs. Whether to move or stay is often a hard call, but training in wilderness medicine will better prepare you to make the decision and to minimize the risk. (Source: John Dill, NPS Ranger)

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