American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Ice, Inadequate Belay, California, Temple Crag

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

FALL ON ICE, INADEQUATE BELAY

California, Temple Crag

On October 4, Gary Niblock, Mike Nichols (both 48) and Mark Harris (42) were climbing an ice chute northwest of Temple Crag. About 1300, Harris reached the top first and began watching his friends climb to the top.

Niblock and Nichols were roped together as they climbed. One of the two lost his footing and slid down the ice. The partner tried to stop the fall but was also pulled down the slope. The pair tumbled and slid an estimated 800 to 1,200 feet before coming to rest on the icy slope.

Harris climbed back down to help, tying his friends to temporary anchors to keep them from sliding further. Both men were seriously injured. Harris covered his friends with sleeping bags and hiked out for help.

Harris reached Glacier Lodge in Big Pine Canyon at 1600 and alerted the sheriff's office. Because of the seriousness of the injuries and the lateness of the day, a rescue team was immediately dispatched.

U.S. Forest Service helicopter 525 flew Nixon, rescuer Arnie Peterson and paramedic Judd Symons to the location and lowered them to a rock outcropping above the victims just before dark. The trio rappelled down, traversed the ice slope and finally reached the victims around 1900.

Nixon said both men were hypothermic and had major cuts, abrasions, and bruises.

Additionally, Niblock suffered from a broken leg and Nichols from a broken arm and ribs.

Rescuers set lines and spent the next five hours moving the pair off the ice to a sheltered rock area about 75 yards to the north. By 0100, both men were stabilized, fairly warm, and had taken some warm fluids.

At 0800 the next morning, Helicopter 525 dropped a litter and technical climbing gear at the scene, then shuttled in additional rescue personnel from China Lake Mountain Rescue. Ice and rock anchors were set and the victims lowered down the last half mile of the ice chute. By 1415 the victims were airlifted to the Bishop Airport. From there they were transported to the Northern Inyo Hospital by ambulance for treatment. (Source: From a newspaper clipping sent in without name/date.)

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