American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Falling Rock, Poor Position, Maine, Mount Katahdin, Chimney Pond

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

FALLING ROCK, POOR POSITION

Maine, Mount Katahdin, Chimney Pond

On September 2, two parties—Michael Lanza (34) and Penny Beach (29) in one group, Bill Mistretta (?), Rick Baron (30) and Diane Mailloux (24) in the other—were climbing simultaneously. Lanza and Mistretta were at the top of the second lead looking for anchors for separate belay stances when Mistretta dislodged a rock described by Lanza as being two feet by three feet by several inches thick. The other three climbers were 150 feet below anchored together. Rick Baron tried to protect the other two climbers by shielding them with his body. He was struck by a cantaloupe sized rock above his left eye. His helmet was knocked off and he was thrown backwards eight or ten feet down the slope before his anchor stopped him. He did not regain consciousness and died probably within fifteen minutes.

Analysis

If possible, the belay site should be away from the line of fall of anything dislodged by the leader. This is especially important on higher and less stable cliffs like Cannon and Katahdin. In this case, two leaders were climbing above three other people who were close together at a belay anchor.

Irwin Caverly, the park director, said, “Rock slides are infrequent. This was one of those freak accidents.” Michael Lanza said that when the group registered at the ranger station, a ranger suggested they change their planned route, and they did. Lanza added that it was not a particularly difficult climb. “One of the most frustrating things was that the route we took was well below our ability level.” He and Rich Baron, who was the eighteenth person to die climbing in Baxter State Park, had been friends for twenty years and had done countless climbs together. (Source: George Hurley and Michael Lanza)

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