American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Rock—Block of Rock Came Off, Protection Pulled Out, Rope Sheath Cut, No Hard Hat, Maryland, Delaware Water Gap, Mount Tammany

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


Maryland, Delaware Water Cap, Mount Tammany

On March 12, before noon, Ralph Chang (36), Bruce Pollock, and Randall Fairman began lead climbing on Mount Tammany. All three are experienced lead climbers. At 1245 Chang began to lead a climb called “Friends in High Places” (5.7). At 1300 Chang took a lead fall while trying to place a piece of protection. A climber from another group contacted National Park Service dispatch by portable phone at 1323 with information about the fall. Nine rangers performed a belayed carryout of approximately 750 feet. Chang was loaded into an ambulance at 1616.

The three had made a couple of climbs before Chang began the lead on “Friends in High Places.” When Chang was approximately 40 feet from the base, he attempted to place a piece of protection. The block he was standing on gave way. He fell four to six feet onto his placed protection. This piece pulled from the rock. He fell to his next piece, which held, stopping the fall approximately 20 feet from the ground. His belayer (Pollock) lowered him to the ground.

When the Hasty Medical Ranger (Shreffler) arrived on scene at 1410, he found Chang at the base of the climb. Chang was in a sitting position, leaning against Pollock. Changs chief complaint was pain in the left shoulder and cervical spine area. A C-collar was put on, and primary/secondary surveys done. Pollock maintained stabilization until Ranger Mennenoh arrived at 1445. Mennenoh and Shreffler prepared Chang for the carryout. The High Angle Rescue Team arrived at the scene at 1502. Chang was packaged in the Stokes litter and the belayed carryout began at 1520 along the base of the ridge and over large boulders. At 1609, Interstate 80 (west lane) was closed by NJ State Police. Chang was loaded into Portland Ambulance and enroute to the hospital at 1616. 1-80 was immediately opened to traffic.

Chang suffered a dislocated left shoulder and a laceration on the scalp. He was released from the hospital later that evening.


Each climber had eight to ten years of climbing experience and had climbed in the Delaware Water Gap area. Chang was using a Maxim 11mm static rope for the climb. The sheath on the rope was cut and pulled apart, with the core receiving little damage. Pollock and Fairman were wearing helmets; Chang was not. All had climbing shoes and newer climbing hardware. (Source: Richard Shreffler, Medical Ranger, Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area)

(Editors Note: The rock formation here has sharp edges exposed throughout, which is probably why the sheath on the rope got cut. The sheath on static rope is a little tougher than on dynamic rope.

At this same site, one other legitimate climber accident (as opposed to the many scrambler accidents) occurred to a youth (23) in a scouting group. He was being lowered, then asked to be allowed to down climb. He simply lost his footing, rotated on the rope— which held him—and collided with the rock, hitting his helmeted head so that he was momentarily unconscious.

This area is seeing an increase in climbing activity. Approaching the climbs from the bottom, one must go along the side of I-80 for about a quarter of a mile, walking on a cement barricade, as the wind from 18 wheelers pushes one toward the dense shrubs inland. Many climbers hike the trail and then rappel down from the top because of this.)

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