American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Snow/Ice Covered Rock, Protection Pulled Out, New Hampshire, Cannon Cliff, Omega

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

FALL ON SNOW/ICE COVERED ROCK, PROTECTION PULLED OUT

New Hampshire, Cannon Cliff, Omega

On March 13, Alan Cattabriga (35) started up Omega, an extremely difficult and dangerous mixed (ice, rock, verglas, and snow-covered rock) route on the east face of Cannon Cliff a few hundred feet south of the Whitney-Gilman Arete. Cattabriga placed protection near the ground and threaded a runner behind ice columns at 20 feet. Higher on the pitch he threaded another runner around a less solid ice column. His highest protection was a Spectre ice piton, a steel beak made for marginal conditions. He was above that and at a point about 40 to 45 feet above the ground, standing on his front points on a snow covered 80° rock slab, with no adequate holds for his hands, when his front points slipped. He fell and the top two protection points failed. He hit the ground before the better protection came into play.

Cattabriga suffered a broken tibia and fibula in his right leg and a broken scapula in his left shoulder. He also had extensive bruising to his left shoulder (with probable rotator cuff damage), left ribs, elbow, hip, and calf. The entire left side of his body turned black and blue a few days after the accident. He was wearing a helmet and received no head injuries.

Cattabriga’s two climbing partners, Jim Shimberg and Ted Hammond, splinted Cattabriga's right leg and then tied his helmet over his right foot so that his foot would slide easily over the snow. Cattabriga then crawled feet first down the snow covered talus slope and then at times head first through the trees. The crawl to the road took four hours.

Analysis

Omega is “an extreme route which epitomized the desperate nature of modern ice climbs with its thinly-verglassed start [and] mixed climbing... . [It] rarely comes into shape” (p. 72, An Ice Climbers Guide to Northern New England, second edition, by Rick Wilcox). The three experienced climbers understood the risks of difficult climbing and marginal protection. After the accident, Cattabriga wanted a self-rescue—-with help from his partners—because he believes in climbers being self-reliant if at all possible. (Sources: George Hurley, Alan Cattabriga, and Jim Shimberg)

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