American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Rock—Falling Rock, Inadequate Protection, California, Sequoia National Park, Devil's Crag #1

  • Accident Reports
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  • Publication Year: 1997

FALL ON ROCK—FALLING ROCK, INADEQUATE PROTECTION

California, Sequoia National Park, Devil’s Crag #1

On September 1, David Dykeman (64) and Herbert Buehler, members of the California Mountaineering Club, were descending from the summit of Devil’s Crag #1 (12,400+ feet) about 1400. The weather was clear, with little or no wind. Just below the summit arrete, they set up a short rappel of about 25 feet. Buehler went first while Dykeman waited, unroped, at the top of the rappel. Just when they reached the bottom of the rappel, Buehler heard the noise of a large rockfall, and ducked against the wall for cover. He heard Dykeman cry out, “Oh, no!” When the noise subsided, Buehler looked up at the top of the pitch. Dykeman was gone. All of the falling rock, and Dykeman’s body, had fallen down the northeast side of the peak, a drop of over a thousand feet. Buehler retrieved the rope and climbed down alone to their camp at Rambaud Lake, a difficult descent that required two more rappels. He then continued out for help, arriving at the LeConte backcountry ranger station about 2200, where he found Park Service Ranger George Durkee who radioed news of the accident to Park Headquarters. Park Rangers helicoptered in the next morning and located Dykeman’s body, lodged on a snag about midway down the 1,200-foot northeast face. Climbing down from above, and traversing across the face, Rangers Randy Kaufman and Scott Wanek were able to reach Dykeman’s body. They hooked his climbing harness to the end of a 50 foot line from a helicopter hovering next to the wall. The difficult operation took four days overall.

Analysis

Devil’s Crag #1 has a bad reputation for unstable rock. All the rock on the top of the mountain is badly shattered; big unattached blocks piled one on top of another. It is probable that one or more of the slabs on which Dykeman was standing simply slid suddenly out from under him. The entire upper part of the mountain is one narrow arrete after another, dropping directly off to the steep faces on either side.

Dykeman was a very experienced climber, having made over 500 ascents in the Sierra, as well as others around the world. He had a reputation of being a conservative, safety-conscious climber and leader. This accident probably could have been prevented if Dykeman had been tied in while waiting for his turn to rappel. However, it is possible that the rock collapse would have included his anchor. Additionally, Dykeman, having climbed this peak before, was aware that overly conservative use of ropes has resulted in many parties having to endure uncomfortable bivouacs high on the mountain. (Source: John Inskeep, Sierra Madre Search and Rescue Team)

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