American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Rock, Protection Pulled Out, No Hardhat, California, Yosemite Valley, Middle Cathedral Rock

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1998

FALL ON ROCK, PROTECTION PULLED OUT, NO HARDHAT

California, Yosemite Valley, Middle Cathedral Rock

On June 16, around 1330, Tyler Gregory (18) started up Pee Pee Pillar, a one-pitch, 5.10a thin crack, belayed by Casey Hyer (19). He scrambled 10 feet up to a ledge, climbed another foot or two, then placed a TCU at arms reach and continued up. At the crux, with the TCU at his feet, he fell off.

“The crack stops and the route goes over a bulge and opens up into a dihedral. I got to the top of the crack and thought there were some holds above that I couldn’t see. I tried reaching for them but didn’t find anything and that’s what initiated the fall.”

The TCU pulled out, and Gregory flipped over when his feet struck the ledge on the way down. He landed on the ground on his left shoulder blade and the side of his head after falling 20-30 ft.

Gregory was unconscious for about two minutes; he was convulsing and did not respond to Hyer’s calls. Other climbers came over to stand by with Gregory, so Hyer ran to his vehicle and drove to Yosemite Village for help.

The SAR team and the AMR ambulance crew responded immediately. When they got there, Gregory was responsive but complaining of back pain. They gave him oxygen, immobilized him in a vacuum body splint, and carried him 200 yards to the ambulance. About an hour after the accident the AirMed helicopter met them at El Capitan Meadow and flew Gregory to Doctors Medical Center in Modesto.

Analysis

“I had a skull fracture. I was not wearing a helmet on the climb and the doctors said I was really lucky. I was in intensive care for three days and in the step-down unit for another two, but they didn’t have to operate or do anything really major. I also had double vision for two or three months and burst my left ear drum. My hearing came back a little bit but the loss is pretty permanent. But I’m climbing again.

“Before the accident I’d been climbing a total of two years and leading traditional routes for about a year, three or four times a week. It was the first climb of the day, hot weather, I felt a little lazy, and that climb is 5.10a, probably at my leading limit.

“So I really didn’t feel like doing that climb right then, and I said to Casey, ‘It’s your turn,’ and he said, ‘Oh, you’ll do it, you’ll be fine.’ Casey was older than I was and solid on 5.10 and I looked up to him, so there was a lot of pressure on me to not come down from stuff—I didn’t want him to think I was a weeny, which is basically stupid.

I was at the crux thinking, ‘I don’t want to do this.’ But I just gritted my teeth and went for it. It wasn’t Casey's fault, but the message is don’t let your partner talk you into anything. I tell other partners, ‘If you’re uncomfortable and you feel like you want to come down, you can come down.’”

The TCU had seemed like a good one, at the time, and Hyer thought that Gregory might have accidently pulled it out by grabbing it as he fell. But that would be difficult to do if he came off with the TCU at his feet. Gregory is competent at placing protection and has fallen on pro quite a bit but, in retrospect, he thinks, the TCU probably failed simply because it was a marginal placement.

That underscores the main message—protection. Regardless of psychology or other factors, Gregory was leading at his limit with one piece protecting him from a serious fall. He places a lot more pro now. (Also see Dular, page 39.) (Source: Tyler Gregory and John Dill, NPS Ranger, Yosemite National Park.)

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