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Fall on Rock — Blown Off by Wind Gust, Inadequate Protection, Partner Stranded, Inexeperience

On July 2, Todd Marshall (34) was leading the seventh pitch of Petit Grepon South Face (III, 5.8). At 1900, Marshall topped out on the spur ledge below the summit, stood up with arms upraised, and gave a, “Hurray,” and got blown off by a strong gust of wind from the southeast estimated at 60-70 mph by his partner, Matteo Baceda. Marshall fell 70 feet and struck the rock face, sustaining a massive depressed occipital skull fracture, and instant death. Baceda was unfamiliar with self-rescue techniques and remained trapped on his belay ledge 80 feet below Marshall. Baceda sustained exposure to his lips from being stuck out overnight. Baceda was rescued by two climbers during the following afternoon.

Analysis

Marshall, with six years of climbing experience and a prior ascent of Petit Grepon South Face, was the leader of this team and led every pitch. This party was out so late in the day because Marshall and Baceda, during their pre-dawn approach from the Glacier Gorge trailhead, took a wrong turn in the dark and ended up at the base of Spearhead, approximately seven miles away from the Grepon. Marshall was climbing quickly and strongly while leading the Grepon, but he took a 30 foot runout from his last protection, a #2 Camalot, which held his fall. The strong erratic winds encountered were not a surprise to Marshall and Baceda, who had witnessed similar winds all day. Turning back was an option, but at the very least Marshall should have clipped into the belay before standing up on the ledge. Marshall was not wearing a helmet, and the impact area on the back of his head would have been covered. However, considering the distance fallen and the force produced, it is not clear if he could have survived. (Source: Jim Detterline, Longs Peak Supervisory Climbing Ranger)