American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Ice, Equipment Failure — Carabiner, Fall on Ice, Colorado, Vail, Rigid Inseminator

  • Accident Reports
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  • Publication Year: 1998

FALL ON ICE, EQUIPMENT FAILURE—CARABINER, FALL ON ICE

Colorado, Vail, Rigid Inseminator

On December 7, Jim Amidon (31) and Joe Crotty (30), both experienced ice climbers, set out to ice climb in the Designator area. Around 2:00 PM Jim Amidon fell 85 feet from the Rigid Inseminator (WI 5, M7) pulling one ice piton and screw, and snapping a carabiner before decking out. He sustained multiple displaced fractures of the upper femur, fractures of the pelvis, and facial lacerations.

Rigid Inseminator is roughly 90 feet high. The difficulties begin right off the ground. You dry tool up 10 feet, clip a bolt then traverse left horizontally 12 feet making it to the second bolt and a “lousy” stance/rest on a ledge. From here you move up and left to the ice. The initial ice section is a 30 foot vertical sheet, which when combined with the dry tooling start, presents the true crux of the route. Once through this difficult ice section, the angle relents for 40 feet or so until a final steep section bars passage to the anchor.

Joe made the first attempt successfully negotiating the opening mixed traverse and clipping the first two bolts. Upon reaching the hanging curtain Joe felt tired and opted to lower off. Jim, being more experienced, stood a better chance—especially since he had led the same climb in good style with no falls or “hangs” six days prior.

Near the top of the climb, Jim was traversing over thin (1") sloping ice to the anchors about four feet to his right when his right crampon popped off the ice. The ice his tools were in was too thin to hold the additional load and gave out precipitating a fall. The first piece of gear to blow was a Spectre, about six feet below. Eight feet below that was a 17cm screw buried to the head and angled in the direction of anticipated fall. It pulled out completely. The next screw about ten feet below the previous screw held, but the ’biner at the rope end broke sending Jim all the way to the ground. Just before impact a 22cm screw (roughly 18 feet below the screw with the broken carabiner) placed in the direction of anticipated fall caught some of Jim’s weight just before impact. Before hitting the ground Jim ricocheted off a small hanging curtain near the base, snapping it off, and the (10 feet high, 3 feet wide, 2 feet thick) ice landed on him as he hit the ground.

Four climbers around the corner on the Rigid Designator heard the ensuing clamor. Luckily, all of them had medical experience and helped get Jim in a stable position and assess his condition. A cell phone call was placed immediately. Vail Valley Fire Department, Vail Search and Rescue, and Vail Valley Medical Center all provided an immense amount of care and manpower to ensure a smooth and safe rescue. Although the approach was only a twenty-minute walk up, it took 31 rescuers three hours to get him out.

Analysis

Jim says he tried to place one more screw above the Spectre, fearing the Spectre was not placed well, but dropped his last screw while placing it. All the protection was intact and only the broken ’biner and the Spectre were damaged. The Spectre was bent from a side load and the ’biner broke at the bottom.

The broken ’biner was two weeks old, bent-gate style and hadn’t been used before. Chris Harmston, Quality Assurance Manager from Black Diamond, determined that there was no indication that the ’biner was defective in any way and it just broke from overloading. Chris agreed to inspect the ’’biner as he is investigating gear failures; the ’biner was not a Black Diamond product. Jim was climbing on two ropes: 9.8mm 60m and 8.5mm 60m. The former had been fallen on once in a year of use and the latter was a brand new two-month old rope with no falls. Pulling out the two upper pieces caused the ropes to be more statically loaded, leaving no dynamic “give” on the ’biner that broke. Both ropes were clipped into the ’biner that failed. The conclusion is that the carabiner failed with the gate open. Be aware that carabiners can, and on rare occasion will, break regardless of previous use.

Further, Jim’s helmet saved his life. Having witnessed the fall and impact, I can only conclude that Jim would be dead without it. I was further protected by my helmet when Jim’s fall created all sorts of blunt flying hard icy objects that hit my helmet. Just the other day I spied a fairly famous ice climber in a trendy magazine eschewing his helmet on an ice nasty. Don’t be fooled! Helmets save lives, period. Those suave characters foregoing helmets, especially on ice climbs, are just corpses waiting to happen. (Source: Submitted by Jim Amidon and Joe Crotty)

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