FALL ON ROCK, INADEQUATE PROTECTION, INADEQUATE BELAY
New Hampshire, Whitehorse Ledge, Standard Route
In July, a father of unknown age and his 14-year-old son were climbing Standard Route on Whitehorse Ledge. The father was leading the crux layback corner, and the son was belaying at Lunch Ledge. It is reported that the son was not belaying properly and other climbers reminded the boy to “hold the rope.” It was also witnessed that the father looked like he was having difficulty climbing the 5.7 crux, and his protection may have suffered as a result. The father fell while on the crux and hit the slab below suffering an angulated open fracture of the right ankle and fracture of the left ankle. Whether his belay failed or protection failed is unknown.
When the fall occurred, Mountain Rescue member Ian Turnbull was at the foot of the cliff and by the time he climbed to Lunch Ledge, climbers at the scene had the father lowered back to Lunch Ledge. Ian rappelled with the father on his back one rope-length to a two-bolt anchor on the slabs below. A second rescuer arrived to help by lowering Ian and the injured father to the ground by tying ropes together and passing the two knots.
The father hadn’t been climbing for ten years, and it is apparent that the son was not fully competent in his belaying. I do not know the exact nature of the fall and why the injuries were so severe. The rock in that section of the climb offers many easy protection possibilities, and a leader need not subject himself to a dangerous fall. I can only speculate that the leader either placed poor protection that failed, or did not place enough protection. There is also the possibility that the leader's protection was fine and that he just landed badly on a relatively short fall on a slab that is not very steep. The crux he fell from is nearly vertical for 10 to 15 feet, but the slab he landed on is less than 45 degrees. There is a subtle art to falling (landing actually) and ideally a good leader tries to realize when he might fall and prepare for the landing.
The rescue went smoothly except for a knot jamming in a Gri-Gri during the knot pass on the long lower. Tying ropes together and lowering on a single strand is a great rescue technique, but the knot pass can be a problem if you’re not prepared. One technique is to let a releasable friction hitch take the load from the lowering device before the knot jams. With the system backed up to the anchor, pass the knot and release the friction hitch. (Sources: Mountain Rescue Service, Inc)