American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Hand-hold Came Loose, Fall on Rock, Placed No Protection, California, Yosemite Valley

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1999


California, Yosemite Valley

On January 26, Katherine Davis (31) was climbing on Supplication (5.10). She was leading a 5.8 approach to set a belay at a ledge when the rock handhold she was holding crumbled off the wall. At the time of the fall Davis was wearing a seat harness with gear, but was not clipped through any protection. Eric Pearlman, her partner, said that Davis pitched out and back as she fell, rotating 360 degrees head over heels. They estimated the fall to be between 25 and 30 feet. Davis fell onto a steep granite slope covered with heavy duff and soil. She landed on her feet and left side, then slid another 20 feet down a steep soil slope missing the talus. Pearlman stated that he was sure Davis had not lost consciousness because he heard her say, “I’m OK, I’m OK,” as she slid down the slope. After checking on Davis’ condition, Pearlman hiked out and reported the incident to Yosemite Dispatch, using the phone at the Arch Rock Entrance. Ranger Carol Mutch was the station attendant at the time. After making his report, he returned to Davis’ location to await rescue crews.

She was placed in a fall body splint which was secured in a litter. A litter carry out team was assembled and, using several belay systems, the litter was carried down approximately ¼ mile of talus slope to Hwy 140. Although the air ambulance was ordered, it was later canceled and Davis was taken by ground ambulance to the Yosemite Medical Clinic where she was treated for a green- stick fracture of the pelvis and released. (Source: Ruth Middlecamp, Ranger, Yosemite National Park.)


The first 50 feet of this route is rotten (loose) rock, with lousy protection possibilities, so the standard practice is to free-solo that part before setting up a belay anchor. We don’t know whether she tested the hold. She leads hard routes and is comfortable free-soloing 5.9. (Source: John Dill, SAR Ranger, Yosemite National Park)

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