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Fall on Ice, Inadequate Protection, New Hampshire, Mount Washington, Huntington Ravine, O'Dell's Gully

FALL ON ICE, INADEQUATE PROTECTION

New Hampshire, Mount Washington, Huntington Ravine, O’Dell's Gully

December 29, Greg Farrell (39) and Brian Carlock, both experienced ice climbers, were ascending O’Dell’s Gully at 0815 in preparation for a trip to Mount Katahdin. Part of their training was to climb Pinnacle and O’Dell’s in a day and employ the technique of “simul-climbing” to climb quicker on the easier sections. Neither of them had used this technique before.

Using a doubled 8.6 mm rope, they had at least one ice screw between them. The terrain was water ice, moderate angle. Brian was leading. With one screw in the ice, Greg stopped at the screw to wait for Brian to place a second ice screw before he removed the one he was at. Catching his crampon point on his bootstrap, Greg lost his balance and fell, pulling Brian with him. Sliding and bouncing down the ice, the single ice screw did hold their fall (the 17 cm, Yates Screamer had activated). Greg fell 13 meters while Brian fell 39 meters, and both ended up hanging side by side on the ice. Both seemed to be OK at this point, so Greg built an anchor where they were and lowered Brian down to the snow slope using an extra rope he had in his pack. Once at the base of the ice, Brain realized pain in his right hip would prevent him from standing, so a second climbing party used an ice anchor to lower Brian down the snow slope to the trail. Many nearby climbers assisted in getting Brian to the trail where he was carried out by litter. Later that evening, Brian was treated for his soft tissue injuries and released from the Androscoggin Medical Center.

Analysis

While simul-climbing is a technique used for moving quickly over moderate terrain, it is also dangerous because a slip by the second could easily pull the leader off, as happened in this accident. We should have had more protection between us. This technique calls for abundant protection even on easy terrain as these points are the only “belay” for the climbers, at least two points of pro between climbers. Because the terrain was easy, I was more “relaxed” and didn’t have my axes planted well—they were dangling at my side—at the stance before the fall, which would’ve resulted in a stumble only. The leader should have his tools planted well and anchored to them while placing a screw, thus creating a temporary anchor for himself and partner. Even on easy terrain it is important to be constantly vigilant and to immediately have tools planted securely at stances, as portable belays. (Source: Greg Farrell)

(Editors Note: Jeff Fongemie points out the following.“Easy ice is not always about the angle of the ice. The ice on Mount. Washington is often very brittle and even low angle ice can be difficult. If at a Mountain Rescue Service meeting here in North Conway, you asked how many have taken falls on low angle ice, you might be surprised to see how many highly experienced mountaineers raise their hands. ”)