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Fall on Ice, Inadequate Protection, New Hampshire, Crawford Notch, Frankenstein Cliffs


New Hampshire, Crawford Notch, Frankenstein Cliffs

On December 30 Bob O’Brien paired up with Lisa Thompson for some ice climbing. Bob is an experienced ice climber of more than ten years and while Lisa has limited experience with ice climbing, she has many years of rock climbing experience. They had not climbed together before.

Bob set off for a lead of Cave Route (NEI 3) with Lisa as the belayer. Cave Route is a one pitch route that begins with a 30 foot section of 55 to 60 degree ice followed by some vertical columns that are avoided by climbing around them on the left. Bob climbed to the top of the first section and placed an ice screw. Looking for a greater challenge, he headed up the 15-foot tall columns direct. Deciding the ice was too candled and poor in quality, he choose not to “waste time” attempting to place an ice screw, but instead climb to the top of the column and finish the climb. With his tools over the top of the column but feet still on the steep ice, his right tool came out of the ice, then his left tool also came out. Acting quickly, Bob was able to replace his left tool. Any feelings of safety melted as he “barn-doored” to the left and his left hand came out of the leash. With the tool remaining in the ice, he fell, pulling out his only ice screw along the way. Bob fell 40 feet to the ground. Nearby climbers, including a doctor and a paramedic, assisted in the half mile carry out using a litter from a rescue cache at the parking lot. Bob broke both his tibia and fibula of his left leg when his left foot caught the lower angle ice at the base of the column.


The main problem here is of the climber not placing adequate protection. Once on the column, Bob had three alternatives. First, stop and take the time to place good protection. Second, conclude that he could not (for any reason) place the protection and retreat. Or third, conclude that he could not (for any reason) place the protection, keep climbing and risk ground fall, hoping that he would not fall. Bob chose the third alternative, but fell. As ice climbers, we sometimes do not place protection as frequently as we do on rock in the summer relying on hopefully solid ice tool placements. The merits of this can be argued both ways. Nevertheless, placing protection infrequently enough so that ground-fall is a possibility is never a good option, as we cannot be certain that we will not fall. (Source: Bob O’Brian and Lisa Thompson)