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Fall on Rock, Failure to Follow Route, Inadequate Belay and Protection, No Hard Hat, Poor Position, Oregon, Smith Rocks

FALL ON ROCK, FAILURE TO FOLLOW ROUTE, INADEQUATE BELAY AND PROTECTION, NO HARD HAT, POOR POSITION

Oregon, Smith Rocks

Bill Pesklak (39) and his partner Brian Boshart (25) were working on Titanium Jag, a 5.10b, assigned two stars, an average quality route, by Alan Watts, author of Climber's Guide to Smith Rock. Both men had attained a small ledge about 80 feet up the route. With Boshart belaying, Pesklak climbed an estimated 20 feet above the ledge, slipped off, fell on his belayer, tipped off the ledge, fell again striking his head, then slid the remaining 60 feet to rocks below. Pesklak died from massive head injuries. Boshart, with a concussion, back muscle injuries and belay rope burns around his leg, was lowered from the rock six hours after the fall by rescue personnel, hospitalized and released.

Analysis

Titanium Jag has some fixed anchors. Traditional protection gear going up to two inches is suggested. Climbers familiar with the route suggest that Bill Pesklak may have been off line. He had placed one piece about ten feet above his belayer and was working on a second piece when he fell. Brian Boshart was clove hitched with the climbing rope into a two-bolt anchor. He belayed directly to the climber from his harness with an ATC. Both men had discussed his belay position. Boshart stated that he had unclipped his runner from the anchor to move laterally several feet to a position under Bill because of rock fall concern. Brian was able to watch Bill climb. He had locked off the ATC with the rope around his leg as the leader worked on the second piece. Bill fell feet-first onto his belayer, knocking him off the ledge and into a 15-foot pendulum to a point 10 feet below the anchor. Control of the belay was lost; the climber had tipped off the ledge, falling head first then sliding to a stop at the bottom of the climb. Brian remembers the rope playing out through the protection point, which remained on the rock.

Above a belay ledge, experience tells us that the rope should be clipped to a second anchor just above the belayer’s head or to the belay anchor, thereby adding friction to the system and pulling the belayer’s body weight into the anchor above the ledge while holding a leader fall.

Smith Rock is a highly developed sport climbing area and most routes have been artfully bolted and cleaned of natural debris. Most climbers at Smith Rock do not use helmets on top roped routes. The use of helmets on less developed routes should be a mark of advanced ability and could have saved a life in this instance. The use of a belay device such as the Gri-Gri is a way to stop a fall, uncontrolled by a belayer. Brian believes that use of a Gri-Gri and a helmet might have save Bill’s life. (Source: Robert Speik)