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Fall on Rock, Protection Pulled Out — California, Yosemite Valley, El Capitan


California, Yosemite Vailey, El Capitan

In the afternoon of September 9, Russ Fields (29), Bob Dunahue (36), and Bill Hesse (27) reached Long Ledge on the Salathe Wall (35 pitches, Grade VI).

Russ had the next lead, pitch 33; the topo shows it starting as Al, then finishing as 5.8 face climbing.

Comfortable on hard 5.10, he didn’t expect any problems, but about 50 feet short of the belay, he found the free moves much harder than the rating. He searched for an easier way, found nothing, and finally fell attempting the moves. His last protection, six or seven feet below, was a marginal placement—all he’d been able to find—and it failed. He was caught by the next piece after falling 25 to 30 feet—a clean fall, until his right foot struck a knob.

His partners got up the pitch, and Russ was able to follow the remaining pitches to the summit by jumaring on his good leg. As they topped out, they met two Yosemite SAR team members on a search assignment; the searchers stayed with them that night and arranged for the NPS helicopter to evacuate Russ in the morning. X-rays confirmed that his right ankle had been fractured. Analysis

According to local climbers, this pitch is significantly underrated. There have been several other falls on it this year, and rumors of a few injuries, though none requiring a rescue. (Source: John Dill, NPS Ranger, Yosemite National Park)

(Editor’s Note: It has become more common to rely on ratings from guide books rather than on one’s own ability to judge the difficulty of a route. The latter is becoming a lost skill—along with being able to down-climb once the realization that the route won’t go has set in.)