FALL OR SLIP ON ROCK, INADEQUATE EQUIPMENT, INADEQUATE PROTECTION, FAILURE TO FOLLOW ROUTE, NO HARD HAT
North Carolina, Looking Glass Rock, The Nose
On June 19, Keith Ballencourt (30) and two less experienced friends were climbing The Nose (5.8), one of the most popular routes on the mountain. PW, a local guide, spoke with Keith, who described himself as an experienced lead climber at Stone Mountain, NC, an area notorious for long run outs and steep friction. According to PW, Keith was carrying a “Yosemite style rack” (a bandolier which was FULL of assorted gear). PW gave Keith route beta and even held in his hand the specific cams that Keith needed to protect the route. PW relates the rest of the incident: “I didn’t really watch him climb, as I was instructing beginners at the base of Peregrine (a climb adjacent to the Nose). The time was about 3:00 p.m. I heard the unforgettable and unmistakable sound of someone falling—scraping and bouncing down the mountain! When I looked up, it seemed that he was falling from either Peregrine or the new rappel line or possibly the top of the mountain, as his speed was considerable. I noticed two people at the lower rappel anchor. I was afraid that he was going to hit, or come close to us at the base of Peregrine. When he was approximately 50 feet from the ground, he began being pulled towards The Nose and came to rest with his feet approximately four feet off the ground! He never lost consciousness but was stunned and disoriented. It seems a miracle that his injuries were not more severe, especially since he wasn’t wearing a helmet (Keith suffered a fractured right leg and head injury). He was also very fortunate to have such a skilled group of people in the vicinity (a doctor and EMT were in the area, probably the climbers PW noted on the lower rappel anchor).
“I am afraid that (due to his position on the rock) he may have been climbing below and to the right of the ramp in an effort to reach the lower rappel anchor on Peregrine, as I’m sure that he could see the two climbers there. All of this in spite of the fact that I gave him clear directions to climb the white streak/ramp on the Nose.”
The rescue squad was on the scene in just under an hour. He was carried out via litter and transported to the Pisgah Center for Wildlife Education (fish hatchery) to a waiting helicopter. He was evacuated to Mission St. Joseph’s Hospital in Asheville, NC.
Looking Glass offers climbers steep terrain and limited fixed protection, thus requiring climbers to be familiar with placing gear. Stone Mountain (an area familiar to Keith) is not as steep and almost all protection is fixed. Keith may have benefited by having a better knowledge of the route and placing gear. Also consider placing more gear, especially in unfamiliar territory and when the opportunity presents itself. Wearing a helmet is also a good idea. (Source: Bryan Haslam, PW, and The Asheville Citizen Times, June 20 and 21)