American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Rock, Inadequate Protection, Protection Pulled, Fatigue, Weather, Inexperience — Vermont, Nichol's Ledge

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 2000


Vermont, Nichol’s Ledge

On October 22, Ian (22) and Ryan (23) were attempting to climb the first pitch of a two-pitch route unfamiliar to both. Ian was leading and Ryan was belaying. The weather that day was cloudy, cool (40s), and windy. The first pitch of the climb appeared to be a short 40-foot section that ended at a small tree ledge. The terrain at the base of the climb consisted of steep talus and woods. Ian began climbing the first pitch, placing a #1 Camelot at a point 15 feet above the slope and a second piece at approximately 30 feet up the route. Immediately above the second anchor point, Ian encountered a steep friction slab with a few small edges that lead to the tree ledge above. After making two difficult moves approximately six feet above his last piece of protection (a single HB cam set in a horizontal crack), Ian came to what appeared to be a “dead end” in the route. Ian decided that he would not be able to reverse his moves back down the climb and had no choice but to continue the last few moves to the tree ledge as it was only a few feet away. While attempting a strenuous move, Ian fell. The force of the fall pulled his last piece of protection from the horizontal crack and pitched him feet first toward the ground. Realizing that Ian was going to hit the ground, Ryan stepped forward in an attempt to break his fall. Ian landed on Ryan, and both tumbled down the talus slope becoming tangled in the rope. Their tumble down the slope came to an abrupt stop when the rope pulled tight against the #1 Camelot still anchored in the rock.

Almost immediately after they stopped tumbling, Ryan told Ian not to move and began untangling them from the rope. After checking himself for any injuries (none were found), Ryan began checking Ian for injuries. Both were trained Wilderness First Responders. Ian complained of pain in his right shoulder. Closer examination found that it was dislocated. Ryan attempted to reduce the dislocation in the field, but to no avail. Ryan gathered all the gear and assisted Ian back to their truck. What had been a 15-minute approach to the base of the climb earlier in the day turned into a difficult two-hour retreat. Ryan drove Ian to the hospital in St. Johnsbury, where Ian’s dislocation was treated. He was subsequently released that evening.


The difficulty of the first pitch was estimated by both climbers to be 5.5. While the route to the tree ledge was obvious, the end of the first pitch presented some climbing difficulties that may have been beyond the climbing ability of the leader. Often overlooked in climbing is the ability of the lead climber to reverse moves when coming to a “dead end.” This was Ian’s first year of lead climbing. He had done fifteen easy leads prior to this attempt. Ryan had less leading experience.

Both climbers speculate that while climbing above the last anchor point, the cam must have “walked,” affecting the orientation of the cams and ultimately the holding power of the device. In hindsight, the leader admitted that he should have placed more than one piece of gear at the last possible anchoring point before attempting to make the last few moves to the tree ledge. In addition, both climbers surmised that fatigue and the cold temperatures contributed to Ian’s inability to make the last two difficult moves to the security of the tree ledge.

Finally, it is interesting to note that the first piece of protection placed on the climb ended up being the stop gap that prevented both climbers from tumbling further down the talus slope than they did. Both climbers agreed that had this piece of protection not held the injuries sustained could have been more serious. More importantly, an effective self rescue may not have been possible in this relatively obscure climbing area. (Source: John Kascenska)

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