American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Rock, Inadequate Protection, Exceeding Abilities — Washington, North Cascades, Cutthroat Peak

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  • Publication Year: 2000

FALL ON ROCK, INADEQUATE PROTECTION, EXCEEDING ABILITIES

Washington, North Cascades, Cutthroat Peak

At 6:00 a.m. on July 17, five climbers started on the South Buttress of Cutthroat Peak. It was clear and warm. The climb started across a snow basin and up steep snow in the highest gully. The group continued up some steep third- class rock to where the gully opened into a notch below the ridge. Dan (34), Annette (32), and Dave (36) were ahead. They roped up and carried gear to the ridge. Todd (38) and Ken (33) left gear and climbed in rock shoes to the ridge from the left of the notch. Dave led the first half as a single running belay. Annette led all the way to an area referred to as the “Tarzan Leap.” Todd and Ken followed, climbing from fixed belays and alternating leads.

Dave, Annette, and Dan summited at 12:30 p.m. They spent only about five minutes on the summit due to threatening weather. About three pitches below the summit, nearing a chimney pitch, Todd was leading a short traverse followed by a steep vertical section. He was able to place two pieces of protection in the traverse. (He recalls that the vertical section did not offer many places for protection.) He stopped to place protection at an awkward stance just below the nest ledge. His left arm was levered in a crack and there was only a shaky right hand hold. He was reaching with his right hand for a piece of protection when he fell about 25–30 feet, bouncing off one ledge and ending up on his back on a larger ledge.

Ken estimated that Todd was unconscious for about five minutes. Todd was then able to crawl to Ken’s belay station where Ken anchored him and then signaled the other team members with a whistle.

Dan arrived first and did a quick medical assessment. He determined that Todd had several fractured ribs and that his breathing was extremely labored and painful. Todd’s right arm and hand were not functioning properly, and he complained of lower back pain. Ken was able to communicate with some climbers below, who promptly went down for help. (By this time, the weather had turned, and it proceeded to rain and hail for the next six hours.) To get down to a larger ledge, Todd was able to rappel slowly with assistance. The team continued to rappel, as this seemed to be the quickest and safest means to reach the notch at the top of the gullies. In the meantime, a helicopter had dropped off a paramedic on the snowfield 150 feet below the ridge. The team set up a double rope rappel all the way to the snow. Todd was then assisted across some relatively steep snow slopes to a level area where the helicopter was able to pick him up. He was flown directly to Twisp, where they landed for a brief period of time to warm him up and administer first aid. He was then flown to Central Washington Hospital, where his diagnoses included a compressed fracture of L1, two broken ribs, and an injured right arm and hand.

Analysis

The fact that the particular section of the route is not easy to protect combined with the moderate experience level of the victim contributed to the incident. Also, the initial approach on this pitch is deceptively easy.

The team was able to accomplish a self rescue off the most difficult part of the route under adverse conditions. This was due to a very well organized and efficient team effort when things really counted. (Source: From a report submitted by Todd Campbell.)

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