American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Incomplete Tie-In, Fall on Rock, California, The Needles, Sorcerer Needle

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 2001

INCOMPLETE TIE-IN, FALL ON ROCK

California, The Needles, Sorcerer Needle

On September 4, two climbers were on Thin Ice (5.10b) at the Needles, an easy route for their abilities, after earlier climbing two short, multi-pitch routes, Igor Unchained (5.9) and Airy Interlude (5.10a). It was 1530, the route was in shade with a mild breeze, and both climbers were wearing jackets. Patrick Savageau (20) belayed leader Dan DeLange of Colorado on the first pitch, then followed.

Savageau had tied in after his partner led the pitch, then followed, and due to the jacket, his partner could not see his knot. He clipped into the anchor with a sling clipped to the loop of rope created by the (incomplete) knot. At 1545, after switching the rack to lead the second pitch, Savageau leaned back to scope out the pitch, and immediately fell, as the figure eight knot had not been finished. He fell 250 feet to his death. If he had weighted the rope at any point while following the first pitch, he would have fallen. He was not wearing a helmet, but it would have made no difference. Three climbers at the base of Igor Unchained, 100 yards away, also witnessed the accident, and immediately attempted to come to his assistance, but found him dead of massive injuries.

Analysis

Dan DeLange had 20 years of climbing experience. Patrick Savageau had only been climbing three years, yet had on-sighted 5.12 crack. A partner commented, “Pat was one of a few. He was a major go-for-it in a way that I’ve seen only a few times in my 20+ years of climbing. Last year he was 19 and had been climbing only a season or two. When we’d head to the Valley, he’d always want to do the hard cracks. The only problem was that he’d done most that were easily accessible. We rapped down to Tales of Power [5.12b] where he made an impressive ascent, just a hang or two. He had the hardest trouble with the chimney at the top. On the next day we did Uprising on the Rostrum. Pat ran out of gear at the top and had to lead the last 20 feet of 5.11 + without pro. I was impressed. Then we went over and jumped on the Cosmic Debris TR (5.13b). With just a hang or two he was grabbing the top slings. Strong and determined, that’s how I’ll remember Pat.”

There is a simple four-point check that is becoming routine for many climbers: Doubled-back, rope through harness correctly, figure 8 correct, doublefisherman back-up knot correct. And for the belayer: doubled-back, belay ’biner through harness correctly, ’biner locked, rope threaded correctly. Such checks should always be done by all partners on each other, regardless of experience. (Source: Greg Barnes, who witnessed the accident)

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