American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall or Slip on Rock, Proteciton Failure, North Carolina, Looking Glass Rock, Second Coming

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

FALL OR SLIP ON ROCK, PROTECTION FAILURE

North Carolina, Looking Glass Rock, Second Coming

On May 5, Ben Williams (21) and his partner were attempting Second Coming (5.7), a popular route on the south side of Looking Glass Rock. He was wearing a helmet. Williams, a climber with 1-3 years experience, placed several pieces of gear as he climbed the crack below the bulge (crux). Standing beneath the bulge, he placed a #2 Camalot as high as he could reach into the vertical crack that splits the bulge. From this position, he attempted to climb upwards, moving his foot out to the right of the crack. Finding no place for his toe, he slipped and fell back and to the left below the bulge. This caused the #2 Camalot placement to fail. His fall was stopped by a well-placed #.5 Camalot. Some time during the fall, Williams stuck his ankle, breaking it. An evacuation by Transylvania County EMS and volunteers was necessary. Williams was in a great deal of pain, even though he was sedated with morphine. The carry-out was difficult from both his standpoint and that of the rescuers.

Analysis

Williams was lead climbing on the route that some call the most dangerous climb (from a serious injury standpoint) at Looking Glass Rock. One explanation may be that new climbers, often not skilled at placing “trad” gear, are sandbagged by the 5.7 rating that appears in the guidebook. That, plus the fact the “Second Coming” starts with a benign-appearing crack that suckers the climber into believing that it will continue being as easy as it seems at the beginning. Poorly-placed gear near the “bulge,” nervousness when actually attempting to climb it, pro that fails to hold when loaded with a climber’s weight—all of these factors figure into the frequency/severity of injuries that take place on the route. In Ben’s case, he had fallen at the same spot two weeks prior to his injury in May. The difference was that on his first fall at the crux, the piece, a #2 Camalot, held. On May 5th, it pulled. Why didn’t it fail the first time he fell? Most likely because Ben took more time in placing it properly when he first encountered that spot. During the May 5 climb, he may have placed the Camalot too quickly and carelessly, assuming first that he knew what he was doing because he had fallen on the same piece at the same place before and all went well, and second that on this “return” visit to the route, he was READY TO CLIMB and did not expect to fall again.

Familiarity and practice placing gear, better position, and anticipation of “what if this piece pulls” may have prepared the climber for the unexpected. (Source: Ben Williams and Steve Longnecker)

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