American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Ice – Ice Screw Pulled Out, Haste

North Carolina, Celo Knob, The Crescent

  • Accident Reports
  • Author: Brandon Calloway
  • Accident Year: N/A
  • Publication Year: 2001

(The month of December was one of the coldest on record in North Carolina. The below-freezing temperatures created a variety of great ice climbing opportunities throughout the western part of the state.)

Around 3:00 p.m., my partner TS and I were finishing our second ice route of the day in the Black Mountain Range. Both routes were characteristic of the long gully climbs—easy to moderate ice with a few technical stretches no harder than WI3. I was beginning the last of the roped pitches, a short 30- foot section of relatively easy WI3. I had placed a good screw just off the belay, and then placed a second one five more feet above. I encountered a short section of neve near the end of the pitch which felt secure, although warranted some delicate climbing. To protect the top-out, I placed a third screw in the best ice I could find, knowing that it was not very solid but hoping it would be better than nothing. The angle lessened considerably at the top of the pitch, transforming into a flat ramp that continued towards the top of the mountain. After making a few more moves past the vertical section, I stepped up high to plant my left foot flat into the ice and finish the pitch using my tools as canes on such low-angle terrain. I planted the bottom of both tools into the ice and committed my weight onto my left foot when it skated off the ice, pitching me off backwards in a head-first fall. I remember the last screw failing as I fell and could see the ledge below me coming closer and closer. I hit the ledge with my head and shoulder blade, bounced, and continued to slide 20 more feet down the gully until I came to a halt. By the time I stopped, I had fallen 40 feet, dislocated my left shoulder, and stabbed my right knee with my crampon during the fall. TS came down to help me out and managed to reduce my shoulder. He pulled all our gear and helped me bushwhack several hundred feet down the ridge to our packs and walk the remaining miles back to the truck.

Analysis

More so than climbing on rock, ice climbing takes keen judgment and the experience to know what is happening with the ice and what techniques are and are not safe. A contributing factor to my fall was rushing the pitch and wanting to get off the mountain after a long day. If I had continued to climb the pitch in the standard manner of planting the picks of both tools firmly before making a move instead of hastily resorting to a more efficient technique, I might not have fallen. Also, if I had not been wearing a helmet, I might not have lived to tell this tale. (Source: Brandon Calloway - 28)

This ANAM article has been reformatted into HTML. Please contact us if you spot an error.