American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall from Rock While Setting Up Rappel, No Helmet, Tennessee, Prentice Cooper State Park

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


Tennessee, Prentice Cooper State Park

On May 1, Chris Chesnutt (30) and two friends, Jerry Roberts (34) and Travis Eisman (30) spent a long day climbing in an undeveloped area in Prentice Cooper State Park (just west of Chattanooga). Following the completion of a new route they named Ironic (5.11), Chris moved away from the cliff edge and, feeling comfortable with his position, untied from the rope and began setting up a rappel. As Chris reported, “It was getting dark fast and I wanted to get back to camp before darkness fell. In the process of setting up the rappel, I apparently mis-stepped and fell backward 80 feet to rocks below.” Chris sustained multiple injuries, including a fracture to the upper face and mandible and fracture to both feet (right calcaneous, closed fracture of the left calcaneous and talus), a fractured left arm (both radius and humerus), a compression fracture of C-5 vertebrae, and a pelvic fracture. He was not wearing a helmet.


I believe the combination of low light, exhaustion, and hurriedness contributed to my misjudging the security of my stance. In that situation remaining tied in to a tree or some other anchor would have prevented the fall”. (Source: Chris Chesnutt)

(Editor's Note: Living to tell this story was a minor miracle. The medical and rescue report on this incident was most interesting. There was one other report from Tennessee. There were few details, but it involved a fall from rock at Foster Falls State Park, resulting in a fractured arm and leg. We know there is a lot of climbing going on at both these parks, so we need some reliable reporting.)

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