American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Rock, Protection Pulled Out, No Hard Hat, Utah, Little Cottonwood Canyon, Pentapitch

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 2002


Utah, Little Cottonwood Canyon, Pentapitch

On May 19, Michael Thurgood (24), Alex Santy (17), and BJ Huff (19), were climbing Pentapitch, a 5.8 route on the south side of Little Cottonwood Canyon. Michael led the second pitch, belayed by Alex. As he approached the end of the pitch, the rope drag became difficult and he decided to down-climb a few feet to his last piece, a cam, to add a runner. While down-climbing, his feet slipped and he fell, pulling the cam and a nut. He fell 35-40 feet, ending up three feet below his belayer when his fall was finally stopped by his next piece —a sling on a tree.

His partners hauled him up to the ledge, then lowered him to the ground with a GriGri. He was conscious and able to assist in the lowering, keeping his feet against the rock, although he remembers nothing from that time.

Search and Rescue members met the climbers descending from the base of the route. Michael was immobilized in a bean-bag vacuum splint, lowered several pitches down a scree field, and then carried to the trailhead. He was taken by ground ambulance to the hospital. He is now recovering well and has returned to lead Pentapitch again.


Michael had been climbing for six or seven years but had only been leading trad routes for around a year. He feels that the rope drag probably caused the cam that pulled to “walk” to a position that was less secure. The best cam placements are in bottoming cracks that do not allow any motion. Long runners help both by eliminating bends in the rope, which add to rope-drag, and by preventing forces on the piece, which can cause it to walk.

All in all, the climbers did well to self-rescue to the bottom of the route, speeding up the rescue considerably. Michael was fortunate to suffer only minor injuries, but probably could have prevented a concussion if he had been wearing a helmet. (Source: Tom Moyer, Salt Lake County Sheriff’s SAR)

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