American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Rock, Protection Came Out, No Hard Hat, North Carolina, Linville Gorge, North Carolina Wall

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 2003

FALL ON ROCK, PROTECTION CAME OUT, NO HARD HAT

North Carolina, Linville Gorge, North Carolina Wall

On September 8, Colin Treiber, (20), and his partner were climbing Bumblebee Buttress (5.8), located on the North Carolina Wall in the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area. Treiber, an experienced climber, lost his balance before he was able to clip into his fifth piece of protection and began to fall. The rock where the fourth piece of protection was placed broke, causing the piece to come out. His first, second and third protection pieces remained but did not prevent him from hitting the base of the route. Additional reports suggest that he fell on the upper part of the first pitch well above his last piece of protection. When his last piece blew, it caused him to invert, striking the back of his head against the wall. A broken neck and concussion to the head were the major injuries. He was not wearing a helmet. CPR initiated by his partner was unsuccessful

Experienced climbers at the scene said that Treiber was using the appropriate equipment and it was in good working order. Over 40 personnel from Burke County Emergency Services, Burke County EMS Special Operations Team, Jonas Ridge Fire and First Responders, Burke County Rescue Squad, Lake James Fire Department, Oak Hill Fire Department, Burke County REACT, North Carolina Outward Bound School, and Linville Central Rescue were involved in the body recovery. (Sources: Sharon McBrayer, The News Herald, September 9, 2002, and Aram Attarian)

Analysis

I went into the Gorge with knowledge of the accident but not sure where it happened. When I arrived at the base of Bumblebee Buttress, my whole day changed. I saw two pieces of gear still in place on the route, the first piece, a well-placed .75 Camalot. It was about 15 feet up. The second was a #8 Metolius cam. It was about 20 feet higher, right below the crux of the first pitch. Both were in good rock with long slings. I saw no fifth piece. I had planned on soloing the route, but only went up as far as the gear I could see from the ground—40 feet or so, not quite up into the corner system.

On the first ledge at the base of the route I found a rope bag and a “mashed up” #4 Metolius cam. The cam looked as though it had been pulled through the crack. The trigger was pushed up against the cam head and the head itself was “chewed up.” With the stem slightly bent, it looked like it had taken a small amount of force before it popped. It was not in good working order. My guess is that it was the second piece to fail.

In between the .75 and the #8 Metolius, I found a damaged .5 Camalot lying in the crack. The .5 showed signs of great stress. It looked as though it was placed horizontally. The cam head was slightly mashed on one side, but the stem was bent over like a piece of elbow macaroni. The cable was crushed and frayed, showing signs of significant force spread out over the entire stem. It looked as though it was placed on top of and behind a blocky feature. The sling of the cam was frayed on the clip in end and looked as though it had been melted with a hot iron on the side that would have been in contact with the rock.

My guess is Colin lost his footing trying to clip his fifth piece and fell (possibly upside down) 20-25 feet onto the .5 Camalot. I’m not sure whether or not he collided with the rock before the placement failed or after, but given the amount of force the .5 Camalot looks to have taken, it suggests that it happened after, causing the rock around the placement to explode and fall down onto Colin. The #4 Metolius cam seems not to have held either, also due to rock quality. There was a significant amount scaring caused by rocks about the size of a soccer ball low on the route. Colin’s fall was then arrested by the #8 Metolius a few feet off the deck. All in all the fall was probably around 80-90 feet.

With all this said, here is what I think we can learn from this tragic accident. Always wear a helmet while climbing in the Gorge, try to use passive protection as much as possible around hollow or questionable rock features, and be extremely cautious of ledge-fall potential. (Source: From observations by Pat Goodman, a local climber)

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