American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Rock, Protection Pulled Out-Old Piton, Utah, Little Cottonwood Canyon, Gate Buttress

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

FALL ON ROCK, PROTECTION PULLED OUT—OLD PITON

Utah, Little Cottonwood Canyon, Gate Buttress

On November 19, “Mike” (44) fell while leading the second pitch of Perhaps, a two-pitch 5.7 route at the Gate Buttress in Little Cottonwood Canyon. The end of the second pitch is a long horizontal traverse. It’s an under-cling in a wide crack for the hands and low-angled friction for the feet. Mike had placed a #4 Camalot at the beginning of the traverse and had clipped an old fixed piton about 15 feet later. Another 15 feet out from the piton, he stopped and looked for the chains. As he straightened up a bit to look, his feet skated out and he fell. The piton pulled, and Mike pendulumned about 60 feet across the low-angled granite until he hit a small ledge, suffering fractures in five lumbar vertebrae, both feet, and both ankles. His partners, “Jim” and “Colin,” were able to lower him back to the anchors from there, then re-rig and lower him to the ground.

SAR team members met them at the base of the route. Mike was immobilized in a bean-bag vacuum splint, lowered down five or six pitches of steep scree to the road, and then transported by ground ambulance to the hospital.

Analysis

Old fixed pitons should always be viewed with suspicion and tested. Go ahead and clip them but place good protection as soon after as you can. Mike also feels that there was a lot of slack in the rope because of rope- drag. The second pitch of Perhaps is long and twisting, with lots of ledges and flakes to snag the rope. The leader needs to choose protection placements and runner lengths carefully and consider the path of the rope to minimize these problems. Mike was wearing a helmet, and it did receive a few knocks during the fall. (Source: Tom Moyer—Salt Lake County Sheriff’s SAR)

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