American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Rock, Inadequate Protection, Poor Position-Bad Foot Placement for Setting Pro, Washington, Mount Erie, Snag Buttress

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

FALL ON ROCK, INADEQUATE PROTECTION, POOR POSITION—BAD FOOT PLACEMENT FOR SETTING PRO

Washington, Mount Erie, Snag Buttress

I am a climber of about three years, much of that indoors. On October 26, my friend Mark, a very experienced climber, was teaching me how to set protection. I had led many outdoor sport routes but, I had never set my own protection before. We were both wearing helmets. Mark led the first 40 feet of ZigZag (5.7) route, carefully placing protection. He then tied off and put me on belay from above. I followed and cleaned while trying to observe how he had placed the protection. The brief climb was fairly easy, the hardest part was pulling the chocks out of the crack. We both came back down and then it was my turn to set pro on the same route. I was very confident, perhaps too confident, knowing I could easily do this. I climbed about eight feet and set my first chock, slipped in a quickdraw and my rope. Mark also looked at it and felt I was good to proceed. I climbed an additional eight to ten feet and began to set my next chock in the crack. I was facing into a 90-degree corner and my feet were smeared on the wall. Suddenly both feet gave way without warning and I slid down the face. Oddly enough I was not scared because I had taken falls of this nature before and I was reasonably confident that my first chock would hold. My mistake, of course, was that I had over-climbed and the slack in the rope was longer than the distance to the ground. I hit the ground with the instep of my right ankle dislocating it to the outside and twisting it 90-degrees to the right. This caused a spiral fracture in the upper portion of my right fibula. The back of my right tibia was also chipped.

Because the base of the climb was so high up and I was unable to walk, I had to be air-lifted off the mountain by the nearby Naval Search and Rescue Unit on Whidbey Island. In addition to the Navy, the Anacortes Fire Department, and the local chapter of the Anacortes Search and Rescue all came up and lent a hand.

Analysis

After the first chock was placed, I should have reached up as high as possible and placed another piece of protection before resuming my climb. I should have then proceeded up and placed my next piece considerably sooner than I did. I have heard it said many times since my accident, “The most dangerous part of climbing is the first fifteen feet.” Certainly true in my case. (Source: Rick Scriven)

(Editor’s Note: There were other incidents in Washington involving MRA personnel, mostly to help stranded or lost climbers. There was one fatality near Mount Cruiser-Needle Pass. All that is known is that two climbers were descending and decided to unrope and to try to find an easier way down. One of the men—name still unknown—reported that his partner had fallen fifty feet. He could not make voice contact with him, so he hiked out, taking seven hours. He reported the incident to the local sheriff. A lengthy rescue was begun. It turned out to be a recovery, as the individual had fallen 700feet. There are many details about the search, but nothing further on the climbers.)

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