American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Ice, Inadequate Protection, Protection (Tools) Pulled Out, New Brunswick, The Quarry

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 2004

FALL ON ICE, INADEQUATE PROTECTION, PROTECTION (TOOLS) PULLED OUT

New Brunswick, The Quarry

Description: On March 1, three experienced climbers set out for a day of ice climbing at a climbing area known as the Quarry in New Brunswick. G.P., the leader for the first climb selected a moderate 25-meter single-pitch climb that he had led before. The ice appeared to be continuous on the climb and good although not fat. The first two-thirds of the single-pitch climb went smoothly with three or four seemingly solid placements leading up to a short vertical section. The last placement was a pound-in screw at the level of the bottom of the vertical section but slightly off to the right. Placement of protection on the vertical section was considered but ruled out due to the vertical section being short and the ice on the vertical section not being as solid as it had appeared from below. As the lead moved onto the vertical section, it became apparent that there was better ice and an easier stance slightly to the left of center on the vertical section. The top of the vertical was reached with a couple of moves. The vertical section ended in an ice-covered ledge approximately 15 meters above the start of the climb. The move onto the ledge appeared to be straightforward with a bulge on the right side above and back away from the edge. G.P. placed the right tool in this bulge and the left tool in blue horizontal ice that was also back from the edge. The higher risk of fracture of a bulge was considered but ignored in light of the sound and feel of the right hand tool placement, the perceived quality of the left placement, and the low level of difficulty of the move. As G.P. was pulling up to gain the ledge, the bulge on the right shattered and released the tool. G.P. vividly recalls thinking that the left arm was likely susceptible to some discomfort as a result of a drop-down onto that arm. G.P. also vividly recalls apprehension resulting from the sudden realization that the left tool was also coming free of the ice. He fell about three meters before striking a ramp with his left foot, breaking the left leg at the ankle, and then tumbling backwards. The runout from the highest protection was such that the rope provided no tension until after the leader struck the ramp with his foot. After tumbling backward, he slid headfirst on his back down a steep ramp until the tension of the rope stopped the slide. The length of the slide was longer than necessary. The lowest piece of protection was a pound-in screw that pulled out under the directional force and the belay stance was away from and off to one side of the base of the climb resulting in additional slack in the system. The leader was lowered from the climb and assisted onto a makeshift stretcher by his two climbing partners. The carry down a steep 50-meter slope and another 800 meters through deep snow to a road took 2.5 hours. The last half-hour was with assistance from two additional people. An alternate to the approach route was selected for the evacuation because it was more direct and less obstructed by brush.

Analysis

G.P. states he has learned some lessons:

Never trust a bulge.

Do not underestimate the horizontal forces exerted on tool placements while topping out.

As with rock climbing give due consideration to location, type, and placement of the first protection if the belayer is not immediately below that piece and subsequent protection.

Know your first aid and self-rescue techniques.

Consider possible means of evacuation of an injured climber before accidents occur.

The Canadian editor would add that the riskiest moves are pulling over a lip or a bulge where the angle of the ice changes. Wherever possible, the leader should place protection before attempting to move from vertical ground over a bulge or ledge. A leader should always be considering how far down his last piece is and the likelihood of hitting ledges on the way down.

In this respect moderate climbs can be more dangerous than truly vertical terrain if a fall occurs. Lower extremity fractures such as this are a common result. (Source: George Porter and Edwina Podemski)

(Editor's Note: Edwina Podemski did all the analyses where no name appears as a source.)

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