American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Rock—Dislodged Rock, Off Route, Fatigue, California, Sierra Nevada, Clyde Minaret

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

FALL ON ROCK–DISLODGED ROCK, OFF ROUTE, FATIGUE

California, Sierra Nevada, Clyde Minaret

On Saturday, August 16th, Justin Schwartz of Belmont, CA, and Steve Sosa, of Los Angeles, CA, set off to climb the South Face of 12,300-foot Clyde Minaret. Justin and Steve knew one another well, having been a climbing team for more than 20 years, and having spent their summer youth together in Yosemite Valley

The summit ridge is a knife-edge of loose stone blocks leading to near vertical drops of 1500 feet or more on either side. Upon descending 50 feet off the summit, Justin lost his footing and dislodged a large stone block onto himself and tumbled 20 feet down the cliff landing on a narrow ledge. Pain seared his legs and arm, and he could not move. It was 5:30 p.m., with nightfall at 7:45, little water, and no bivouac gear or extra clothing.

Steve was able to contact emergency dispatch in Madeira County via cellular phone, and by 11:30 that night, Mono County Mountain SAR mounted a rescue.

Early Sunday morning, the team went with a Black Hawk helicopter crew from the Sacramento Air National Guard to assess the feasibility of rescue. With the helicopter hovering only a few feet from the rocky summit, the stranded climbers were raised on a hoist and returned to the Mammoth Lakes Airport where local paramedics met them.

Justin suffered a fractured left hip, fractured right lower leg, deep lacerations to his left shin, minor lacerations and contusions to his left arm and hand, and a severely sprained right ankle.

Analysis

There is considerable loose rock and rockfall hazard in the Minarets, with the final pitches and summit ridge being quite loose, so climbers should be especially cautious. Steve and Justin were somewhat vague about the descent route. It is a common mistake on Clyde Minaret for climbers to attempt to descend to the left (south) too soon, rather than continuing on the ridge to the northwest for several hundred feet. Lastly, Steve and Justin started the Grade IV route at 8:00 a.m., and it is possible that a late start, fatigue and anxiety to move quickly were contributing factors. (Source: Craig Knoche–Mono County Mountain SAR)

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