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Fall on Rock, Inadequate Protection, New Hampshire, Saco Crag, Roadside Attraction


New Hampshire, Saco Crag, Roadside Attraction

On Saturday, May 31, a first-season leader and his partner were starting up Roadside Attraction, 5.9+ on Saco Crag, north of Cathedral Ledge. The leader used a nut as his first piece to protect the opening crux moves and had fallen onto the gear several times. The belayer was securely anchored to a large tree at the base of the route, situated over a steep and exposed slab that drops off to the base of the cliff. A nearby climber saw the falls and advised the leader that his nut placement had shifted and he should put in a multi-directional cam to protect the crux. The leader was satisfied with the gear he had and made another attempt to climb, but this time his fall pulled the nut out. Apparently he fell onto his back and slid approximately 15 feet down the slab, where his belayer caught him. His belayer or a bystander tied off the lead rope to the tree using an overhand (non-releasable) knot.

A local guide and friend arrived at the cliff to find one EMT and one climber on the slab holding a backboard under the victim. The assisting climber was tied onto a tree above, but the EMT was not. They could not lower the victim to the board due to the fixed knot on the weighted lead rope, and they could not set the board securely under the victim. At this point, the victim was complaining of considerable pain from hanging in his harness. The guide lowered a free end of the rope for them to tie to the victim’s belay loop and secured it to an anchor on the tree using a Munter hitch. Once the victim was lifted several inches, enough to release the fixed knot, they were able to lower him onto the backboard. For carry out, the victim was secured to the backboard, and Mark set an anchor on a tree above the steep trail down to the road. The guide fixed a rope to the backboard and belayed them down the trail using a Munter knot on the tree. The victim was met by a waiting ambulance, was transported to Memorial Hospital, and released later that day, since his injuries were apparently fairly minor.


The leader later acknowledged that he had so far lead nothing harder than 5.7 prior to trying Roadside Attraction!

Tying the victim to the tree with a fixed knot rather than a releasable knot caused much of the confusion on the scene. It is unclear to me why Mountain Rescue Service was not called for this accident, considering the high angle and technical complexity. Had Mark and I not happened upon the scene, it could have taken much longer. (Source: Al Hospers)