Fall on Rock, Fatigue, Inadequate Protection, Washington, Cascades, Chimney Rock

Publication Year: 2004.


Washington, Cascades, Chimney Rock

On July 6, on the sixth pitch of the East Face of Chimney Rock, Ralph Leach (50) was leading. He was showing signs of fatigue after moving about 20 feet. He had two pieces of pro in. After trying for a while two get a third piece in at about 30 feet, he decided to move on up, looking for a better placement for the pro. This is when he peeled off and fell 30 feet. The rope caught him just short of hitting the deck. But 15 feet into the fall, he hit a blocky ledge, seriously injuring both feet. (Fractured left heel and an open dislocation of the right ankle.)

Given that there were just the two climbers on the mountain and no one else available to assist, evacuation was going to be a slow process requiring extreme vigilance. After lowering the injured climber using his belay device, his partner Rod Xuerb (47) would retrieve the rope and rappel to the new position. After repeating this procedure a few times, a ledge suitable for a bivouac was reached at 7,000 feet. After securing the injured climber at 6:00 p.m., Rod continued to descend and go out for help. After only eighteen hours a National Guard helicopter performed the evacuation the following morning.


A willingness to back off on days that you are not up to the demands of the climb could prevent an accident such as this. Rod had offered to lead the pitch, but Ralph thought that he was up to it at the outset. The level of skill at placing protection may have been a factor. (Source: Ralph Leach and Rod Xuerb.)

(Editor’s Note: These two climbers provided a lengthier description that included details about the lower/descent. We appreciate their willingness to contribute.)

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