FALL ON ROCK, PROTECTION PULLED, INADEQUATE PROTECTION
California, Yosemite Valley, El Capitan, Salathé Wall
On October 13, Martin Klinger (26) of Germany was attempting to lead the first pitch of the Salathé Wall on El Capitan. He was with a party of two other climbers from Pennsylvania who intended to climb the Free Blast section of the Salathé Wall. Klinger had met the two other members of the party in Camp 4 approximately one week prior.
Klinger offered to lead the first pitch. He placed a piece of gear about 15 feet up on a ledge and then a second piece, a #2 Camalot, five feet above the ledge. He then climbed about 20 feet of moderate crack to place his third piece—a yellow-green hybrid alien. After placing his third piece, he attempted the crux. On his first attempt, he fell and slid about ten feet down to a stance without weighting the hybrid alien. On his second attempt, he fell again. This time, the hybrid alien pulled and he fell approximately 30 feet down to the ledge, bounced off, and fell another ten feet until being stopped by the rope held by the #2 Camalot. At the end of the fall, he was about ten feet above his belayer. Mr. Klinger suffered trauma to his ankles, back, and head. The belayer, Scott Woods (~30) noted that Klinger experienced a brief loss of consciousness and amnesia.
Woods lowered Klinger to the ground. He was transported by park service personnel—using spinal precautions—to the medical clinic in Yosemite and subsequently transported by helicopter to Fresno for further evaluation. He was discharged from the hospital approximately 36 hours later with the diagnoses of 1) multiple transverse process fractures of the lumbar spine, 2) small subdural hematoma, 3) hematoma of the right psoas (a muscle which lies against the back wall of the lower abdomen and connects the lumbar spine to the femur), 4) facial abrasions, and 5) ligamentous injuries to bilateral ankles.
After discussing the accident with Scott Woods, the following observations can be made. Klinger might have greatly reduced his risk of a long fall by placing additional protection at the crux or at least more carefully considering the hybrid alien placement. In retrospect, Woods felt that the green-yellow alien was too small for the crack in which it was placed. Additionally, Klinger was using Wood’s rack to climb, so it is possible that he did not know that the piece he placed was a hybrid with two sets of cams of different sizes. After falling on the crux the first time, he should have realized that there was a high probability of a second fall and might have avoided significant injury by placing a second piece of protection.
Because Woods did not know Klinger well, he attributed Klinger’s decision to place only one piece of protection at the crux as evidence of his level ability as a climber. Woods felt that if he had known Klinger better, he would probably have suggested that he place additional protection after the first fall occurred. An open channel of communication between the two climbers might have prevented this incident. The lack of familiarity between the belayer and leader and the fact that the leader spoke English as his second language may have made this difficult.
Klinger should also have been wearing a helmet, particularly when climbing at the base of El Capitan during the busiest part of the big-wall climbing season. His intra-abdominal and intra-cranial injuries could easily have been life threatening. (Source: Edited from a report submitted by Tim Platts, Mills, MD, Brian Stork, MD,Fresno, CA, and from Ranger Michael Siler’s Case Incident Report)