STRANDED, OFF ROUTE, INADEQUATE EQUIPMENT–LEFT ROPES BEHIND
California, Yosemite Valley National Park, Washington Column
On July 15, two climbers (22 and 20) were attempting to climb the Prow on Washington Column. They decided to retreat from the wall after reaching the top of pitch six. After an attempt to rappel their route, the pair concluded that a retreat down the Prow would be too difficult due to its angled nature. They instead decided to rappel straight down onto what they believed to be the Ten Days After (TDA) route. Neither climber was familiar with the TDA route.
It is believed that the climbers committed to the TDA route at the top of pitch five. The climbers were apparently aware that the TDA route below their position was overhanging. They believed that the descent could be completed by tying their climbing ropes together and rappelling a single strand to a ledge system above the actual base of the wall, since they felt they would not be able to reach intermediary anchors due to the overhanging nature of the wall.
The first climber rappelled with the haul bag. At the very end of the rappel line, he discovered that the ropes were not long enough to reach a stance or an anchor. So he was left hanging at the end of the rope dangling slightly above the desired ledge system, which is still around 100 feet above level ground. He decided to attach his etrier to the bottom of the rope and down-climb to the ledge. He successfully made this transition; however, at some point he lost control of the haul bag and it fell to the base of the wall.
The second climber then descended with a similar technique and made it onto the ledge system where his partner stood. They were still in technical terrain but one of them was not wearing climbing shoes.
They pulled down on the ropes enough that they were able to recover their etrier. At this point they let go of their rope and it predictably recoiled up the wall and out of reach. They were now standing on a small ledge system well above the safety of level ground. They tried to down-climb the remaining 100 feet simultaneously using a 15-foot cordalette tied between them. They were able to get down a short distance, but inevitably it proved to be inadequate as there were not enough usable anchors nor was a 15-foot cordelette long enough to use in the fashion they desired.
At this point they resigned themselves to the realization that they had no other adequate options than to begin yelling for help. A passing climber equipped only with rock shoes came to the their assistance. He solo climbed to the location and guided them down to level ground and out of harm’s way.
One, it is important to know how to down aid-climb in the event you need to retreat an overhanging or traversing pitch. Two, in general, it is easier to retreat the route you’ve climbed up or via a route you’re familiar with before committing to unknown territory. Finally, leaving your climbing ropes behind while still in vertical terrain is generally a bad idea. (Source: Keith Lober, Ranger and Emergency Services Coordinator)