American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Rock, Protection Pulled Out, Placed Inadequate Protection, Maine, Acadia National Park, Champlain Mountain

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 2008

FALL ON ROCK, PROTECTION PULLED OUT, PLACED INADEQUATE PROTECTION

Maine, Acadia National Park, Champlain Mountain

The following is derived from interviews with the climbers at the accident scene and an interview with the injured climber after the incident.

Two individuals were climbing the route, “Recollections of Pacifica” (5.9), which is located on the southern wall of Champlain Mountain, at about 11 a.m. on August 20. The climb is a single pitch granite fingercrack leading to a steep slab with a fixed rappel anchor. The lead climber (45) had done this route several times in the past. She was attempting the crux move on the fingercrack climb when she fell.

She had placed four pieces of gear on the route and was attempting the crux move. Her top piece, a cam, was located by her feet. As she stepped up into the crux move, she lost her footing and fell. She watched her top piece come out of the rock, and she fell 15 feet, becoming tangled in the rope and turning sideways and striking her back on a rock outcropping above her partner. Her second piece also failed and came out of the rock. Her partner helped her off the outcropping and untangled the climbing rope from around her.

Analysis

The route where the climber fell is on the central face, to the right of the south wall. A popular climb, it is considered difficult and has limited protection options of small cams and nuts.

This was the climber’s first lead fall in over twelve years of climbing. She is experienced and had climbed this route several times before. She would usually place a fifth piece of gear, something she did not do on this climb because she felt it was going so well. Additional protection would have helped limit her fall, and she states that in the future she will always put that extra piece in on this climb. In addition, she was wearing a helmet, which protected her from further injury. Her helmet was cracked in the back and along both sides on the outside while the insert was also cracked.

(Three weeks after her fall she was still experiencing issues with the pneumothorax and has not regained her full lung capacity, but she is hiking and expecting to snowboard in the winter and be out climbing next spring.)

Additional Comments: Evacuation from this area can be difficult due to large talus fields and heavy tree cover preventing helicopter evacuation. Rangers worked with Park trail crew, who were working nearby to repair earthquake damage, to establish an alternate route off the mountain rather than the climber access path. The alternate evacuation route allowed rangers to avoid a dangerous and highly technical route and made a timely rescue possible. Rangers performed one steep angle lower and a second litter belay to evacuate the injured climber via the alternate route. She was then evacuated by helicopter to Eastern Maine Medical Center where she underwent surgery to have her L-l vertebrae fused. (Source: Edited from a report by Therese Picard, Ranger, Acadia National Park)

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