American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Rock, Unsafe Position, Fatigue, Alaska, Skagway, Black Lake

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 2009


Alaska, Skagway, Black Lake

On June 14, Karl (28) was climbing an unnamed, single-pitch sport route rated at 5.9 near Skagway. Just below the top of the route, he had clipped into the final bolt and was preparing to climb through the crux, where the final bolt was just to the right and above the climber, while the second-last bolt was below and to the left. The crux involved beginning just below a small overhang where the climber under-clings, before climbing above the bolt. Due to the varied surface of this rock, it is natural to place the rope behind one’s legs when passing through the crux.

When Karl passed the bolt, he found the natural line to the left of the bolt. The result was that his rope went to the right to the final anchor and back to the left to the second-to-last anchor. At this point, the rope was taut and directly below, passing at 45 degree angle between the anchors. Karl was approximately 1.5 above his final point of protection and three meters above the rope passing between the two anchors.

When Karl fell at the crux, his legs were caught in the rope passing between the anchors, causing him to be thrown upside down. While undesirable, this in itself did not result in any injury. Karl was injured when his foot, caught on the rope, smashed upwards into the overhang.

Karl was lowered to the ground and evacuated to a health centre in Skagway, some 5 km away. He was later diagnosed with a fracture of the left talus.


Karl had noticed from the ground that a previous climber was forced to attempt the crux with the rope behind her legs. He noted that this was undesirable and potentially dangerous. While at the crux this was confirmed. When Karl arrived at the crux, he was fatigued and did not feel especially strong. Rather than retreating, he attempted the crux knowing he could very well fall and knowing that a fall would be dangerous given the position of the anchors.

The climber should have evaluated his fitness, the configuration of the anchors, and the potential for injury and decided that this move should not have been attempted. Alternatively, Karl could have made a concerted effort to avoid the rope below him while falling. He could have also attempted a different line above the final anchor such that a fall would have avoided the rope. (Source: From a report sent in by Karl)

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