American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Rock, Handhold Dislodged - Fall on Rock, California, Sierra Nevada, Palisades Region

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


California, Sierra Nevada, Palisades Region

At 0700 on July 13, J.C. (47) and B.Y. (47) set out from camp at 10,000 feet at Brainard Lake on the South Fork of Big Pine Creek intending to climb the Northwest Ridge (5.7) on The Thumb. The previous day’s weather included afternoon and evening thunderstorms. As the pair approached the peak, they repeatedly discussed the early appearance of clouds and whether they should consider turning back to camp. The weather improved around 0900 and as they reached the bottom of the northwest couloir, they decided to climb up and turn around if the weather deteriorated. Approximately 500 feet up the loose scree, talus, and snow of the couloir, the pair turned right to climb a third class wall to reach the start of the roped pitches. J.C. went left and B.Y. went right, with the plan to meet 100 feet higher. J.C. was 15 feet up on the wall when he pulled and dislodged a large block weighing at least 100 pounds. He could not prevent the rock from striking him and was knocked off his stance, subsequently falling backwards into the couloir with the block landing on top of his legs. He was wearing a small pack and helmet and did not hit his head. J.C. is a physician and was able to assess his injuries, which included deep lacerations of the left thigh, right shin, and left hand, a cracked front tooth, bruises to the left arm and ribcage, and a possible pneumothorax (collapsed lung). He was alert and had no obvious broken bones.

There were no other climbers in the area or cell phone reception. The pair had first aid gear and used ace bandages and duct tape to stabilize the bleeding from the lacerations. J.C. determined that he had no immediate life-threatening injuries. Despite pain and a possible pneumothorax, he decided they should attempt a self-rescue instead of B.Y. hiking out for help. They descended the couloir with two single rope 60 meter rappels, with J.C. rappelling and B.Y. down-climbing. J.C. took two prescription pain pills, and they hiked down 2000 feet and a few miles to camp in five hours with periods of rain and hail. J.C. was able to walk slowly without help using trekking poles. Upon reaching camp around 1700, J.C. was too exhausted to hike five more miles to the car. J.C. again assessed his injuries. He was no longer bleeding and was breathing comfortably at rest at 10,000 feet. He decided they should eat, hydrate, sleep, and hike out at first light. B.Y. agreed and they hiked out the next day with B.Y. carrying most of the gear. They arrived at the car three hours later and drove two hours to Mammoth Lakes emergency room, where J.C. was found to have a fractured left rib with a 40% collapse of the left lung. A chest tube was inserted with full re-inflation of the lung. The lacerations on his legs were irrigated and left open for later closure. J.C. was discharged four hours later and drove seven hours home that evening. He was back in the office seeing patients the following afternoon. Four weeks later, J.C. was fully recovered and climbing in Yosemite. (Source: J.C.)

(Editor’s Note: We thank Dr. J. C. for submitting this report. He was fortunate to be able to manage his own medical care, and it is commendable that he and B.Y. were able to self-rescue.)

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