American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall or Slip on Rock, Pulled Loose Rock Off — Falling Rock Hit Climbing Partner

Colorado, Eldorado Canyon State Park

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year: 2008
  • Publication Year: 2009

During the afternoon on May 27, two experienced climbers, Chris Lee (38) and Chris Klinga (25), were attempting Doub-Griffith, a 5.11c 3-pitch traditional route that starts from a small ledge 150 feet above the base of Redgarden Wall. As Lee was climbing, he inadvertently pulled a table-size flake free from the wall. The rock hit Lee in the abdomen, causing both Lee and the flake to fall. Using a Cinch assisted-braking belay device, Klinga stopped Lee’s fall, after which Klinga was struck with the rock that had broken loose, injuring both his legs. Lee was able to get to the ground and walk out on his own.

Rocky Mountain Fire and Rocky Mountain Rescue climbed to Klinga’s location and set up an evacuation system. The team evacuated Klinga off of the rock ledge and down to the road. The evacuation included a 150-foot vertical and a 300-foot scree lowers. Klinga was transported to St. Anthony’s Central by a medical helicopter.

Analysis

Loose rock is relatively common objective hazard. Climbers should be wary of loose rock by testing handholds, avoiding sections of loose rock, and not being in a direct line of potential rockfall from above. Climbers should also ask themselves, “What if?” In this case, what sorts of precautions can be taken by the belayer to protect the leader if the belayer is incapacitated during a leader fall? (Sources: From Rocky Mountain News and bouldercounty.org websites and Aram Attarian.)

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