American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fatigue, Fall on Rock, Exceeding Abilities, North Carolina, Hanging Rock State Park — Moores Wall, Dolphin Head

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

FATIGUE, FALL ON ROCK, EXCEEDING ABILITIES

North Carolina, Hanging Rock State Park – Moores Wall, Dolphin Head

On May 25, Chris Hagwood (42) and Mark Ericson (52), experienced climbers, started Dolphin Head (5.6), a popular rock climb located on Moores’ Central Wall, and shortly went off-route. Before he knew it, Chris was in over his head. Instead of continuing, he had Mark lower him to the ground. Mark said he felt sure he could finish the route instead of leaving some of Chris’ gear behind. A third climber had recently bailed on another nearby route and this compounded the pair’s frustration at leaving routes unfinished.

Mark successfully led the first pitch to a belay anchor just under the dolphin head feature of the climb. Chris followed to the belay. Mark started the second pitch and placed a cam to the right of the feature as he attempted to pull over it. He successfully stepped back down to the belay after one or more failed attempts. On two subsequent attempts to get over the feature, he fell trying to step back down to the belay. On the first two falls, he recovered and tried again after a few minutes. While trying to pull over the feature for a third time, he hooked his foot on the feature in such a way that when he fell, his foot over-rotated and he fractured his ankle at the base of the tibia.

Chris was able to lower Mark from the belay to the ground, where a third climber assisted. During the lower, the rope got tangled around a “chicken head.” Chris was able to keep Mark locked off and loosen the rope until it was freed. After being lowered to the ground, Chris rappelled from the belay anchor and pulled the rope.

Mark was able to stand, but could not walk, so he mostly “scooted” down the trail. The party called for assistance with their cell phone from North Carolina State Park Rangers, since the trail was too narrow for assisted walking. A pick-up truck reached the climbers at the upper-most area that could accommodate a vehicle. Mark was transported in the bed of the truck while Chris and the third climber were driven back to the climber’s parking lot by the rangers. Unsure of the condition of his ankle (but suspecting a moderate to severe sprain), Mark was driven home. A visit to his doctor the next day revealed the broken ankle.

Analysis

We were both tired from a day of climbing. Chris was attempting a route above his ability. We should have left the stopper in place that Chris originally lowered from and walked away. Alternately, we should have converted the belay anchor into a rappel anchor and lowered off after falling the first time on the feature We should not have attempted to press on. (Source: Chris Hagwood and Mark Erickson)

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