INADEQUATE PROTECTION – NUT PULLED OUT, FALL ON ROCK, NO HARD HAT
North Carolina, Looking Glass Rock, Second Coming
On July 28, at 9:00 p.m. two climbers called 911 from the base of Second Coming, a well-known 5.7 two pitch traditional climb located on the South- side of Looking Glass Rock.
Jane Doe was belayingjohn Doe (31) on the first pitch of Second Coming. John was leading the first pitch and was about 100 feet off the ground at the 5.7 crux, where he placed a stopper. After a few unsuccessful attempts at the crux, John was lowered to the ground through the single stopper placement.
Jane Doe decided to give the climb a try and began to top-rope on the single stopper placed earlier by John. She was able to work her way through the crux and ignored a good ledge and the standard belay for the route. Instead she climbed past a large flake and continued up the second pitch of the climb, reaching the double crack system.
There are two crack systems on the second pitch: one diminishes while the other begins about 15 to 20 feet to the right of the first. Jane could not find her way up the first crack and did not see the second crack to the right. (This would be the easiest way to the top of the second pitch).
Jane placed then lowered off a blue tri-cam. John lowered her to the large flake about 20 feet below the tri-cam placement, where she was able to build a three-point anchor using passive pro in the flake. Once the anchor was built, Jane brought John up to her position, belaying him from her harness with a re-direct through the anchor.
Once John arrived and clipped into the anchor, he lowered Jane off his belay device attached to his harness with the rope re-directed through the anchor. Once Jane had been lowered approximately 120 feet to the ground, John began building a rappel anchor by repositioning it a little higher in the flake. (He thought that the rock was a bit hollow where Jane had positioned it earlier). John placed a stopper in the crack as the primary anchor point. This placement was backed up with a second stopper on a sling. The two pieces were placed close together with room between them (not equalized). Once the anchor was built, John placed himself on rappel.
Somewhere between the start of his rappel and approximately 100 feet from the ground, the top stopper failed. The rest is speculation, but it is believed that the force of the top stopper failing and the bottom catching created a shock-load that caused the second stopper to fail. At this point, Jane stated that she heard John scream. She looked to see John falling from 100 feet above! John hit a ledge about 30 feet below the crux and tumbled down the slab below.
Brevard Rescue Squad responded to Jane’s 911 call and evacuated John via litter and backboard. He sustained lacerations to the top of his head, a broken shoulder blade, a severe contusion on his elbow, a broken wrist (requiring surgery), and a bruised hip. John was not wearing a helmet. He was transported to Mission Hospitals in Asheville, NC.
A couple of potentially dangerous scenarios were evident in this event. First, John was lowered through a single nut placement, then Jane chose to top- rope through that same single nut rather than pull the rope and re-lead the pitch. These actions are a high-risk maneuver given that a single stopper protects the climbing 100 feet off the deck! While it didn’t contribute at all to the accident, it in itself could be considered a near miss.
Second, by placing all of the anchor points behind a flake they were literally “placing all of their eggs in one basket.” A common test to determine the integrity of a flake is to strike it. If it sounds hollow avoid it. Flakes are known to expand. This is especially true when using passive protection like stoppers. The wedging action of the stoppers more than likely caused the flake to expand, causing the anchor to fail. Safer options may have included abandoning the climb once John was on the ground, rappel off an equalized anchor, or to continue up easier terrain to the Gemini Cracks rappel anchors. As always a helmet is recommended! (Source: Edited from a post on carolinaclimbers.org and Aram Attarian.)