American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Loose Rocks (Sedimentary) Came Off, Fall on Rock, Arizona, Mount Lemmon, Chimney Rock

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  • Publication Year: 2010

LOOSE ROCKS (SEDIMENTARY) CAME OFF, FALL ON ROCK

Arizona, Mount Lemmon, Chimney Rock

On April 151 (Tom Thrall, 58) was on the fourth day of a week-long climbing trip with my friend WG (69) on Mount Lemmon near Tucson. It was very windy that day, so we decided to stay low on the mountain. Two other climbers we had met at the campground that morning offered to join us and we headed down the highway to Chimney Rock. WG did a fine job negotiating the unusual climbing on the first pitch of the Standard Route (5.6), which I seconded and then traversed far left over to the anchors on the arête below the second pitch. Meanwhile, GP and SR climbed the first pitch behind us on a separate rope.

When I arrived at the arete, the wind velocity was extreme, and I found it difficult to even stand without holding on to the anchors. The guidebook had mentioned a “5.8 variation” to the second pitch, which looked a bit more wind protected, so I decided to give it a try instead. After scrambling up into an alcove, I found myself at the bottom of a somewhat rotten appearing face that rose steeply for about twenty five feet before the angle backed off a bit. There was a discontinuous crack in the face with what looked like several reasonable placements for protection. The first moves went well, and I got in a TCU about seven feet up and then a bomber Camalot about five feet above that. Moving past the Camalot, I found that the rock deteriorated significantly. I was about three feet below my next pro placement on small ledges that were literally crumbling beneath my fingers and toes. I considered down-climbing, but that felt very insecure. There was a larger hold tempting me a couple of moves away that would allow me to rest and place protection, so I decided to go for it.

As I pulled up into my next stance, my left handhold came loose and I was suddenly airborne. I hit the ledge at the base of the face with considerable force, landing on my right side. I was wearing a helmet, did not lose consciousness, and was able to take stock of my situation. I noticed the rope was tight up to the Camalot, which had held its placement well and had presumably absorbed some of the force of the fall. I called down to my friends, and soon one of the climbers we met came up to check me over, set up an anchor and a chest harness, and lower me down the cliff. The rescue went smoothly and we were on our way to the hospital in what seemed like a very short time. WG and our two new friends all remained calm and efficient throughout the rescue, and I am deeply indebted for their kind and competent assistance.

At the hospital I was found to have a stable pelvic fracture with a large hematoma around my right hip, a maxillary fracture with loss of several teeth, facial lacerations, and a severe fracture/dislocation of my right wrist, which required open reduction and screw fixation. There remains a possibility that I will have some permanent nerve damage in my right hand from the injury.

Analysis

In retrospect I would have been better off attempting to down-climb when I first recognized that the rock was becoming dangerously rotten. I may have fallen anyway, but would likely not have hit the ledge and been injured as badly. (Source: Tom Thrall)

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