Fall on Ice/Rock, Protection Pulled Out, Placed Inadequate Protection

Alaska, Mount McKinley, Cassin Ridge
Climb Year: 2010. Publication Year: 2011.

On June 7, Belgian climber Joris Van Reeth of Borgerhout (27) was killed in a fall while climbing the Cassin Ridge. He was leading a highly technical section of the route known as the Japanese Couloir when his anchor appeared to fail and he fell 100 feet in rocky terrain. Van Reeth fell to the approximate elevation of his partner Sam Van Brempt (24). Van Brempt was not injured, and after confirming that his friend had died in the fall, he used his satellite phone to call Denali National Park rescue personnel.

A climbing ranger was flown in the park helicopter to Van Brempt’s location at the 13,000-foot level to assess the terrain for a possible shorthaul rescue and recovery, although fog and clouds moved in before a rescue could be performed. While on the reconnaissance flight, the ranger had observed a second, unrelated team climbing on the route several hundred feet below the Belgian party. According to Van Brempt, who called back via satellite phone later that night, two Japanese climbers reached him in the early evening and assisted Van Brempt in lowering Van Reeth’s body down to a safer location just above the Northeast Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier at 11,500 feet.

Denali National Park rescue personnel took advantage of a break in the clouds to evacuate Sam Van Brempt from the base of the Cassin Ridge late Thursday night June 10. (Source: Denali Park and Preserve News Releases, Maureen McLaughlin)


Examination of the photos taken of the accident revealed only two pieces of rock protection (a cam and a stopper) still clove hitched to the ropes. There were no ice screws. The last piece of ice protection would have been approximately 20 meters below his last stance. This explains why a long leader fall was taken. The actual location of his last anchor position is unknown so it cannot be determined with absolute certainty why his rock protection failed.

The most probable scenario is that the cam and stopper were in the same crack and that the cam levered the flake apart, releasing both pieces of rock pro. The second possibility is that there was ice coating the inside of the crack. When pressure was placed on the pieces they slowly melted out and released suddenly. The helmet was recovered but no damage or blood was found on the shell and chin strap assembly. This suggests that the helmet was either not being worn or the chinstrap was not secured during the time of the fall. (Source: John Loomis, Mountaineering Ranger)

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