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Fall on Rock, Rope Pulls Through Belay Device, North Carolina, Hawksbill Mountain, Linville Gorge Wilderness

FALL ON ROCK, ROPE PULLS THROUGH BELAY DEVICE

North Carolina, Hawksbill Mountain, Linville Gorge Wilderness

On September 20, AG (26) and AA (30) were climbing at the “Fischesser Wall,”a little known sport climbing area on the upper wall of Hawksbill Mountain located on the eastside of the Linville Gorge Wilderness. AG was leading a 5.8+ climb with AA belaying. They were using a 60-meter rope and were both wearing helmets. The topo of the climbing area notes the climb is 100 feet long, making a 60-meter rope adequate. AG climbed it clean and was being lowered by AA. AG was cleaning the bolt closest to the ground and asked AA how much rope she had left. He replied it was fine. At 2:45 p.m., just after AG cleaned the last piece of gear, AG was lowered off the end of the rope and fell to the ground.

The bolt was about 25-30 feet off the ground. She and eyewitnesses (BG and CM) believe the fall was 15-20 feet. She landed on her tailbone and rolled backwards five feet down a small slope on to her left side. She complained of pain in her lower back, buttocks, and left hip. She tried to stand and immediately felt nauseous and that her legs couldn’t support her. It became clear to her climbing partners that she would not be able to walk out.

At 3:03 p.m., CM called the North Carolina Outward Bound School (NCOBS) to report the incident. NCOBS sent a total of 15 staff to assist in the carry-out. Burke County Rescue arrived with one Paramedic and three volunteers just as OB staff were completing the packaging of AG in the litter. In the field, paramedics started an IV for fluids and gave AG a total of six mg of morphine over a two-hour period. Initial evaluation suggested severe bruising and abrasions, but no spinal damage or fractures. Later, AG was informed that a piece of small bone at the bottom of the sacrum was broken.

Analysis

The 60-meter rope in use belonged to BG, who had climbed the same route using the same rope on a number of previous occasions without incident. The position of the belayer in relationship to the route (uphill or downhill) may have played a role in the length of the rope, in this case shortening it by 20 feet. To prevent incidents like this from happening, belayers need to get into the habit of tying into the end of the rope and either placing a knot at the end of the rope or securing the end of the rope. (Source: Edited from a report by Julie Springsteen, NCOBS)