American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Rock, Arm Lacerated by Carabiner, North Carolina, Pilot Mountain State Park

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 2011


North Carolina, Pilot Mountain State Park

On September 25, Bennet Harris (30) and Tom Drewes (34) were climbing Arms Control (5.11c). Tom was about to pull the final roof. I was watching him climb extremely closely as I intended to climb the route and wanted to see what he did.

He placed a 48-inch sling on the last bolt he clipped at the roof and a 24-inch sling combined with a quick draw to extend it on his second-to-last bolt. Because he had climbed past a smaller roof, a lead fall should have put him in the air. I watched him lean out to grab the jug beyond the big roof. His hand looked a little shaky as he reached for the hold, leaning far back from his stance under the roof. I remember thinking, “If he’s having trouble reaching for that, I’m really going to be in trouble.”

At this point he fell, and stopped about eight to ten feet below where he started, in mid-air. (Four feet of this was due to the sling). It did not look like a bad fall; it looked safe and his belayer caught the fall with no problem.

It was about a full second before he yelled and we saw him looking at his forearm, which had been sliced open to the bones from mid-forearm to the palm, causing him to bleed profusely! We lowered him and called 911 within seconds. A first responder, a surgeon in residency, and a doctor were all climbing near-by and gave assistance until he was carried out.


At first we couldn’t figure anything out. Did he hit a rock during his fall? The features below were smooth and sloped and he fell into mid-air. Could he have run his arm over a bolt? The bolts weren’t anywhere near his body during the fall because his arm was way out reaching over a roof.

I had seen a story about a Colorado climber becoming impaled on a carabiner at the elbow about a month ago. Because of this, I wondered if catching his arm on the carabiner might have been the cause. It seemed unlikely, since I’d never heard of it happening until I saw the picture a month before, but there was no other equipment or rock near him. I climbed Arms Control up to the point where the long draws were used (his last clipped bolts) to clean as much of his gear for him as I could. I decided to leave the last two slings and carabiners to lower from, and did get all the way to them so I could examine them. During my exam, I noted the quickdraw carabiner on the second-to-last clip was clean. The Helium carabiner on the 48-inch sling had blood and other evidence on it of entering a human! There was no blood above this and actually very little below, for about 15 feet, since he didn’t really start bleeding until he was being lowered. I am certain this carabiner was the one that entered his arm and ripped it from forearm to palm. (Source: Anne McLaughlin, witness)

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