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Fall on Rock, North Carolina, Pilot Mountain State Park

FALL ON ROCK – FALL ON ROCK

North Carolina, Pilot Mountain State Park

On February 13, several others and I witnessed a long fall that resulted in a climber hitting the ground. I was climbing Foreign Trade Zone while a party of two was top-roping some variation of Bat Out of Hell (5.11). The climber reached the top of the route while I was about halfway up Foreign Trade Zone. I heard a “whoosh” and a loud thump and looked down to see the climber yell and bounce off the ground.

My belayer lowered me and we sent a couple people up the trail to call 911 and notify Park personnel. Meanwhile, the climber’s partner, a couple others, and I tried to keep him still and attend to a small cut on the back of his head. He was alert, not injured, and otherwise seemed okay. Rangers and EMS arrived fairly quickly and checked him out. He was up and walking around and refused treatment. Both actually kept climbing.

His apparent lack of injury was pretty amazing to me. He had fallen from the top of the route, which I’d estimate at ~40 feet, and landed on his back/butt. His belayer had taken him off belay, assuming he was going to rappel, when he was, in fact, expecting to be lowered.

Analysis

This was a case of miscommunication between poorly trained, novice climbers. The climber never requested to be taken off belay. The belayer took him off and called, “Belay is off!” The climber never heard this and expected to be lowered. Anytime there is a belay change, especially at busy crags where it may also be hard to hear, always yell the person’s name in the command. The anchor was inspected and found to have been constructed with the rope passing over a large ledge at the top of the route, thus creating a lot of rope drag. This configuration may have saved the climber from serious injury due to the friction in the system. It actually slowed down at least half of his fall. (Source: Edited from a post by C. Sproul on carolinaclimbers.org)