American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing
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Fall on Rock, Poor Communication, Virginia, Shenandoah National Park, Old Rag Mountain

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 2012


Virginia, Shenandoah National Park, Old Rag Mountain

Late on Sunday afternoon June 5, Old Rag Mountain Stewards staff was getting ready to start scenario training when a call came into the park that Dave Rockwell (50+) had taken a fifty-foot fall on the Skyline (aka PATC) Wall.

Initial descriptions of events leading to the injury were that someone in Dave’s party led Dobie Gillis (5.8) a climb about halfway up the wall and set anchors for a top rope belay and then lowered to the ground. Based on initial reports, Dave tied into the end of the original lead rope and climbed to the mid-wall anchors. Upon reaching the anchors, Dave and his belayer somehow got their signals mixed up. The belayer thought Dave was off belay while Dave thought he was on still on belay. Thinking he was securely belayed, Dave intentionally placed all his weight on the un-secured belay line and fell fifty feet to the rocky ground where he sustained fractures to this left ankle, pelvis, and elbow. He was evacuated by NPS helicopter.


The belay contract is a basic skill in climbing that many climbers take for granted.

It was very fortunate for Dave that ORMS had trained responders on the mountain and that the weather conditions were such that they were notstressing the patient. Most importantly the weather and time of day meant that a National Park helicopter could respond and rapidly evacuate him. (Source: Edited from a post on

(Editor’s Note: One of several this year.)

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