FALL ON ROCK – LASS OF CONTROL ON BELAY, INEXPERIENCE, HASTE Wyoming, Grand Teton national Park, Death Canyon
The climbing party of M. Ybarra, L. McLean, and Dana Reis left the Whitegrass Trailhead at 0900 on the morning of August 20 to climb the Snaz in Death Canyon. The Snaz is rated Grade IV, 5.9, and a few of the pitches offer 5.10 variations. From the top of the climb, one caneither scramble off on 4th Class terrain or rappel the route.
The last pitch of is rated 5.7 and has a 5.10 + variation to the climber’s right called “Cousin Leroy’s Uncle”. Ybarra chose this. He led it and then began belaying Reis and then McLean. These two were climbing on a “staggered belay” and were being belayed simultaneously with a Black Diamond Guide ATC.
Reis, climbing second, removed the protection that Ybarra had placed on lead. According to McLean, Reis was having difficulty climbing the pitch and was using the line belaying McLean to grab onto to assist herself over the difficult roof. In addition, McLean stated that she stopped climbing and hung on her rope when she saw Reis having difficulties. Because of the overhanging rock, McLean was unable to get back on the rock to continue climbing. McLean asked Ybarra to lower her so that she could get on a less overhanging section and once again begin climbing.
Ybarra stated to Ranger Martin Vidak that he was trying to “release the rope” from the belay device when the rope “shot out” and he lost control of the lower. The result was that McLean impacted a ledge with a fall of approximately 20 feet, injuring her left leg. She was unable to move, and Ybarra rappelled to her to assess her injuries. Before rappelling, Ybarra was able to make cell phone contact through the Teton Interagency Dispatch Center.
At 2035 Helicopter 25 left Whitegrass Ranch for the accident site. At 2043 Heli 25 extracted Ranger Baerwald and the patient from the scene, landing at Whitegrass Ranch at 2050.
M. Ybarra had about six years of climbing experience and had climbed many multi-pitch routes in the mountains. D. Reis and L. McLean were experienced indoor climbers and had led some sport climbs, but had little or no experience in climbing multi-pitch routes in a mountain environment. The three climbers met earlier in the summer at Smith Rocks and made plans to climb in the Tetons in August.
The three climbed Irene’s Arete (III, 5.8) a few days prior to their Snaz climb. It is worth noting that the Snaz, in particular the Cousin Leroy’s Uncle variation (5.10+), is significantly harder than Irene’s Arete.
The party left the Whitegrass Trailhead at about 0900, which is a fairly late start for a party of three on a Grade IV climb, especially considering that two of the three had no experience with multi-pitch climbs. The approach to the Snaz takes most parties about two hours.
According to Ybarra, he saw approaching thunderstorms and lightning and “was in a rush” at the time of the accident. They carried no packs and had no water on the climb itself. They were planning on doing the 4th Class walk-off to descend, then decided to rappel the route when they noticed fixed anchors.
If the second climber, D. Reis, had not cleaned the protection after she climbed the pitch, it is likely that L. McLean would not have swung off the rock, which then required a lower. It is good practice for the second climber to leave gear in and “back-clip” it into the rope
belaying the third climber on a traversing pitch.
The Black Diamond “Guide ATC” device is commonly used to belay two climbers at once. However, a good understanding of its use and limitations is necessary for both the belayer and the seconding climbers. When the belayer is lowering a climber whose weight is on the rope, he must be well versed in this procedure so as not to lose control of the lower, which is what happened here. It is prudent to practice this technique before having to use it in a real situation. (Source: Ranger Martin Vidak – Incident Commander)