Safety Talk – Sometimes the Arm quits the Climb Early
Lessons from Mountaineer Incidents
Seattle Climbing and Seattle Safety committees are experimenting with raising awareness of safety issues that can arise on climbs, scrambles, backcountry skiing, and other Mountaineer activities.
Identifying information has been removed or disguised.
-- Dave Shema, Seattle Branch Safety Officer
So far this year (2012), the majority of climbing incidents involved falls on snow. However there was an accident that started out much like the incident described below. Things are going well when, for no readily apparent reason, you lose your grip at a most inopportune moment.
August 20, 2011 – The Tooth
Injuries: Broken foot
Cause of Accident: Leader fall while leading on rock
On August 20, 2011, a party of 3 set out to climb the SW Face of The Tooth, a standard intermediate route. The climb of the intermediate section was uneventful and the party hooked up with the basic route just below the catwalk.
AA decided to climb the face between the catwalk and rappel route, his reasoning being he had already led both of those pitches previously and wanted to try something different. AA had climbed to within a move or two of topping out when he fell. He stated that his right arm pumped out quickly and unexpectedly. Before he could adjust his feet he lost his grip and “barn-doored off”.
AA was between 8 and 10 feet above his last piece (a nut), he fell feet first, and landed on a small ledge with his left foot which turned him upside down. He did not ground on the ledge below the catwalk. His protection held.
AA righted himself, set up an anchor and belayed the other two members up to his location on the flat spot below the catwalk.
A standard MOFA response revealed an ankle injury that could not bear weight.
AA fell at 1:40pm. A 911 call was placed at 2:30pm requesting an evacuation. The weather was good, and a helicopter evacuation was completed at 5:00pm.
AA suffered two fractures in his foot, bone bruising in the foot and a lot of soft tissue damage, but did not need surgery.
Points to Ponder
Have you ever had an arm or leg unexpectedly “give up” while in a precarious situation? Do you have any advice for AA that would have been useful before he started up the final pitch?
A textbook helicopter rescue took place. The party had cellphone coverage, the weather was fine, and a helicopter was available. Was the response time in line with your expectations?