Safety Stories: Earl-Bean Traverse – A rock bulge broke loose, sending me backwards

The Climb Leader was traversing a ledge when the rock bulge he faced broke away from the face of the rock, sending him downward off the ledge.
David Shema David Shema
Safety Committee Member
May 14, 2021

As Mountaineers, we are committed to learning from our experiences. We examine every incident that happens on a Mountaineers trip for opportunities to improve the ways we explore and teach. Our volunteer safety committee reviews every incident report and picks a few each month to share as examples of ‘Lessons Learned’. The trip report below describes what happened on this trip, in the leader’s own words, and outlines the lessons the leader has identified. In some cases, we offer additional key learnings from the incident.

Sharing incidents creates an opportunity to analyze specific incidents and also identify larger incident trends. We appreciate every volunteer trip leader who takes the time to share their incidents and near-misses so that others can benefit. We ask that readers engage critically and respectfully in the spirit of sharing and learning.

Earl-Bean Ridge, Teanaway area – 17 October

FROM THE INCIDENT DATABASE: LEADER INCIDENT REPORT

 
LEADER

While scrambling the ridge from Earl to Bean,  I went too high on the ridge where you normally drop down on the south side for a short section. I could see the trail we needed to get on and instructed the participants with me to down climb to the trail about 30' below us (easy class 2). While downclimbing, I needed to traverse on a small ledge past a rock bulge. As I put my hands on the large face to go around (I was facing the rock), the entire bulge broke off sending me backwards with an estimated 3'x5'x2' block of rock coming down on top of me.

Somehow I managed to fall a couple feet to climbers right and down about 10' and land on the only ledge on that section of the face. the rock continued down the ledgey face 500-700' to the trees below. The three other party members who were there and saw the event were able to reach me in less than 2 minutes.

Assessment of my injuries was a bruised right hip (I landed on a block of rock sticking up on the ledge), scrapes to my R knee and abrasions to my left hand and arm. Upon getting up it was discovered my left ankle had been twisted and was sore to walk on. None of the injuries were serious but combined made it unrealistic for me to continue the traverse.

We were able to find an easy class 2 descent into Bean Basin where I iced my ankle for 30 minutes using snow in a bag and took ibuprofen. After about 1 hr (we made this a lunch spot) the group descended back to the trail and returned to the cars. Overall my ankle was not significantly sore on the descent. I was able to drive myself home without any issues.

The following day, other than the scraped hand, nothing was sore, and I did a four mile hike on a local trail near my house.

Lessons Learned

The rock I touched looked very solid and actually still attached to the face.  I was shocked when I felt it start to move.  The obvious lesson learned is to always check your holds to make sure they are solid. However, realistically scramblers make these sort of moves regularly on trips. These are just eyeball reviews to make sure it looks solid, even more so on very easy class 2 terrain without significant exposure below.

I would chalk this one up to the odds catching up to me after 30 years of scrambling, that eventually a very solid looking face would look solid but be balanced just waiting to fall.  Hopefully, it will be another 30 years before I find one like this again.

Lead image of Mt. Stuart and Bean Peak. 


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