Accident Analysis Archive - November 2000
Mt Washington, Oregon - Leader Fall on Rock
Karl Nagy, ACMG Guide and Examiner
I recently read a report of a caving accident which is of some interest
to climbers. Two cavers were climbing up to reach a new part of
a cave when one fell, severed the rope, and died. The first problem
was that they were using static rope (commonly used in caving) for lead/aid
climbing. While dynamic climbing rope is designed to absorb some of
the energy of a fall static rope does not do that. Which results in
higher forces on anchors, harnesses, and the rope.
The second point worth mentioning was the inability of a woman from
another group to switch from ascending to rappelling on the rope. This
did not affect the outcome but in some cases it could. The partner of
the fallen climber had ascended to the victim and was taking care of
things as best he could in a difficult location. A woman from another
party had arrived on the scene and began ascending to the injured party.
The caver attending to his partner realized that because of the way
the rope ran and the limitations of the spot they were in it would be
easiest if the woman could descend back down and get off the rope. But she
did not know how to switch from ascending to rappelling while on the
This is a very basic self-rescue
skill, but one which many (perhaps most) climbers probably lack.
People are increasingly getting wrapped up in practicing assisted rappels
and other advanced techniques and never acquiring the basic skills which
are more likely to be useful or essential. Change-overs between rappel
and ascent and between ascent and rappel are much of what my Self
Rescue course covers in the first session.
Mt Washington (Oregon)
The accident in early July (see last newsletter) was a leader fall
on the West Ridge/Buttress in which the leaders anchors pulled out.
The media had mentioned the possibility of equipment failure, but it
is much more likely that the highest anchor point was placed in poor
rock (which is abundant in Oregon) or that anchors were inadequately
placed. Neither possibility constitutes failure of equipment.
The leader was about 40 ft above his belayer, who was 100 ft or so
from the base of the climb. The leader fell and his lead protection
all failed. I do not know how many pieces were in above the belay but
I believe it was more than one. Remember that if your last piece fails
the previous piece will be subject to a much greater fall factor. Ultimately
his fall came onto the belay, which failed as well. So both climbers
fell to the base, 100 and 140 ft.
On a recent climb we tried a cell phone on the west side of the North
Ridge and were unable to obtain coverage. So from the base of this route
they would quite possibly be out of reach even if they did have a cell
phone. A VHF radio does work in this area, a fact I know from previous
climbs on which we monitored a radio. I believe that the first rescuer
on the scene did report the situation via cell phone, but he may have
moved into a better position to do that. Coverage
in rural and mountain areas is often still analog as well, and requires a phone/plan with that capability.
Karl Nagy, ACMG Guide Examiner
In late August or early September Canadian Guide Karl Nagy was killed by
a falling rock. I did not know Karl but certainly knew of him. Recent
Canadian Alpine Journals had several articles by Karl, and he was well
known and popular as a guide instructor and examiner for the ACMG. He
was involved in guide training when he died.
This is the third death of a well known, established, and professionally
trained guide in North America that I can recall in recent years. The
last was Jim Haberl (May 1999), and prior to that Alan Bard on the Grand
Teton (summer 1997).
None of these three professionals were doing anything technically spectacular,
nor unusually hazardous. The mountain environment has inherent risks, so be careful out there.