Logo Jim Frankenfield
jim@mountain-guiding.com; 1-877-604-0166

Mountain Guiding; Mountain Safety
An Experienced Professional

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Guiding Newsletter

Accident Analysis Archive - November 2000


Caving, Texas
Mt Washington, Oregon - Leader Fall on Rock
Karl Nagy, ACMG Guide and Examiner

Caving, TX

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 rope.

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.


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