Accident in the Owen's Gorge yesterday

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Bad Climber

Trad climber
The Lawless Border Regions
Topic Author's Original Post - Dec 10, 2017 - 10:34am PT
Heard through the virtual grapevine that a woman hit the deck at the Great Wall of China. Lots of great help right there--including an ER doc. She was carried out by a great crew to the road where the ambulance was waiting. Once stable at the Bishop hospital, she was taken by helicopter to Reno. Let's send her some good energy and hope for the best. Be careful out there, folks. Sport climbing is dangerous, too. Word is that her helmet likely helped limit her injuries.

BAd
T Hocking

Trad climber
Redding, Ca
Dec 10, 2017 - 10:41am PT
Best wishes for a full recovery to the woman who decked.
Belay failure?
Cragman

Trad climber
Mammoth and SLO.....Life is Good!!!
Dec 10, 2017 - 10:59am PT
Here's a great report from local guide Viren Perumal, who was on scene.....

Hi there Owens River Gorge Rock Climbers...

I wanted to write some thoughts out and draw some learning lessons for myself that other climbers can hopefully learn from. I don't know the victim personally and am not including any names or details beyond a general summary and my learning lessons. I am hoping for the best possible outcome for the victim. I would love to hear how she does but please do not put any personal details or critical comments about the climber or the group on this post!!! I am sharing this for our community to learn from. I was not in any professional role on this day off which makes me more comfortable sharing some of this information for people to learn from. Please let me know if anyone who was involved feels this post is inappropriate to share and I will remove it immediately. I have intentionally not tagged people who helped and been vague on some details to protect rescuers, patients, and their climbing partners privacy.

Yesterday at the Gorgel I witnessed a climber fall from the 3rd bolt of "China Doll (5.8) on the left side of the Great Wall of China". The climber hit the ground from a height of ~35'. Her belay rope did not come tight and I saw her fall backwards and almost upside down. She impacted the ground with her head neck, left shoulder and back. She was wearing a helmet that did not crack or have visible damage though her head seemed to impact a rock. I feel strongly that her outcome would have been different had she not been wearing a helmet.

Initially she was complaining of back and shoulder pain and by the time I was there she was in a seated position where we attempted to maintain spinal control due to the nature of the fall.

She initially seemed to have an appropriate mental status and able to answer questions but did not remember the fall. she seemed to have difficulty breathing (I was worried about lung injury and broken ribs) and could answer questions appropriately as I performed a physical examination. She described pain on her spine and diminished sensation to her feet. she had abrasions and soft tissue injuries on her back shoulders and swelling around the base of her neck around C-7 but no obvious deformities to her skull.

She had a great group of climbers sharing the crag with her including an ER Pysician, a few nurses, an OT, a WEMT and a slew of experienced climbers who have been involved with rescues in the past.
Once we assessed the seriousness of her injuries Efforts were made to get a call out for help and people went to grab both the litters that are cached in the central gorge (one from the bathroom across social platform and one from the Eldorado roof bathroom)

Within 10-15 minutes after impact the patients condition quickly deteriorated and she became repetitive and confused. I assessed her pupillary response and she had non-reactive pinpoint pupils. She continued to get more combative and aggressive - signs of increasing intra-cranial pressure. Her friends who were climbing with her did a great job trying to calm her down as folks tried to package her safely for a carry out.

We were able to package the patient and transport her down the trail to the river and over rough terrain to the new "high water bridge" that was placed to access the china wall. This took a lot of teamwork and cautious movement in this rough terrain. We were able to meet Symons Ambulance from bishop at the power plant at the end of the paved road that comes down from the lower gorge parking area. The ALS ambulance showed up with members of Cal Fire and Inyo County Sherrifs office at the same time as the littler team arrived. This speedy extrication from the climbing site to the ambulance access point was thanks to the amazing climbers at the wall that day that dropped what they were doing and offered to help.

With minimal delay the paramedic was given a concise report and the patient was transferred to the journey and loaded into the ambulance. - the ambulance was on scene no more than 10 minutes
Symons Emergency Services transported the patient to NIH where she was evaluated and stabilized and then she was flown by Sierra Life Flight to Renown Regional Medical Center for care further care not available in our rural hospital.

I currently don't know how this patient will recover and what her prognosis is but I hope the best for her and that she makes a full recovery. The Injuries she sustained are serious and she will need our thoughts, prayers, good vibes, and positive energy flowing her way up in Reno.
Learning Lesson points for me
* I had a satellite messenger that is checked out to me from Sierra Mountain Guides and I would never think about being down in the gorge on a guiding day without a sat phone or the Delorme In Reach. It would be considered negligent for me as a professional yet I typically don't throw it in my pack on personal "day cragging" missions. There is not the best view of the sky but you could probably get a message out .... I will start carrying a 2 way sattelite communication Device on my days off!!!

* There is a phone at the power plant. Nobody in our rescue group knew about this and this could have saved some time to get the call out to dispatch about our location and activated EMS sooner. It is a Yellow box behind the LADWP port-potty (not placed there by our kind hosts for climbers to use as far as I understand). The phone does say "in case of emergency" and if you dial "0" you will connect with an LADWP operator who can relay a message to the Bishop PD dispatch (much of the gorge is in mono county but a cell call tends to hit bishop repeaters and Symons can usually access the lower gorge road quicker than Medic 3 out of Mammoth). A more involved rescue would typically be run by Mono County SAR but in the past when Inyo SAR has arrived 1st on rescue efforts Mono has acted in an assisting capacity.

* Helmets have their place in sport climbing. I am as guilty as many folks climbing in the gorge and often don't bring mine for "practice climbing" in the gorge ...my new goal is that I never want to have a head injury while the helmet is in my pack, or in my car, or at home!!!
....WEAR A HELMET IF YOU LIKE YOUR HEAD!!!!

* Get medical Training.....I am biased but think all climbers should have the self reliance to deal with some emergencies and should take a WFR course....Again I am bias.....Pre-hospital Emergency Care in a wilderness context is challenging - get training and stay current!!!

*If your not feeling solid it TR or carry a big stick ....my climbing partner yesterday had just bought a "golf ball retrieving stick" that could clip many 2nd bolts and mitigate ground fall risks...Im not a fan for me personally but honestly I'm less of a fan of hitting the ground

*Cached Rescue gear can really speed up getting a seriously injured patient to care. without the litter and backboard placed in the gorge we could have easily added several hours to the rescue. That said the Cached equipment is old and dated. I am trying to work with local rescue groups, and EMS organizations to update some of the equipment in heavily trafficked climbing areas - if you have any ideas for getting resources placed in areas like the gorge, Lee Vining Canyon, and maybe the Happy Boulders Please contact me

* Be an attentive belayer. sometimes a "soft catch" is really great at the gym or an overhanging route with a fall far off the deck.... sometime a soft catch is not appropriate... this is a general statement and not a criticism of the belayer in this case but rather a general lesson.... remember to be ready to take in slack if someone is above a bolt especially near the ground or above ledgy terrain.

* Respectfully say something.....I hesitate to say this last lesson but feel it is valuable. In speaking with some of the folks closer to the base of this route they saw some red flags that day but hesitated to say anything. This is a slippery slope but if something seems wrong - sometimes it is worth trying to offer some mentorship. Everyone is in a different part of their learning process.

* Bolts are not spaced the same as at the gym. Pay attention to bolt spacing and if the route is at your limit it may be better to find a different route. This particular climb has had several accidents though the bolt spacing is not much different from many other routes at the cliff, it has gotten quite slippery and as one of the more moderate routes sees quite a lot of traffic. It has been suggested to contact the FA party to discuss moving some bolts but in the meantime I think I want to place a "perma-draw" on the 3rd bolt. This is common at many areas for more difficult routes but this particular route could use it in my mind. If someone disagrees with this please contact me and I am happy to take it down if it is offensive to someones personal ethic :)

Thanks for reading...if you made it this far wow!!

If you hear any updates about the patient I would love to know through a PM.


Viren J. Perumal, M.Sc., WEMT
Sierra Mountain Guides
AMGA Certified Rock Guide/SPI Director

Bad Climber

Trad climber
The Lawless Border Regions
Topic Author's Reply - Dec 10, 2017 - 11:04am PT
Thanks for posting that, Cragman.

BAd
Cragman

Trad climber
Mammoth and SLO.....Life is Good!!!
Dec 10, 2017 - 11:35am PT
A little history on the litters in the Gorge....

Back in the early 90's, when the Gorge was in its early stages of development, its popularity began to skyrocket. It wasn't long before the amount of human waste was clearly becoming a threat to climber access, not to mention the environment in general.

We formed an ad hoc committee, led by the late James Wilson, to pursue raising funds to build the pit toilet facilities. Multiple fundraising ideas were utilized, including a fine slide show and accompanying raffle, which was held in June Lake. Steve "Shipoopoi" Schneider did a great show, and lots of money was raised.

During the planning process, we thought adding the 3 litters to the plan was a plus.

I found one of the litters in our SAR cache...slightly damaged. After a few repairs, it was ready to go. I found another through Mammoth Lakes Fire, but was struggling to find the third one. On a rescue one day, I mentioned it to the helo crew from the Navy base in Fallon.

A few days later I received a call from pilot Lt. Jay VanCleve. He told me to be at the June Mountain parking lot the next morning. Right on time, the helo flew in, and set down right next to my truck. The crew handed me a perfect Stokes litter, jumped back in the helo, and disappeared into the sky.

Every time I hear of one of these sad incidents, I thank God for that Navy crew, and all the others who participated in getting those litters in place.

And the toilets too!!!!

: )

EDIT: Ironically, it was Steve Schneider's wife, Heather, who was the first subject to require the use of one of the litters.
10b4me

Mountain climber
Retired
Dec 10, 2017 - 01:38pm PT
Thanks Dean, and thanks to Viren for the report. I hope the woman's outcome is positive.
kingtut

climber
Jingus Newroutaineer
Dec 10, 2017 - 01:40pm PT
Yes, thanks for giving us info about this accident and sharing some tips for safer climbing.

And thanks to all the first responders doing their best to care for this accident victim and safely evacuating her to a higher level of care.
phylp

Trad climber
Upland, CA
Dec 10, 2017 - 04:52pm PT
I really hate hearing about stuff like this.
I don't know the specifics of what happened here, but based on what I see both at climbing gyms and sport climbing areas, I surmise that a surprising number of climbers do not understand the simple math of (climber distance above last bolt) plus (belayer distance from cliff) plus (extra slack in rope) plus (rope stretch in a fall) plus ( climber pulling up rope to clip way overhead).

Virenal suggests " if you see something, say something", but sadly, observing people in potential groundfall situations is so common that I mostly feel like it's none of my business.
tom woods

Gym climber
Bishop, CA
Dec 10, 2017 - 05:31pm PT
If that's the climb I think it is, it's been an accident waiting to happen for years.

It's the four bolt, ledgy thing where you can ground fall from the third bolt right? Not a 5.8 for a 5.8 climber or a tired climber.

phylp

Trad climber
Upland, CA
Dec 10, 2017 - 09:02pm PT
Tom, no I think it's the next climb to the right. 7 bolts
But I personally think many sport routes have ground fall potential until you clip the third bolt, unless your belayer is belaying close to the wall, no slack.
Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
Dec 11, 2017 - 02:18pm PT
Iím hoping for a good outcome,
Best wishes to the climber involved.
Some really good advice above.
Majid_S

Mountain climber
Karkoekstan, Former USSR
Dec 12, 2017 - 06:24am PT
what went wrong during belay ?
Gunkie

Trad climber
Valles Marineris
Dec 12, 2017 - 06:53am PT
I had a satellite messenger that is checked out to me from Sierra Mountain Guides and I would never think about being down in the gorge on a guiding day without a sat phone or the Delorme In Reach. It would be considered negligent for me as a professional yet I typically don't throw it in my pack on personal "day cragging" missions. There is not the best view of the sky but you could probably get a message out .... I will start carrying a 2 way sattelite communication Device on my days off!!!

I had a Garmin Inreach Explorer and I used it to call for help when I came across an injured (broken leg) hiker who couldn't walk. This was pretty much no-cell phone territory and it was late in the day on a cold March Sunday afternoon. No one else was around. I was solo day hiking and this person was on a solo backpacking trip.

I was able to text with the dispatch and they found our location via the Garmin website. SRT team showed up at 9 pm, maybe four hours after making contact. Pretty impressive. That guy would have been out there at least one more night. It was freezing cold and he had a nice warm sleeping bag and loaned me an extra jacket while we waited.

Anyway, I lost the damn unit last month in a parking lot in Tuxedo NY. Reward if found. Definitely worth the money. Will buy another after Xmas, in case one magically appears in my stocking.
Jody

climber
Occupied Territory
Dec 12, 2017 - 07:06am PT
Gunkie, those things are amazing. I carried a SPOT for years and it did okay for tracking and "OK" messages to my wife. She had me get one since 95% of the time I am solo in the backcountry. Anyway, the SPOT was limited in it's ability to connect with satellites if in narrow, steep-walled canyons and often couldn't get the message out. I switched to a Garmin InReach this year and it is absolutely amazing. I was in a steep, narrow canyon, at the base of a waterfall, with trees overhanging the 30' wide canyon...and the message got out in about 60 seconds after turning the unit on. The SPOT never would have been successful in that area.

The InReach also gives confirmation that the message was sent(SPOT) doesn't, and has texting capabilities. You also pay about $12/mos more for the service and the unit can be pricey initially.

By the way, the price on these units went up significantly after Garmin obtained DeLorme and they came out with a newer model. The DeLorme(older) models are available at really good prices, both retail and on eBay.
Bad Climber

Trad climber
The Lawless Border Regions
Topic Author's Reply - Dec 12, 2017 - 07:07am PT
What Phyl said X100. Gotta be on your game always but especially near the deck. And most climbers most of the time are doing single-pitch routes, so there's a lot of near-the-deck time to worry about. In fact, we recently purchased an Ohm belay assist for my wife. She weighs in about 100 lbs. while I'm over 180 with gear and all, so it's easy for me to get her airborne. This thing should really help keep both of us where we're supposed to be.



BAd
guyman

Social climber
Moorpark, CA.
Dec 12, 2017 - 08:27am PT
what went wrong during belay ?


I do hope the injured climber makes a full recovery.


Do we have any information about just what type of a climbing accident this was?


Did a bolt pull?

Biner snap?

Knott failure?

Blow the clip?

all this secrecy, why?

inquiring minds want to know.

THX
S1W

climber
Dec 12, 2017 - 09:06am PT
It's been a few years, but I seem to recall that rig being a bit on the sketchy side for a 5.8 sport climb. A bit sandbagged, odd bolting, weird line, slick in places...

The climber/her belayer may not have done anything wrong and she simply may have fallen getting to the third bolt. I could see it happening on that route.
Aerili

climber
Project Y
Dec 12, 2017 - 09:46am PT
It's been a few years, but I seem to recall that rig being a bit on the sketchy side for a 5.8 sport climb. A bit sandbagged, odd bolting, weird line, slick in places...

The climber/her belayer may not have done anything wrong and she simply may have fallen getting to the third bolt. I could see it happening on that route.

Yes, this. Definitely odd bolting. I think the 5.9 next to it is similar in difficulty but with better bolting.
henny

Social climber
The Past
Dec 12, 2017 - 09:50am PT
My understanding after talking to a couple of good climbers who were there is that the belayer was back from the wall plus had a loop of slack in the system. Sounds like the observations and math called out by phylp were likely contributing factors in reaching the ground.

The "easier" routes on the left of the China Wall are slick and kind of sporty bolting at their starts - as people have mentioned. Its not hard to envision potential for problems on those routes.

Attentive belays are perhaps even more important when the ground is proximate. I've blown clips and come off more than once (unfortunately) with maximum rope out while making clips. It can (and sometimes does) happen when you least want it to, nothing new there.

My lesson learned: a reminder that belaying is a dead serious job that requires one to be present and accounted for. Don't get lax just because you're experienced.

Good wishes for a quick recovery to the climber involved.
JLP

Social climber
The internet
Dec 12, 2017 - 10:45am PT
My understanding after talking to a couple of good climbers who were there is that the belayer was back from the wall plus had a loop of slack in the system.
That does seem to be what was pointed out in Viren's account as well.

Soft catch, brah - leave a generous loop of slack - it seems to be what is being taught in several gyms these days. I don't like it, and it's wrong.

A loop of slack is not at all what a soft catch is about. It's about managing slack and moving your body by hopping, stepping back, walking into, or whatever needs to be done depending on fall distance and weight differences between climber and belayer - to soften the impact while minimizing the fall distance, doesn't matter how far off the deck or overhung it is.

Holy cow - I think we can say for sure - this women so did not get a soft catch. What a scary injury, hope the best, sounds like she was lucky with her company and got a competent carry out.
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