Royal Arches accident 11/20/07


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Mountain climber
on the road again
Topic Author's Original Post - Dec 3, 2007 - 03:39am PT
I would like to extend my most sincere thanks to the YOSAR gang for rescuing my partner during the 11/20/07 accident on Royal Arches. You guys did a wonderful job and contributed greatly to Meghanís remarkable recovery.

There are a few details I would like to correct, not to be nit-picky, but just to get the most accurate information out there, so we can all learn from yet another tragic event.

Meghan and I were rappelling on two 60m ropes. Meg got to a point where the ropes did not reach the anchor she had in sight. She may have passed an earlier rap station (as we did on most of the other raps on this climb), but I donít know as I came down what I now believe to be the correct rap route to the climberís right, gullyish to a solid station, pulled the ropes and rapped to the ledge.
When Meg got into a jam we were having a hard time communicating over the valley hum and after a while I used my cordalette around both ropes to descend a low angle section in hopes of gaining better coms. Just as I got to the transition to steeper terrain the ropes below me went slack, a scream, and a most horrible CRASH!!! Silence. This was at around 5:00pm, an hour or so before dark.
The ropes did not pull through the anchors, nor did anything slow down her descent except the ledge below her.

We had been climbing in two teams of two, and the other party was at the station above us. We sent one member for help as the other two hand-stabilized her spine and did a full patient assessment as per WFR protocols.

Her injuries included:
Fractured C2, dislocated C3 (top of cervical spine)
Several broken ribs leading to a punctured lung
Fractured tales bone of right foot
The usual scrapes and bruises

Two days after a nine hour surgery (using bone from her hip to fuse C1, C2 + C3, attaching a HALO to stabilize her spine during an anticipated 3 month+ recovery) she was up WALKING (despite the foot Fx, oops). She is out of the hospital now and seems to have no long term disabilities at all. Hard to believe really.

Additional comments:
This accident occurred despite continually double-checking our rappel rigs all day.
I would say we are very experienced climbers, having smoothly climbed the 10c start to the Salathe the previous day, and many years of other experience to boot.
We took short cuts, not backing up rappel devices with prussics or knotting the rope ends on each rap, which should be pretty standard. We knew better!
This could happen to you. Pay attention!

Thanks so much for all the good vibes everyone sent for Megís speedy recovery. I think we all played a huge role in her amazing success!
Please be careful out there.
Matt Smith and Meghan Seifert

Mountain climber
on the road again
Topic Author's Reply - Dec 3, 2007 - 03:49am PT
Its probrably bad form to be the first one to reply to your own post but ...
So Meg and I are still in Modesto (she just got out of Memorial hospital (you guys are awesome!!!) and now we need a place to recupe. Anyone know of a cheap place to rent in Tahoe that doesn't have any stairs-wheelchair access, for only a month or so? We would be most appreciative. Thanks again for all the positive vibes.

Trad climber
Durango, CO
Dec 3, 2007 - 04:00am PT
Glad she came out of it so well. Good luck with the recvovery!

Trad climber
Dec 3, 2007 - 04:00am PT
Wow, thanks for the post... Wishing you both a great recovery. Please remember trauma is both body "and mind," so experiences like this can hit you much later. So do talk about it and get it out of your system "fully."
A year and a half ago I had my share and only now I am starting my nightmares. Be aware that leftovers can sneak up on you.

Dec 3, 2007 - 04:25am PT
So whats up hows it goin'? did you find a place to stayaaaa/

Dec 3, 2007 - 04:28am PT
It says 11/20/07 on my forum but to day is Dec 3st. how is it going?

Trad climber
Boulder, CO
Dec 3, 2007 - 09:27am PT
I'm glad to hear she is on the rebound. Best wishes for a speedy and full recovery. Thanks for the details, although, I'm a little confused as to why the ropes came down.

Social climber
St. Looney
Dec 3, 2007 - 10:20am PT

Thanks for sharing. Though I know neither of you, I've often wondered how you are both doing. So happy to hear she's doing so well. Hopefully you are taking care of yourself as well. Everyday forward now is a bonus day - what a gift!
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Dec 3, 2007 - 11:18am PT
Thanks for the detailed report Matt, we can all learn from each other's experiences. And best wishes for Meghan's speedy recovery.

Ice climber
Dec 3, 2007 - 11:41am PT
Great news, and swift recovery !!
Doug Robinson

Trad climber
Santa Cruz
Dec 3, 2007 - 01:37pm PT
Thank you Matt for the extra details to help us all learn from your tragedy. I'm so happy to hear that Meghan is out of the hospital and doing so well!

I have a room to offer you in my house. A few stairs to get in from the street, not insurmountable. I'm in Santa Cruz, so Tahoe it ain't, but there's a sunny deck on both sides of the house, and the afternoon deck overlooks a little wedge of the ocean. Hundreds of climbing books to read. You'd be welcome for a few days or a month, no problem.

And I could tell you about my soloing fall of the Royal Arches, decades ago. Lucky (and skilled) to survive, grateful to be alive.

You can email me for details

Wishing you smooth recovery wherever you land.



climber's near nevada...
Dec 3, 2007 - 02:06pm PT
Glad to hear she's doing so well !! Thank you for posting all this information.

DR that is very generous - you deserve some kudos for that...

(ya know, we might argue here a bit, but you gotta admit many people here are really generous and open hearted...)

Toker Villain

Big Wall climber
Toquerville, Utah
Dec 3, 2007 - 02:12pm PT
Glad to hear you're on the mend.

Food for thought, rappels should never be considered casual.
Perhaps even more so for those that get overly comfortable on difficult terrain.

Trad climber
primordial soup
Dec 3, 2007 - 02:31pm PT
wow, that's a great ending to a scary tale!
glad to hear that she is doing so well-
i vote that you take the room in santa cruz and that you two hook up w/ JAMES!

(sorry, couldn't resist)

i don't want to hi-jack this thread, but i also have had a near epic on those raps, and i have free soloed that climb maybe 20 times, so i can attest that epic-ing on those raps has little to do w/ experience.

i took my wife bouldering in yosemite on nov. 1st 2003, on our 1st date. she was hooked immediately (on me, on rock climbing, and especially on rock climbing w/ me in yosemite). we have done a lot of climbing together since then, and now she on-sights mid 5.10s on gear, and she has become experienced and made herself a very safe climber.

i think it was this last spring (it all blends together a bit when you are as old as i am... =) when she did the lost arrow tyrolean w/ a couple of her girlfriends. she emailed her mom (a life-long flat-lander from LI NY) some pictures from that day and her mom kinda wigged out a bit on the exposure, etc. (all the things that we find so appealing can kinda freak out the average american, no?).

so i ended up typing an email to her mom to calm her nerves and reassure her that we are safe, that we know what we are doing, that we don't take unnecessary risks, explaining the principle or redundancy, and claiming that driving to the mountains is the most dangerous part of our climbing habbit, all of that stuff. afterward, it kind of ate at me that i felt a bit untruthful. all through the early years of her climbing career, i had taken all the risk associated w/ rapping, either lowering her or rapping 1st and securing the ropes as a back-up, but now my wife had become self-sufficient and was no longer relying upon me, she was climbing on her own and doing her own thing, and she was taking all the risks that i take; the risks that we all take.

as a direct result of how i felt about that email to my mother-in-law, we now carry the tre belay device and use it for rapping
(i really don't like it quite as much as other devices for belaying, although it works just fine for that too)

the beautiful thing about this device is that you can be rapping (on one rope or two), and you can just let go of the rope and the device (or get hit by falling rock, whatever) and it auto-locks, so no need for a pain-in-the-ass prussiks or any other back up.

the only inconvenience then (to using this as a dedicated rapping device) is having one more locking biner clipped onto your rear loop when you either plan to rap or might rap from a multi-pitch, and the trade-off is that you get a significant reduction in the risk of a catastrophic accident. browse a couple years worth of the AAC's ANAM and you'll see that a huge part of all climbing accidents are in fact rapelling accidents. i never cared about my own arse enough to be concerned about it, but my wife on the other hand...
Karl Baba

Trad climber
Yosemite, Ca
Dec 3, 2007 - 04:52pm PT
There are a few places on those raps where things are less than straightforward and there can be a few options

Can I ask which rap messed you up. Don't do it by rap number cause there are so many combinations.

Since this thread might come up in a search of Royal Arches raps I'd like to point out to others that, if rapping with two rope, it's a good idea, after doing the initial long rap from the top anchors, to do the next rap in two short raps.

There are rope eating flakes to the right that will snag your ropes hard maybe 20% of the time. If you rap past the flakes and they get your rope, it's about a 5.7 climb up the corner to get em.


Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
Dec 3, 2007 - 06:43pm PT
Here's a low-res and edited version of the Supertopo for the Royal Arches rappel route. I believe from Matt's description that the accident occurred directly below (9), out left of the station (10) which is next to the dead tree.

It includes the station I placed on Saturday below (10) which makes it feasible to rap from (10) with a single 60m rope.

Trad climber
Douglas Flat, CA
Dec 3, 2007 - 07:48pm PT
> It includes the station I placed on Saturday below (10)
> which makes it feasible to rap from (10) with a single 60m
> rope.

Thank you for doing that!

Bob "BoKu" K.

Dec 3, 2007 - 07:57pm PT

We found Megan straight back behind the big pine tree at the base of the wall on top of the so called rap number 11.

Would this put her in the location if she was going for the rap anchor you put in that Saturday? I would think she would have been further up and right (looking up) then where she was?

I'm glad she is recovering as it was pretty scary thinking worst scenarios such as paralysis.
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
Dec 3, 2007 - 08:44pm PT

I think you are correct about the location where Megan was trying to reach the sling anchor on the slab - it is not in the vertical line of where I placed an anchor on Saturday (Dec. 1).

Here is a photo with anchors marked:

I think (9) is where she was rapping from, and she was trying to reach "A xx" , which is some slings on 2 bolts. Hopefully Matt can confirm.

I think you can see scuff marks in the lichen around that anchor, maybe from other people trying to reach it, or using it? The anchor I placed on Saturday is "xx o", which is below (10).

This photo is not ideal, since it was taken from the Apron by Point Beyond, and vertical is really indicated by the slanting water streaks. Also the location of "xx o" is obscured by the buttress out right of it where you climb the 5.4 face/crack on p2 of Royal Arches. A better angle would be from Public Sanitation Wall, I think.

C2 fracture and displaced C3 - that is really scary. Great job in getting her down without displacing that. Good to the people who stablized her neck initially, too.

Dec 3, 2007 - 09:06pm PT
Thanks very much for your help Clint.

And thanks for making it so clear to understand.

I was told by Lober that she was trying to reach "A xx" also.

Clint you are great ......
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