Climbing Fatality on Half Dome Slabs

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Link

Trad climber
Yosemite, CA
Topic Author's Original Post - Sep 18, 2005 - 01:32pm PT
Someone else posted about this earlier, but for clarity I'll start a new thread. Sorry for the slow reply.

On Wednesday, September 14th, two climbers reported finding a body near the base of the “Slabs” approach below Half Dome’s northwest face. The body was that of a lone climber, later identified as Bela Feher, 35, of San Diego, who died while likely attempting to reach Half Dome’s northwest face.

The climber was climbing solo and was apparently unfamiliar with the “standard” route up the slabs. He was found on a ledge about eighty feet up from the base approximately a hundred meters left (east) of the regular route/trail up the slabs.

Apparently the climber was attempting to rope solo up relatively low angle fifth class terrain. Based on his equipment and the condition in which we found it, he fell an entire rope length before landing on a large ledge. He was using a Petzl Gri-gri as a self belay, but it was rigged incorrectly; the rope ran through the device such that it would not stop a lead fall. A knot in the end of his lead line kept him attached to the rope, and he was likely near the end of his rope at the time of the fall.

Two protection pieces likely came out during his fall (both were still clipped to his lead line after his death), and most of his remaining placements were in loose and/or dirty rock. He left a traditional three piece anchor at the top of the “pitch” (approximately a rope length above his lower anchor), but somehow fell before successfully clipping in. Based on a rock scar and other scrape marks, it’s possible the climber was standing on a loose rock or flake that gave way while he was building his anchor. He was not wearing a helmet, and he likely died as a result of a serious head injury.

As he was by himself, we will never know exactly what went wrong, but we do know a few things that could have prevented his death. First, though the fall was long, it was relatively low angle, and wearing a helmet would have greatly increased his chance of survival. Second, his gear placements were marginal at best. While removing his equipment, I protected myself with multiple trees that this climber skipped in favor of cams or stoppers in dirty cracks. The final anchor he built (in loose rock) was only a few feet from a solid tree. If the two pieces of lead protection that likely came out were to have held, his fall would have been significantly shorter. Last of all, though it would not have saved his life, it appears that no one knew exactly where he was planning to climb or when he would be back.

This is the first technical climbing fatality of the year, and hopefully the last.

-Link (Yosemite Climbing Ranger)

Landgolier

climber
Arlington, VA
Sep 18, 2005 - 08:52pm PT
Just a point of clarity, when you mention the grigri being rigged wrong, are we talking about oriented wrong or something like that, or just straight-up had the rope running the wrong direction?
Link

Trad climber
Yosemite, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Sep 19, 2005 - 11:14am PT
Sorry for the confusion. When I said the Gri-gri was "rigged incorrectly" I meant that the rope was running through the device in the opposite direction from how climbers usually use Gri-gri's when soloing. Were the climber to have anchored his rope at the top anchor and rapped down the line on his Gri-gri, then the device would have been rigged "correctly" in the orientation that it was found. Given that we will never know exactly what he was attempting to do at the time of his fall, we will never truly know whether his system was rigged "correctly" or not.

-Link
Paul

Trad climber
Muir Beach, CA
Sep 20, 2005 - 05:37am PT
A couple other additions to the accident. I was soloing Tis-sa-ack during the week of the accident. On Tuesday, Sept. 13, there was a MAJOR rockfall in the approach gully. A 10' chunk came off the scar (right of Zebra) and continued to move down the whole gully. This occured in the early afternoon. The next day (Wed) was when I saw the helicopter arrive to recover the body.

Paul
crotch

climber
Sep 22, 2005 - 10:53am PT
My condolences to Chris' friends and family. I only had the pleasure of with him on one occasion but he struck me as a nice guy and solid climber.
Flyboy

Trad climber
Oct 13, 2005 - 07:23pm PT
I was wondering if perhaps he was attempting to rappel given the way the rope went thru the gri gri and the fact that he had set up a three piece belay. Was there a biner on the belay? Maybe if there was a single biner and it was not locking, the rope somehow worked it's way out.
'Pass the Pitons' Pete

Big Wall climber
like Oakville, Ontario, Canada, eh?
Oct 13, 2005 - 09:47pm PT
This is very saddening and heartbreaking, and even more mystifying. My condolences to his family.

Does anybody here know if this chap actually had any real climbing experience? According to Link's report, his belay device was rigged incorrectly, he was off route, he placed pro that wouldn't hold a fall, and he bypassed other pro that would have. Did he really have any business solo climbing up there?

1. Wear your helmet.

2. Tie a fu(king BACKUP KNOT!!
spyork

Trad climber
Fremont, CA
Oct 14, 2005 - 11:26am PT
I never met the guy, but the thread I read on RC.com indicated he was an experienced climber:

http://rockclimbing.com/topic/97309

One of his climbing partners posted there.

I dunno...
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
Oct 14, 2005 - 11:57am PT
Link wrote:
> He left a traditional three piece anchor at the top of the “pitch” (approximately a rope length above his lower anchor), but somehow fell before successfully clipping in. Based on a rock scar and other scrape marks, it’s possible the climber was standing on a loose rock or flake that gave way while he was building his anchor. He was not wearing a helmet, and he likely died as a result of a serious head injury.

And under the thread "Half Dome Solo-fest",
http://www.supertopo.com/climbing/thread.html?topic_id=106539#msg107642
Paul Brunner wrote:
> Yes, I was up there when the soloist died. There was a HUGE 10' chunk that broke away from the scar section and littered the gully on Tuesday (Sept. 13). The next day they pulled the guy off.

Putting these two accounts together, it sounds like he could have been hit by the rockfall while he was setting up his anchor, and before he had clipped into it. So there were several contributing factors:
 climbing in an active rockfall zone (the regular slabs approach is out to the right at that point)
http://www.stanford.edu/~clint/yos/halfslab.gif
The active rockfall had been noted this summer in a couple of posts on this forum.
 not clipping into his partial anchor
 not wearing a helmet (even if he was wearing one, he could still be killed if the rockfall was big enough; a helmet does not guarantee you'll survive a rockfall; better to take a safer route if possible)
Mei

Trad climber
Bay Area
Oct 14, 2005 - 12:06pm PT
Nice analysis, Clint. That reminds me last weekend, two guys (Ty and Sol) who topped out of Prow on Washing Column told us that they heard a rockfall on Friday (Oct. 7) night across the valley from the direction of Half Dome. None of us could tell where it had happened in the bright daylight on Saturday. It sounds like rockfalls are pretty active in that area.
MZiebell

Social climber
Prescott, AZ
Oct 14, 2005 - 12:12pm PT
Thanks, Lincoln, for your thorough investigation and report. Exemplary as always.

Re: the last couple of posts. Generally, it isn't too hard to tell if a person was struck by rockfall and to differentiate that from trauma associated with a fall (only). But let's hear from Link.
wildone

climber
right near the beach, boyeee (lord have mercy)
Oct 14, 2005 - 01:51pm PT
Also, the rockfall could have indirectly caused him to fall before clipping into his anchor by totally freaking him out, as in, say, the huge chunk slamming into a rock 50 feet to the side of him and all the pulverized rock flying everywhere like shrapnel would cause someone to instinctively cover their heads with their arms, and possibly fall. Of course, conjecture, but it seems reasonable that if the rock fall happened closely it needn't hit him to take him out..
MZiebell

Social climber
Prescott, AZ
Oct 14, 2005 - 03:36pm PT
Good point...
Rhodo-Router

Trad climber
Otto, NC
Oct 15, 2005 - 09:01am PT
If I'm not mistaken the recovery happened shortly after the determined time of death. This would rule out the day-before rockfall theory.
WBraun

climber
Oct 15, 2005 - 09:02am PT
Not so, Rhodo
Link

Trad climber
Yosemite, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Oct 15, 2005 - 12:19pm PT


The only thing we don know is that we’ll never really know what happened. It turns out Bela (who more often went by “Chris”) was quite experienced and had likely been up the slabs approach more than once. Why he rigged his gear the way he did that day will always remain a mystery. Rock fall is definitely a possibility, either hitting him directly from above, or indirectly causing him to fall.

-Link
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