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Accident Report: Owens River Gorge Friday 10/14/16


Original Post
Jan Tarculas · · Riverside, Ca · Joined Mar 2010 · Points: 808

So my wife and I were climbing in Owens River Gorge on 10/14/16 at the Social Platform area. I was watching a climber on Bone Up 5.10d (which supposedly sees a lot of traffic and a very popular route) suddenly shout "ROCK ROCK ROCK!" He was just below the roof or a draw or two below the roof when I saw him dislodge a giant rock. I would say a big watermelon size, weighing 30-40lbs, maybe more. I believe he also fell when he pulled on it, creating the belayer to get pulled into the wall. He was a pretty big guy and the belayer a petit size woman.

I was pretty close to them, right at the base of Fresh Squeezed when this happened. When I saw the rock fall, it almost looked slow mo when it was falling down. I had enough time to look at the belayer and realize she wasn't wearing a helmet. I had to close my eyes when it got close to her because I knew if it hit her on the head she probably would have instantly died. The rock was going straight down towards her. Luckily it missed her head when she swung a little to the right. I ran immediately to her and realized her foot was totally smashed. The giant rock fell directly on her right foot and split in half. She was a trooper though because she still held onto the rope and was concern about getting the climber down. Even when I was assisting her with the gri-gri and getting the climber down she still head onto the rope. I had to remind her to focus on herself and I would get him down safely. During that entire event the climber was shouting for help and near by climbers came. We all eventually got her on the liter that's attached to the bathroom down there and got her onto a van that the workers at the power plant had. They drove her up to the lower parking lot which I believe a ambulance was going to meet them up with.

I work in the medical field and talked to some co-workers about what happened. We think her foot might have to get amputated if the rock did enough damage, which I think it did. I really hope they could repair it though. It would probably take multiple surgery and major reconstruction. My wife felt the foot when they were wrapping it and she said it didn't even feel like a foot. Anyone know the female and is she willing to give us any info?

So one big thing I took from this, ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS wear a helmet, climber and belayer. I will always stick to belaying with my gri-gri for cragging and for now on, even multi-pitch climb.

Colonel Mustard · · Sacramento, CA · Joined Sep 2005 · Points: 1,180

How much would a helmet do against a hurtling 30-40+ lb rock?

It's true that the helmet is underutilized for sport belaying (by far the more useful end to wear it in that venue, IMO).

FrankPS · · Atascadero, CA · Joined Nov 2009 · Points: 275

Here we go with another helmet argument thread?

mountainproject.com/v/to-he…

Thanks for the accident report, Jan. Hope she keeps her foot.

Jan Tarculas · · Riverside, Ca · Joined Mar 2010 · Points: 808
Colonel Mustard wrote:How much would a helmet do against a hurtling 30-40+ lb rock? It's true that the helmet is underutilized for sport belaying (by far the more useful end to wear it in that venue, IMO).
If the rock wasn't a direct hit, lets say scraped the side of her head, a helmet would have most likely helped by preventing a large laceration. Again that is IF it wasn't a direct hit and the angle was correct. I'd rather have a helmet on with maybe a large headache vs a large laceration to my head.
Colonel Mustard · · Sacramento, CA · Joined Sep 2005 · Points: 1,180
Jan Tarculas wrote: If the rock wasn't a direct hit, lets say scraped the side of her head, a helmet would have most likely helped by preventing a large laceration. Again that is IF it wasn't a direct hit and the angle was correct. I'd rather have a helmet on with maybe a large headache vs a large laceration to my head.
For sure, it's hard to argue against safety isn't it? Where I draw the line is mandating certain things or saying you must. Lead by example.

In my experience, the leader who minds the rope is far less in need of the helmet on steep sport territory than the belayer who is in the fall zone.
Marc801 C · · Sandy, Utah · Joined Feb 2014 · Points: 65
Jan Tarculas wrote:...I saw him dislodge a giant rock. I would say a big watermelon size, weighing 30-40lbs, maybe more.
If the watermelon were 1 cubic foot and made of the same rock as in the Gorge, it would weigh around 145 lbs. That may account for the damage to her foot that you saw.
grog m aka Greg McKee · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2012 · Points: 70

Good lord. Best wishes and good vibes to the belayer.

Jan Tarculas · · Riverside, Ca · Joined Mar 2010 · Points: 808
Marc801 wrote: If the watermelon were 1 cubic foot and made of the same rock as in the Gorge, it would weigh around 145 lbs. That may account for the damage to her foot that you saw.
Holy shit, I would have not guessed. My wife did say it felt "squishy" when she was helping support it and putting an ace wrap on the foot/ankle
keithconn · · LI, NY · Joined Jan 2015 · Points: 35

I was gonna say. Watermelon size. We're talking 100+ easy. You'd be dead no matter what if that landed on your noggen! Really hope belayer and climber recover from this as it's really no ones fault. Just awful!

grog m aka Greg McKee · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2012 · Points: 70

Our feet are extremely robust. It may never function 100% the same but I am sure that amputation will not be necessary.

Jim Tangen Foster · · Unknown Hometown · Joined May 2016 · Points: 90

MP Route Guide comment on Bone Up: 11-19-2007 At the 3rd bolt 2 of the key handholds were coming loose, one was the size of a microwave. Be aware of those below you..

Guy Keesee · · Moorpark, CA · Joined Mar 2008 · Points: 310

Wow ... pretty gruesome, I hope she pulls through.

IMHO the Social Platform is a very dangerous spot..... any rocks that get rolling up where you start down into the gorge end up at the SP. So if your up there and see dummies cutting down low on the path, just to save a few steps.... yell at them.

The closest to death I have ever come was right there... at the bottom of Harvey Wall-banger.... next time you are there, check out the 4 or 5 large rocks that people like to sit on and change shoes. Kris and I were relaxing when those were deposited right their.... one landed about 5 feet to Kris' right and another smashed into my rope bag that I was using as a blanket.... I saw the rocks in the sky and rolled over off of the blanket!!!!! Another large rock smashed the Boom Box into about a 1,000,000 fragments. When I go there now..... I sit right up under the little cave at the bottom of that 5.7.....

Good on you and the other climbers who helped the poor woman and her rescue. And props to the DWP for helping out.

P.S. a helmet wouldn't have done jack squat..... think about it.

Ted Pinson · · Chicago, IL · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 190

Yeah. As a 100% helmet advocate, I still have to admit that a helmet would not have saved her from a direct hit.

amarius · · Nowhere, OK · Joined Feb 2012 · Points: 20

From Facebook, Kalymnos Rescue Service:
Rescue report:
27/10/2016, sector Irox.
The team dealed with an accident that we feared it would come sooner or later, thankfully it didn't have the worst ending.
In the route "Memories of Dorothy" a big rock from the route, that a climber was holding to make the move, came off and fell on to the belayer. The helmet took all the blow and her shoulder was injured.
The Team has consistently noted that openers should clean properly their routes and that the urge to open 10 or more routes in one week, for example, usually leads to clumsy cleaning of the routes.
We thank all the people that helped with the rescue, like mr Zoidis, especially our boatman Pavlos Karafyllakis that offered his services for free and took us there in no time.
We hope Emmanuelle will recover quickly from her injuries.

Helmet
T Roper · · DC,VA,NM,UT,CT,MA · Joined Mar 2006 · Points: 860

Not even steel toed boots would've helped is my guess. Good call on a locking device.

Jan Tarculas · · Riverside, Ca · Joined Mar 2010 · Points: 808
Ted Pinson wrote:Yeah. As a 100% helmet advocate, I still have to admit that a helmet would not have saved her from a direct hit.
I agree if it was a direct hit right on top of her head. But if she moved to the side like she did and let's say it scraped the side, a helmet could save have prevented severe lacerations. Any protection is better than nothing.
Jan Tarculas · · Riverside, Ca · Joined Mar 2010 · Points: 808
Guy Keesee wrote:Wow ... pretty gruesome, I hope she pulls through. IMHO the Social Platform is a very dangerous spot..... any rocks that get rolling up where you start down into the gorge end up at the SP. So if your up there and see dummies cutting down low on the path, just to save a few steps.... yell at them. The closest to death I have ever come was right there... at the bottom of Harvey Wall-banger.... next time you are there, check out the 4 or 5 large rocks that people like to sit on and change shoes. Kris and I were relaxing when those were deposited right their.... one landed about 5 feet to Kris' right and another smashed into my rope bag that I was using as a blanket.... I saw the rocks in the sky and rolled over off of the blanket!!!!! Another large rock smashed the Boom Box into about a 1,000,000 fragments. When I go there now..... I sit right up under the little cave at the bottom of that 5.7..... Good on you and the other climbers who helped the poor woman and her rescue. And props to the DWP for helping out. P.S. a helmet wouldn't have done jack squat..... think about it.
I think you mean the pub wall. Social platform is the area across the river from the pub wall and the descent into the gorge
Johnny Ink · · Portland · Joined Aug 2011 · Points: 245

Glad she's okay. Having come across many large holds ready to come loose within a few more pulls, when is it our responsibility to remove a loose rock off a climb?

Jimmy Downhillinthesnow · · Bozeman, Montana · Joined Mar 2013 · Points: 10

Scary. The ORG is really fun but the week I spent down there was interspersed with serious choss-wrangling.

Jan, thank you for helping out. I'm in the medical field and there's really no way to know what will happen without knowing specifics, but crush injuries can be devastating. Best of luck to the injured woman--and even if she does end up losing a foot, there's always Hugh Herr for inspiration!

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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