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Account of Stiffler's Accident


Original Post
Bryce Yaple · · Salt Lake City, UT · Joined Aug 2014 · Points: 52

I’ve been getting messages and questions regarding the accident and rescue on Stiffler’s Mom this Past Monday, June 11. With the permission from the climber’s wife, I thought I would offer my account as a learning opportunity in an effort to take away something positive from a bleak experience.
My partner, Tyler Davis, and I had been climbing in little cottonwood since 7 that morning. We were working our way up the canyon by bicycle, ticking off various multi pitch classics in a sufferfest-like, day-long challenge. We had completed the sasquatch variation of pentapitch and had started up Stiffler’s when we first saw the party wrapping up pitch four of the climb. I lead a link of pitches one and two, then turned over the lead to Tyler who lead pitches three and four, also linked. This placed him at the top of pitch four with me following up as the fall victim began the sixth pitch. I was moving through the bolted slab atop pitch three when I first heard screaming. It was about 1:10pm. 
My partner called down to me that he had just seen the party leader take a long fall over the roof and we needed to get up there fast. I rushed through the remainder of pitch 4 to meet Tyler at the belay. The victim’s wife was within earshot at this point and communicated that the leader was bleeding from his face and could not move but appeared to be breathing and conscious. I started up the pitch 5 variation, left of the direct line while Tyler belayed and contacted emergency services. When I reached the victim, he was hanging upside down from his line, one leg hooked around it and arms hanging with his face against the slab. Blood was pooling around his head and running down the rock. He had stopped fifteen to twenty feet below and ten to fifteen feet climber’s-left of the pitch six belay ledge. Still on lead, I continued to the belay where I fixed my line and descended with a grigri back to the victim. His wife, with her husband’s line tied off, belayed Tyler up while I began evaluating the situation.
The victim’s line was clipped into the second bolt of pitch 6 and a red camalot c3, attached with an unextended alpine draw, dangled at his knot. His helmet was heavily damaged and his face was still bleeding but the wounds did not appear to be threatening. Able to speak, he communicated with certainty that he had sustained some sort of neck or back injury and that any sort of movement was too excruciating to make on his own. This made it clear to me that a descent without proper stabilization and assistance was out of the question. While the position he was in was incredibly painful, Tyler and I initially made the difficult decision not to move him given the possible neck or spinal injury he had sustained. Tyler had now reached the belay ledge and was on the phone with search and rescue describing our location and the details of the situation. 
In his compromising position, the victim began frantically asking to be moved and expressed fear of losing consciousness. Under the direction of EMS over the phone, we told him that any movement risked additional neck and spinal damage, including paralysis. Despite this, him and his wife both eventually decided that his position was unendurable given the projected rescue ETA and requested that we attempt some sort of stabilization.
Tyler and I had begun planning and setting up a system to carefully bring the climber to a horizontal position when Andy Rich, after observing the situation, had made his way to the base of pitch 5 and informed us of his EMT experience. We quickly lowered a fixed line which he ascended to level of the victim. Andy and I then continued our devised procedure to carefully move the victim to a stable position while Tye returned to the ledge to relay info from EMS. I attached several slings with a prusik to the climbers line and adjusted them to support his legs once horizontal. Using a double length sling, we were able to secure a makeshift chest harness around the climber and attach it to my line. Once in position, we instructed the victim’s wife to begin slowly lowering her husband to align his hips and shoulders, resting him horizontally across our knees. We slowly brought his lower half down and rolled him facing upright, Andy supporting his neck while I worked to keep his back straight. While we did this a DPS helicopter appeared, hovered close, then retreated. Tye soon confirmed over the phone that a long line hoist attempt would be made and we were to keep the victim stable while a rescue crewman secured him in a body sling. 
About 15 minutes passed before the helicopter came into position over us and began lowering the crewman. We worked as carefully as possible to get the sling around the victim while minimizing the amount of neck and spine movement. Fitting it around him was difficult and tedious due to our precarious position against the wall and the clutter of gear still attached to his harness. Eventually, we were able to secure the victim in the sling and, after cutting him loose of our tethers, the DPS crewman signaled the heli to move up and away from the wall. 
From fall to extraction, Tyler and I estimate about an hour and thirty minutes passed. Based on Tyler’s account of the fall and the climber's observed position after the fall, it appears he fell at least 50 feet. Tyler observed the climber move past the second bolt of the pitch, place the red c3 and then venture above to easier terrain before appearing to lose his balance and fall backward. Tyler says that he attempted to outrun the slack but as he fell past the lip of the roof, became inverted either by snagging his feet on the rope or his feet catching on the stone.
I hope that this account answers some questions and clears up any confusion around what happened. More so, I hope that it can serve as educational material to hopefully prevent future, similar accidents from happening. I don’t want to divulge any private information about the climber’s current status but I will point out that the his wife reported in another thread that “He broke 5 vertebrae in his neck & 5 in his thoracic. The thoracic injury is minor while the neck will require a brace, but no surgery.” A full recovery is expected.

Suburban Roadside · · Abovetraffic on Hudson · Joined Apr 2014 · Points: 1,464
Bryce Yaple wrote up his account: I just broke it up, a non-edit, for readability


 I’ve been getting messages and questions regarding the accident and rescue on Stiffler’s Mom this Past Monday, June 11.

 With the permission from the climber’s wife, I thought I would offer my account as a learning opportunity in an effort to take away something positive from a bleak experience.
My partner, Tyler Davis, and I had been climbing in little cottonwood since 7 that morning.

We were working our way up the canyon by bicycle, ticking off various multi pitch classics in a sufferfest-like, day-long challenge.
 We had completed the sasquatch variation of pentapitch and had started up Stiffler’s when we first saw the party wrapping up pitch four of the climb.

 I lead a link of pitches one and two,
 then turned over the lead to Tyler who lead pitches three and four, also linked.
This placed him at the top of pitch four with me following up as the fall victim began the sixth pitch.
 I was moving through the bolted slab atop pitch three when I first heard screaming. It was about 1:10pm.

`

 
My partner called down to me that he had just seen the party leader take a long fall over the roof and we needed to get up there fast.
I rushed through the remainder of pitch 4 to meet Tyler at the belay.

`

The victim’s wife was within earshot at this point and communicated that the leader was bleeding from his face and could not move but appeared to be breathing and conscious.
 I started up the pitch 5 variation, left of the direct line while Tyler belayed and contacted emergency services.

`
 When I reached the victim, he was hanging upside down from his line, one leg hooked around it and arms hanging with his face against the slab.
 Blood was pooling around his head and running down the rock.
 He had stopped fifteen to twenty feet below and ten to fifteen feet climber’s-left of the pitch six belay ledge.

 Still on lead, I continued to the belay where I fixed my line and descended with a grigri back to the victim.
 His wife, with her husband’s line tied off, belayed Tyler up while I began evaluating the situation.

`The victim’s line was clipped into the second bolt of pitch 6 and a red camalot c3, attached with an unextended alpine draw, dangled at his knot.
His helmet was heavily damaged and his face was still bleeding but the wounds did not appear to be threatening.

`Able to speak, he communicated with certainty that he had sustained some sort of neck or back injury
and that any sort of movement was too excruciating to make on his own.

This made it clear to me that a descent without proper stabilization and assistance was out of the question.

 While the position he was in was incredibly painful,

`Tyler and I initially made the difficult decision not to move him given the possible neck or spinal injury he had sustained.
 Tyler had now reached the belay ledge and was on the phone with search and rescue describing our location and the details of the situation.

In his compromising position, the victim began frantically asking to be moved and expressed fear of losing consciousness.

 Under the direction of EMS over the phone,
we told him that any movement risked additional neck and spinal damage, including paralysis.
Despite this
, him and his wife both eventually decided that his position was unendurable given the projected rescue ETA
and requested that we attempt some sort of stabilization.

Tyler and I had begun planning and setting up a system to carefully bring the climber to a horizontal position when Andy Rich,
after observing the situation, had made his way to the base of pitch 5
and informed us of his EMT experience.

`
 We quickly lowered a fixed line which he ascended to level of the victim.
Andy and I then continued our devised procedure to carefully move the victim to a stable position
while Tye returned to the ledge to relay info from EMS.

 I attached several slings with a prusik to the climbers line and adjusted them to support his legs once horizontal. Using a double length sling,
 we were able to secure a makeshift chest harness around the climber and attach it to my line. Once in position, we instructed the victim’s
 wife to begin slowly lowering her husband to align his hips and shoulders, resting him horizontally across our knees.
 We slowly brought his lower half down and rolled him facing upright,

Andy supporting his neck while I worked to keep his back straight. While we did this a DPS helicopter appeared, hovered close, then retreated.
 Tye soon confirmed over the phone that a long line hoist attempt would be made and we were to keep the victim stable while
 a rescue crewman secured him in a body sling.

About 15 minutes passed before the helicopter came into position over us and began lowering the crewman.
We worked as carefully as possible to get the sling around the victim while minimizing the amount of neck and spine movement.
Fitting it around him was difficult and tedious due to our precarious position against the wall and the clutter of gear still attached to his harness.

`
 Eventually, we were able to secure the victim in the sling and, after cutting him loose of our tethers,

` the DPS crewman signaled the heli to move up and away from the wall.
From fall to extraction, Tyler and I estimate about an hour and thirty minutes passed.

`
 Based on Tyler’s account of the fall and the climber's observed position after the fall,
 it appears he fell at least 50 feet.

 Tyler observed the climber move past the second bolt of the pitch, place the red c3 and then venture above to easier terrain
before appearing to lose his balance and fall backward.

`Tyler says that he attempted to outrun the slack but as he fell past the lip of the roof, became inverted either by snagging his feet on the rope or his feet catching on the stone.

`

I hope that this account answers some questions and clears up any confusion around what happened.

`
 More so, I hope that it can serve as educational material to hopefully prevent future, similar accidents from happening.

`
 I don’t want to divulge any private information about the climber’s current status

`
 but I will point out that the his wife reported in another thread that “He broke 5 vertebrae in his neck & 5 in his thoracic.
`

The thoracic injury is minor while the neck will require a brace, but no surgery.” A full recovery is expected.


Bill Lawry · · New Mexico · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 1,615

Bryce:  

Those are challenging circumstances in which to deal.

A friend of mine was dropped from about 35 feet and sustained like injuries, and initially was on his side and curled up a bit into a ball.  Someone with extensive WFR training knelt just behind him to keep him from rolling onto his back, despite his protests about wanting to.  Eventually, medical professionals arrived and took it from there - probably only about a half hour after the fall as this was at a climbing gym.

But in your case and from your account, working through and arriving at the decision to carefully move him sounds like the thing to have done.  Thanks for posting up some details for all of us to consider.

Brian in SLC · · Sandy, Utah · Joined Oct 2003 · Points: 14,421

Wow...that's a heckuva deal.  Good on you guys for pitching in and working this out.  Amazing.

Best of luck to the climber too.

Andrew Gram · · Salt Lake City, UT · Joined Jan 2001 · Points: 3,580

Wow.  Sounds like you did an incredible job in a really stressful situation.  Best wishes for a speedy recovery for the victim.

Caz Drach · · Sugarhouse, UT · Joined Jun 2013 · Points: 310

You guys rock! The victim is certainly lucky to have had you guys there when things went down.

Good luck and a speedy recovery to the victim

Ocalslay Onlyyay · · Not That Into Climbing · Joined Jan 2012 · Points: 1,160

If I get into some trouble, I hope I get the same care.  Sounds like you did right by this poor guy.

Deirdre · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jun 2016 · Points: 10

Thanks for doing such an amazing job under great stress. Make sure that you take care of yourself. Secondary trauma is definitely a thing and it can sneak up in you.

Ryan202 · · West Jordan, UT · Joined Dec 2011 · Points: 130

Very well executed. You and the others' knowledge of some basic rope skills most definitely made a difference in this rescue and saved a lot of time.

Every decision you made and action you guys took was absolutely the best ones. The decision to stabilize in place was the best thing to do for his care, and would get him out faster than trying to get him down on your own. Ultimately, DPS was able to get him out which is much more "comfortable" for him, rather than spending a couple hours being moved around while getting lowered without a litter/stretcher.

In these situations, moving the patient is required in order to place them in a position for extraction; horizontally (supine - on their back) to get them in a litter or body sling for a hoist. There is some added risk by moving them, but getting them out as quickly as possible and to medical care is the best thing you can do for their care.

Greatly appreciate the work you all did.

Peter Lenz · · Salt Lake City · Joined May 2008 · Points: 619

Nice job! I can’t imagine anyone doing it better!
I hope you guys are there if I ever need a rescue.
Peter Lenz, MD (recently retired ER doctor.)

Mike Marmar · · Salt Lake City, UT · Joined Aug 2013 · Points: 67

Hey everyone, now that I'm out of the hospital I wanted to give an update and my own account of the whole ordeal.

On Monday my wife and I went out for a casual day to climb some classics and enjoy the nice weather. Sasquatch was occupied, so we headed up for a lap on stiffler's, which we have climbed several times. Finding the route empty we cruised up, linking pitches and having a good time. My wife and I noted that the route seemed a bit dirtier than usual, probably from runoff.

I climbed through the 6th pitch crux roof feeling good. I clipped the bolt over the roof and worked my way up the thin (but relatively easy) corner above, thinking mostly about what a good route it was, admittedly not paying very close attention to the climbing in front of me. I noticed that the pin that used to be about halfway up the corner was no longer there. In it's place, I plugged a red C3, gave it a tug, and visually verified good contact on all the lobes. I climbed on for a few more feet, then stopped at a stance to look for my next move with the C3 just below my feet.

The fall happened extremely fast. Even though I remained conscious the whole time, I still don't know exactly why I slipped. I tried to run backwards down the slab, but tripped over something, maybe the roof or the rope. I flew over the roof and landed on the slab below the roof facing downward, face first on my right shoulder. My head whiplashed against the rock and I slid another few feet before the rope caught me. In total the fall was roughly 30-35ft. I was about 6ft above the C3 (which popped) and the bolt that caught me was another 8ft below that.

I came to rest hanging upside down with the right side of my face on the slab. I knew immediately that it was bad. I could not command my diaphragm to move for nearly 10 seconds. Suddenly I was able to take shallow breaths and I screamed up to my wife that I was alive but needed help. She tried to lower me to a ledge about 20ft below me, but stopped when I realized that I could not control my body at all and I probably injured my spine. At that point she tied me off and focused on keeping me still while coordinating to get me off the wall.

Bryce and Tyler happened to be climbing below us and witnessed the event. Andy also saw the fall from a route just up-canyon and immediately rappelled and ascended to me. The next hour or so was a bit of a blur for me, as I was in extreme pain from hanging upside down for so long but Bryce gave a great account above. All I can say is that I was extremely lucky to have competent help so close. I was desperately screaming to be turned over, but everyone including my wife kept a cool head and acted conservatively to keep me from further injury. By the time the long line helicopter showed up, they had rigged up a system of slings and prussiks to turn me over with minimal risk to my spine. The extraction was very quick as a result.

At the hospital they determined that I had a slightly displaced C2 fracture and a non-displaced C3 fracture with no direct damage to the spinal cord. I did not need surgery, but I will be wearing a neck brace for up to 3 months. There are some other minor fractures in my T spine, but they don't require bracing. I didn't sustain any brain injury, not even a concussion. I have central cord syndrome, probably from hyperextension of the spinal cord during impact. My legs are fine, but I have poor control and weakness in my arms and hands, especially my left side. They expect that I will make a full recovery with PT and OT. Considering the location of the fractures, I am lucky not to be paralyzed or dead.

I have obviously been thinking a lot about the accident over the last week and have tried to take some important lessons from it.

  • My helmet has a huge dent in it on the front-right side where I impacted. If I had not been wearing it, I might be a vegetable right now.
  • Always be aware of the fall risk/consequences. I let my guard down on an easy section and failed to consider the danger posed by the roof below. I knew that the rock was a bit junky and that a piece was unreliable in the crack, and I should have doubled up on gear. Instead I assumed that I would not fall and climbed on without the level of focus that should accompany no-fall terrain.
  • Climbing roadside in the wasatch is very different than climbing in the backcountry. My wife and I like to climb long moderate alpine routes, and I am now keenly aware of the fact that a rescue in that environment is a whole different beast. This was basically the best possible scenario for rescue, and it still took about 2 hours. 
Assuming my motor control comes back to normal, I will climb again and I intend to continue to lead. I will do so with an especially enhanced awareness of the risks we take in this sport.

Again, I want to give a huge huge thanks to everyone involved. My wife, Bryce, Tyler, Andy, and the badass long line guy whose name I didn't get. DPS, Life Flight, and the many doctors and nurses at intermountain all did an amazing job as well. I also want to thank all of my friends who came out to see me at the hospital and brought me chocolate and coffee and stoke.

I will post some potentially interesting photos of gear and stuff when I get a chance over the next few days. 
Suburban Roadside · · Abovetraffic on Hudson · Joined Apr 2014 · Points: 1,464

wow!

Suburban Roadside · · Abovetraffic on Hudson · Joined Apr 2014 · Points: 1,464
Mike Marmar wrote: Hey everyone, now that I'm out of the hospital I wanted to give an update and my own account of the whole ordeal.

On Monday my wife and I went out for a casual day to climb some classics and enjoy the nice weather. Sasquatch was occupied, so we headed up for a lap on stiffler's, which we have climbed several times. Finding the route empty we cruised up, linking pitches and having a good time. My wife and I noted that the route seemed a bit dirtier than usual, probably from runoff.

I climbed through the 6th pitch crux roof feeling good. I clipped the bolt over the roof and worked my way up the thin (but relatively easy) corner above, thinking mostly about what a good route it was, admittedly not paying very close attention to the climbing in front of me. I noticed that the pin that used to be about halfway up the corner was no longer there. In it's place, I plugged a red C3, gave it a tug, and visually verified good contact on all the lobes. I climbed on for a few more feet, then stopped at a stance to look for my next move with the C3 just below my feet.

The fall happened extremely fast. Even though I remained conscious the whole time, I still don't know exactly why I slipped. I tried to run backwards down the slab, but tripped over something, maybe the roof or the rope. I flew over the roof and landed on the slab below the roof facing downward, face first on my right shoulder. My head whiplashed against the rock and I slid another few feet before the rope caught me. In total the fall was roughly 30-35ft. I was about 6ft above the C3 (which popped) and the bolt that caught me was another 8ft below that.

I came to rest hanging upside down with the right side of my face on the slab. I knew immediately that it was bad. I could not command my diaphragm to move for nearly 10 seconds. Suddenly I was able to take shallow breaths and I screamed up to my wife that I was alive but needed help. She tried to lower me to a ledge about 20ft below me, but stopped when I realized that I could not control my body at all and I probably injured my spine. At that point she tied me off and focused on keeping me still while coordinating to get me off the wall.

Bryce and Tyler happened to be climbing below us and witnessed the event. Andy also saw the fall from a route just up-canyon and immediately rappelled and ascended to me. The next hour or so was a bit of a blur for me, as I was in extreme pain from hanging upside down for so long but Bryce gave a great account above. All I can say is that I was extremely lucky to have competent help so close. I was desperately screaming to be turned over, but everyone including my wife kept a cool head and acted conservatively to keep me from further injury. By the time the long line helicopter showed up, they had rigged up a system of slings and prussiks to turn me over with minimal risk to my spine. The extraction was very quick as a result.

At the hospital they determined that I had a slightly displaced C2 fracture and a non-displaced C3 fracture with no direct damage to the spinal cord. I did not need surgery, but I will be wearing a neck brace for up to 3 months. There are some other minor fractures in my T spine, but they don't require bracing. I didn't sustain any brain injury, not even a concussion. I have central cord syndrome, probably from hyperextension of the spinal cord during impact. My legs are fine, but I have poor control and weakness in my arms and hands, especially my left side. They expect that I will make a full recovery with PT and OT. Considering the location of the fractures, I am lucky not to be paralyzed or dead.

I have obviously been thinking a lot about the accident over the last week and have tried to take some important lessons from it.
  • My helmet has a huge dent in it on the front-right side where I impacted. If I had not been wearing it, I might be a vegetable right now.
  • Always be aware of the fall risk/consequences. I let my guard down on an easy section and failed to consider the danger posed by the roof below. I knew that the rock was a bit junky and that a piece was unreliable in the crack, and I should have doubled up on gear. Instead I assumed that I would not fall and climbed on without the level of focus that should accompany no-fall terrain.
  • Climbing roadside in the wasatch is very different than climbing in the backcountry. My wife and I like to climb long moderate alpine routes, and I am now keenly aware of the fact that a rescue in that environment is a whole different beast. This was basically the best possible scenario for rescue, and it still took about 2 hours. 
Assuming my motor control comes back to normal, I will climb again and I intend to continue to lead. I will do so with an especially enhanced awareness of the risks we take in this sport.

Again, I want to give a huge huge thanks to everyone involved. My wife, Bryce, Tyler, Andy, and the badass long line guy whose name I didn't get. DPS, Life Flight, and the many doctors and nurses at intermountain all did an amazing job as well. I also want to thank all of my friends who came out to see me at the hospital and brought me chocolate and coffee and stoke.

I will post some potentially interesting photos of gear and stuff when I get a chance over the next few days. 


Ocalslay Onlyyay · · Not That Into Climbing · Joined Jan 2012 · Points: 1,160

This is such a quality thread - glad you are okay boss

Peter Lewis · · Bridgton, Maine · Joined Oct 2009 · Points: 160

Great job everyone! Getting the details from the rescuers and the climber is very helpful, and we can all learn from this. I work in the wilderness medicine industry, and I tip my hat to the responders: well done, indeed! And the outcome seems very hopeful. Get back on the sharp end soon, Mike!

A-K · · Denver, CO currently · Joined Aug 2014 · Points: 0

Thank you for sharing. It is a terrible reminder of the risk we as climbers consistently expose ourselves too. 

Nick Sweeney · · Spokane, WA · Joined Jun 2013 · Points: 661

Great job Bryce, and best wishes to Mike! All things considered, this was a good outcome. 

BrokenChairs BrettC · · Sultan, WA · Joined Feb 2015 · Points: 235

Best wishes on your recovery Mike. Glad you and Rox got to tick off some Valley classics before!!  

RKM · · Alpine, Utah and Almo, Idaho · Joined Mar 2007 · Points: 1,440

All the best to you Marmar and Rox, hope to see you back in action soon.  Thanks for your detailed explanations.

BryanE · · Minneapolis, MN · Joined Apr 2015 · Points: 346

Wow, what a write up from both the first responder and the injured party. Thanks for sharing your tale. Best wishes for a speedy recovery!

SethG · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2009 · Points: 250

Great analysis. Thank you for writing it. I wish you the best of luck and a speedy recovery.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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