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Utah, OSU Students - Inexperience, no helmets, off route

December 27, 1998

Note - The two climbers involved were from Oregon and were OSU students. L.E. had also been involved in an incident on Mt Rainier a year or two previous in which he and another student lost parts of their toes. Not only did these guys have a serious accident themselves but the anchor L.E. used to go and seek help was insufficient and ultimately endangered the lives of another climber who assisted and the rescue team members. V.G. was in a coma for quite some time but did ultimately recover. Whether the recovery was full is not known.

This is the report from the 1999 edition of
"Accidents in North American Mountaineering":


Utah, Zion National Park, Forbidden Wall

On December 27, V.G. (25) and L. E. (20) obtained a backcountry permit to climb Moonlight Buttress. Whether they couldn't find their intended route or changed their minds is unknown, but the two instead began an unnamed/un-known route on Forbidden Wall near the Temple of Sinawava. V.G. began by climbing a 200-foot pitch to a vegetated ledge. The two then hauled their bags and moved across the ledge to the base of their next pitch. V.G., the more experienced climber, began leading out on Leeper cam hooks. About 15 feet on the ledge, V.G. placed a cam, climbed another ten to fifteen feet and placed his second cam. About ten feet above his second cam, and again out on cam hooks, V.G. expressed concern to L. E. about his next hook placement, thinking it suspect. After several minutes of tinkering with the placement, V G. committed his weight to it and the hook blew. He fell more than 20 feet, flipping upside down and striking his head against the wall, losing consciousness. By tugging on the belay line, L.E. was able to reposition V.G. so that he leaned against the wall in a head-up orientation. L.E. then tied him off in place and escaped the belay to get help, using a second lead line tied off to a single cam anchor to rappel from. After scrambling down several hundred feet of scree and then talus, and then crossing the Virgin River, L.E. met another climber, G.A., on the canyon scenic drive. G.A. immediately drove to Zion Lodge and notified park dispatch of the incident while L.E. returned to the scene to assist V.G. Despite a very serious potential hazard, the Zion SAR team safely stabilized V.G., lowered him to the ground, and got him transported to the hospital where he remains in a coma as of this report.


Several factors come to light here. First, V.G. decided not to wear a helmet, while insisting the L.E. wear his, since he was the less experienced climber. Second, they were climbing an unknown route of undetermined difficulty. The established routes on Forbidden Wall are some of the hardest and least repeated in the park, some checking in at A4 and A5. The probable lack of sufficient gear likely contributed to the third factor: the question of why V.G. chose not to place reliable protection between the cam-hook he was on and the suspect hook that blew. Finally, L.E.'s failure to construct a safe rappel anchor was almost disastrous. After G.A. summoned help, he returned with L.E. to the belay ledge, ascending the fixed rope. Once Zion SAR team members arrived, G.A. rappelled the line to assist with rescue efforts. SAR team members then ascended the line. So at this point, the single cam anchor had been rappelled on twice and ascended on four times. Upon reaching the ledge, SAR Ranger K.H. checked the anchor for the other team members and found the nearly expanded single cam behind a fractured block!

(Source: From a report by Tony Thaler, SAR Ranger, Zion National Park.)

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