Leader Fall Fatality - Tourist Trap

William Ayers (age 22) took a 25' leader fall on a "fairly easy" route near the "Moses Spring trail head". He struck his head below the helmet. He lost consciousness during the evacuation (7/22) and was pronounced brain dead on 7/26 at the hospital, where he is an organ donor.

The NPS Morning Report, 7/25/00 cited the "Tourist Trap route" [sic] and said he was found on a ledge, after falling 20'. The evacuation involved lowering him 25' to the ground.

Neal Labrie, Pinnacles climbing ranger, provided some more details on the accident. The climber was leading the upper part of Thrill Hammer, but had traversed right to the upper part of the Nipple Jam crack. He placed a piece of protection in this crack, but it pulled out when he fell onto it. The next protection was a bolt, which was not high enough to stop him from hitting the ledge.

San Jose Mercury News article.

NPS Morning Report article.

Analysis

My interpretation: the lesson seems clear that protection can easily fail in the soft rock of a Pinnacles crack. Expertise is required to judge the quality of crack protection, especially at Pinnacles. It is a very dangerous situation for an inexperienced leader. Beginning leaders would be better off doing their early crack leads on granite, where the rock is generally harder and protection is more secure.