March 20, 2010

A group of three climbers fell while simul-climbing upper pitches of Pinnacle Gully. It was a very busy Saturday in Huntington Ravine. Temperatures Friday were warm and sunny, and then overnight they stayed above the freezing mark. Saturday was also warm and sunny, so there was a significant amount of water running over the snow and ice in the gully. One party of two had climbed the first pitch and was preparing to rappel off due to the excessive water. Another party, including a local guide (KM) and his two clients had also climbed the first pitch but rather than contend with the water, the guide climbed out of the gully on the rock to the right. As this was going on the party of three was simul-climbing from the top of the first pitch (they had used traditional belays for the first pitch). DH was leading, TV was in the middle of the 60 meter rope, and GT was tied into the bottom end.

Between the top of the first pitch and the top of the climb, DH had 7 pieces of protection: one fixed piton, four ice screws, a V-thread left by another party, and an ice axe deeply sunk and tied off. Just as DH was about to exit the gully, he felt the slack in the rope tighten up. After waiting a moment and not getting more slack to move upward, he stepped down a bit into a good stance to give slack to the climbers below him. At this time, TV had ascended to the second ice screw; GT had passed and unclipped the piton and V-thread but had not yet arrived at the first screw. As she was at the second screw and after unclipping it, TV began to have problems with her crampon falling off. She commented afterward that she didn’t really know what to do and probably should have clipped directly into the screw or even reclipped the rope. After a couple minutes without much progress GT began to climb up to assist her. This created a lot of slack between the bottom two climbers. TV eventually fell, pulling DH out of his stance near the top of the gully. He said that it happened very quickly so he didn’t really know what was happening. The ice tool and two screws above TV were ripped out of the ice, and the two climbers began falling simultaneously down the gully. The fall was stopped by a single 10cm ice screw that was between GT and TV. Had this screwed pulled out as well, it is likely that all three climbers would have fallen over the first pitch, and possibly brought down other climbers with them.

According to the two clients of KM, DH fell down the left side of the gully and near the bottom hit the rocks, bouncing him across to the other side and missing them by only a few feet. The two came to rest near the top of the first pitch, having fallen approximately 300’ (DH) and 100’ (TV). Neither climber was seriously injured. KM quickly responded, assisting the entire group down off of the climb and stayed with them until out of the steep terrain in Huntington Ravine. Snow Rangers learned of the incident fro the HMC caretaker who had heard about it from someone else. The climbers were encountered descending the trail to Pinkham Notch. They were bruised and slightly bloody otherwise uninjured and they walked themselves to the bottom.