This was a fairly fun and interesting climb. Getting around the “crocodile's head” on the first pitch was a bit interesting, but not too difficult. Dianne had a little difficulty at each of the crux sections of this (the tricky slab climbing at the start, the crocodile's head, and the moves to gain the chimney on the second pitch). She managed to work her way through each of these cruxes, but it took her a few tries.

Trip Report:

(This is not so much a trip report as a report on my “findings” and speculations about an accident that occurred on this route about one year ago.)

While climbing this route, I was keeping in mind a serious accident that occurred on the second pitch of this climb last summer. Most of my information about this accident came from this thread. You can also find threads about this incident on and at least one other forum, but the SuperTopo thread seems to be by far the most informative. You can also find numerous newspaper articles and other media reports about this, but, as is almost always the case with climbing accidents, most of those are grossly inaccurate. To summarize the situation, the leader went about 20 feet up without finding any gear placements, placed a #1 Camalot, then fell out of the chimney just above it. The cam pulled, he fell directly onto his belayer and somehow ripped the whole anchor, then continued to fall basically all the way to the ground. Miraculously, his belayer, though knocked unconscious, remained on the ledge, and she only sustained relatively minor injuries. Perhaps even more miraculously, the leader survived the fall, and although he had a fractured spine and wasn't breathing when he was found, he was out of the hospital within a few days, and made a more or less complete recovery.

There was much speculation about what exactly happened in that accident, and it's one of those cases where we'll never know the exact details for certain. However, having climbed the route now, I think I can understand the details quite a bit better than before. For example, I can see how the belayer remained on the ledge after she was hit and knocked unconscious, because this ledge is a bit of an alcove, and the top of the “crocodile's head” sticks up on the outside of it. If one were sitting or lying down in this alcove, it would be nearly impossible to be pulled out of it.

Also, someone speculated in the thread linked above that the anchor may have pulled not from the force of a factor 2 fall, but rather from the leader falling directly onto the anchor, which would shock-load it to an extreme. Given the fact that the anchor consisted of a nut and a #3 Camalot connected with a cordalette, I would bet that the nut was placed in the thin crack on the right side of the ledge and the cam was placed somewhere on the left side of the ledge (the only place a #3 Camalot could possibly fit). With this configuration, it does seem feasible that the climber might have landed directly on the cordalette itself, or that the belayer could have been attached directly to the anchor when he fell on her.

But perhaps most significantly, it's also quite clear to me now that the number one factor in this accident was the lack of experience of the climbers (or at least the leader). There was much speculation about why they set such a minimal anchor, and why he ran out the first section of the second pitch so much. The most informed account of the incident implied that he didn't intend to run it out so much, but simply couldn't get any decent protection with the gear he had. I can definitively say now that the second pitch is not the least bit runout. I placed nothing but nuts on the entire pitch, and I placed three of them before the point at which he fell. All three of those nuts were pretty solid, and at least one of them was totally bomber and multi-directional: way better than textbook. I can also guess pretty well where he placed that #1 Camalot, because there was one place that I got a really solid hand jam just before pulling the (somewhat tricky) moves to enter the upper chimney. Given how good that hand jam was, it certainly was too wide for a #1 Camalot; it should have been a #2. I've seen many people with little leading experience place cams really tipped out, thinking that this is optimal.

Finally, the anchor configuration described above is clearly very poor, for a number of reasons. The cordalette would have had a huge angle in it, thus providing very lousy load distribution, and also causing a sideways pull on the nut and the cam. A significant sideways pull on a nut almost anywhere in the thin crack on the right side of the ledge would probably pull it out, and given that the #1 Camalot was probably badly tipped out, the #3 in the anchor may have been as well. My anchor consisted of three small pieces, all placed in the thin crack. (The specific pieces in my anchor were a nut, a blue alien, and a pink tricam; but even if the couple involved in the accident didn't have tricams and small cams, even if all they had was a single set of nuts and Camalots #1 - #3, they could have built a much better anchor using only nuts in that crack.)

In short, though I really hate to (literally) add insult to injury, those two are very lucky to be alive, but the biggest lesson to be learned from the accident is a well-known one: climbing gear is only as reliable as you make it. Simply having cams and nuts (and a rope and a belay device, etc.) does not make climbing safe. You have to know how to use them properly.