|By gregory huey
From Irvine, CA
May 13, 2012
Rockfall at The Trough/Tahquitz Sat May 12 2012 (uncertain of time - perhaps around 2pm)
Lukasz and I were climbing The Vampire at Tahquitz Saturday May 12 2012 when rockfall on
The Trough seriously injured two climbers. I heard it start, and looked to my right to watch
in horror as many pieces - some perhaps one to several cubic feet - rained down while several
parties tried frantically to take cover. A number of people were hit. In the aftermath
people called out to ask if everyone was ok. This was answered by several people yelling
no, someone was bleeding profusely from a head injury - please get help. We were on pitch
three of The Vampire - though we had a good view of what was happening, there was nothing
we could do in the short term. Climbers went up The Trough to help get the injured down.
Other people were telling them to apply direct pressure to stop the bleeding immediately.
Another person yelled down to say their partner's breathing was labored and 'gurgling'.
We heard sirens in the town, and later a chopper made about five visits, both inserting
and extracting people. We had planned to rap down The Trough to descend, but decided
now instead to walk off the friction descent. When we finally got back to vicinity of
the accident, all of the injured had been evacuated. We heard from one of the first-
responders still present that one person had a serious head injury, and another had a
serious chest injury. Both were in and out of consciousness during the rescue - but both
had strong vitals getting on the chopper he said, so most likely they would pull through.
Lukasz and I climbed up near The Trough to approach the start of The Vampire. Had the
rockfall happened earlier, it could have hit us. Lukasz actually saw the block start to
fall. Though he saw people in the vicinity, he said that he could not tell if anyone had
caused it to fall, or if it had simply fallen on its own. The gear and ropes that were
left on The Trough in the wake of the rescues was recovered by someone, though I did
not get their name (likely this person: www.mountainproject.com/v/gear-left-at-the-trough/107604767).
If anyone has more info - particularly concerning the fates of the injured - please post
it here. I'm really hoping to hear they are ok.
At the risk of stating the obvious, its worth making several points:
1) There is likely going to be loose rock on The Trough now. Lukasz pointed out to me that
such a significant rockfall will not only leave loose debris on a route, but loosen other rocks
that were previously stable. Parties should consider this in the near future before either
climbing or rapping on The Trough (even if no one else is on the route, a party rapping can
dislodge rocks upon themselves when pulling their rope).
2) The first-responder also told me in this season (cold - thawing - hot temperatures) large
rockfall like that is not uncommon.
3) The young lady that received the head injury was wearing a helmet. I think if she had
not been she likely would have been killed. A helmet is always a good idea when climbing
4) This happened with no warning. One moment it was a perfect sunny day for lots of happy
climbers - seconds later there was tragedy and climbers were yelling for help. There is no
way those climbers going into this - preparing for their climb on The Trough - could have
expected this as a reasonably likely outcome. Thus its wise for anyone climbing multipitch to
be prepared for something like this. Learn about self rescue, and what to do if your partner
is injured or knocked unconscious. Think about - and find out about - what one should do to
rescue one's self or others in such a situation. If you don't know what to do, you are not fully
prepared for your climb.
5) Wilderness First Aid courses - like the one offered by NOLS WMI - do help prepare for
a scenario like this, and require only about 16-20hrs.
6) When on a route, be _very_ careful around loose blocks/flakes. Accidentally dislodging
one could end the lives of people below.