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Tahquitz accidents: common?
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By RJNakata
From SoCal
May 30, 2013

While most of my experience is from my time in NorCal and Washington, I'm newish to Tahquitz and have climbed three times in the last two years since moving here and it's an amazing crag. I've learned to respect the ratings and am starting with the LOW grades.

I've also been watching this SoCal forum and have seen three accidents there in the last two seasons:

1) Rockfall at Tahquitz (The Trough) Sat May 12 2012 a head injury due to spontaneous rockfall.
2) Tahquitz Rescue April 27, 2013: a fall on Fingergrip
3) Climber dies on Tahquitz May 17, 2013: a fatal accident that involved rappelling Vampire with "giant blocks" coming down with the victim.

There seem to be a few common themes here and for you Tahquitz regulars do think these accidents are unrelated anomalies, or is there a trend that should be from learned here? Are accidents frequent at Tahquitz or are these uncommon occurrences?

If at all possible I'd like to avoid being part of the next accident report...


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By BrentNorum
From Claremont, CA
May 31, 2013
Brent, Sam, and Ryan on Traitor Horn route, 5.8.

RJ,

I don't think these 3 accidents are related to a common trend. I've climbed many years at Tahquitz and Suicide, and spontaneous rock fall is uncommon, but hey, it happens.

Climbing behind other parties always puts you at risk from falling gear or rocks dislodged by folks above.

There are some loose blocks on some routes, got to be careful. Tahquitz and Suicide Rocks seem more crowded, esp. on the trade routes these days.

As climbing becomes more popular, with more climbers out there, accidents are bound to happen.

Last weekend, I shared a belay with another party on one of the Lark climbs--the leader had established a belay with one sling on a questionable block (I thought it sounded hollow and would have never trusted a belay on a single anchor, no matter how good, just too much to go wrong out there). The funny thing was that there were 2 bomber stopper placements near the block, but that leader missed them, or thought the block was good enough. These are judgement errors that can lead to bad things happening.

Got to keep your wits about you, place good pro, even on easy terrain to avoid the long fall, be the first on the route to reduce chances of climber-induced rockfall! Be extra careful on raps! Double-check everything. I personally try to avoid repelling if I can walk off.

Be safe out there.


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By Ryan Strickland
From Idyllwild, CA
May 31, 2013

What that guy said ^^

Also try to think of Tahquitz as an alpine climbing area that just happens to have incredibly easy access. It's a big rock in a geologically active area that sees a wild array of temperatures with thousands of climbers ascending it each year.

As somebody who has lived in Idyllwild for a few years, believe me that the vast majority of accidents are USER ERROR. Not placing pro, bad pro, rappelling accidents, etc. Rockfall is somewhat common, but rarely hurts anybody because the rock is so big.

Edit: Tahquitz is big and the likelihood of getting struck by a rockfall is slim.

Don't let reported accidents or the lack thereof affect how you assess you safety at a climbing area. Use good judgement always, accidents happen when you least expect it.


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By Thomas Beck
From Las Vegas, Nevada
May 31, 2013
beck on limestone

I climbed and guided there a number of years. I wouldn't worry too much about the recent accidents being recurring events. Though accidents happen. As someone posted operator error in many cases

One of my "rules" was not to follow parties on the longer trade routes. If the route had parties on it...go find another line


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By alleyehave
From San Diego, CA
May 31, 2013
Start of Pitch 3

I think its a number of things. The following is completely unrelated to the above mentioned accidents as I think they were all very different in their own right and don't necessarily apply to my theory.

However; due to its close proximity to two large major cities, I think it attracts a plethora of new/inexperienced people. There is nothing wrong with this, and there are several routes on both rocks that suit a fledgling climber trying to cut their teeth on multipitch trad routes.

With that being said, I also think there has been a lack of respect with the process. I've seen it first hand, several times. 5.11/12 sport climber buys first rack, usually inadequate for a new leader on a multipitch climb. Scopes fingertrip, sees that it's rated 5.7, multi-star, and turns a nice day into an epic. I've also heard numerous times with folks at Lunch Ledge talking about how hard the lieback on Fingertip Traverse(5.3) is, or how hard the first pitch on Angel's Fright felt. And this once came from a couple of climbers who frequent the Gunks.

The other theory I have, is that people don't take Tahquitz/Suicide for what they are. Just because Idyllwild is two hours from San Diego or Los Angeles, has relatively temperate weather most of the year. It is considered, and should be treated as an alpine area. Complete with constantly changing routes, spontaneous rock fall, fast approaching storms, etc.

Given the innumerable variables that are present at all times with climbing in Idyllwild, coupled with the large amount of traffic it sees. Increasingly so recently as the 'sport' grows. The rate at which accidents occur has and will continue to rise.


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By RJNakata
From SoCal
Jun 1, 2013

Thanks all.
You might have caught the hint of "freaked out" in my original post that mostly comes from not knowing the long term history of the area. I was looking for some perspective (sounds like something from Ratatouille)

Not following other parties, and treating it like an alpine climb seem like some good guidelines.


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By RTM
Jun 2, 2013

I have been climbing in Socal for 25 years and it seems that Tahquitz has always had a reputation for rockfall. I recall being a beginner and hearing horror stories of peeps getting chopped in half by rockfall there.


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By Christian "crisco" Burrell
From PG, Utah
Jun 2, 2013
Our less than official sponsor!

There's elements of all the already mentioned points. Newb's are tempted by multi-pitch routes at very moderate ratings (where else can you find a 7 pitch 5.1 that is actually considered a classic?). But, the main reason (IMHO) is the proximity to major living centers. The climbing is incredible and it is relatively close to civilization, so it gets frequented by lots of climbers. I have seen days there where every route with three stars had lines on them. You could look up into the NW recess and see parties everywhere. The more climbers, the more opportunity for accidents.
Yosemite National Park has tons of accidents every Summer. Just look at the number of visitors. It's bound to happen. When a population increases, the number of negative events (of all types) will rise as well.
Don't let it deter you though. Tahquitz is incredible!!! Most of my favorite days have been while just wandering around on the North face linking whatever looked interesting regardless of actual route. Enjoy it for what it is.
Many of the legends of our sport learned their craft here. They have trekked the same trail, bent pennies on the same tree, sunk fingers into the same pin scars as you. Even without the history, you can usually wander around a corner and find total solitude in one of the greatest climbing spots in the world.


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By Souljah
From Northern NM
Jun 2, 2013
Can Tajo Slab. <br />Glenn Short down below.

We climbed Tahquitz/Suicide for 10 consecutive seasons early 80s through early 90s and I'm only aware of 1 fatality during that period: leader induced rockfall on Sahara Terror, 1983. Climbers didn't have access to internet websites like MP & ST where accidents are frequently reported within hours, so undoubtedly there were many non-fatal injuries and climber-assisted rescues that I wasn't privy to via the community grape vine.

We relied on the forensic analysis provided in the annual publication of "Accidents in North American Mountaineering," I highly recommend it.

As others have suggested here, always anticipate the unexpected, especially on multi-pitch terrain and early season Northern aspects.


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