• Euro-Death Knot (Flat Figure-8) Mysteriously Fails
  • Mark Davis Dies in Tragic Rappelling Accident at Indian Creek
  • Climber Dies In Fall From Moonlight Buttress, Zion
  • Ice Climber Falls 100 Feet in Banff National Park
  • Ice Climber Falls 100 Feet on Screw and Climaxe
  • Diablo Canyon Climber Dies in 170-foot Fall
  • Climber Breaks Ankle and Back After Fall in the Palisades, California
  • Rockfall Knocks Out Belayer, She Never Lets Go
  • North Carolina Climber Dies in 50-foot Fall
  • Lightning Strikes Twice - Rockfall on the Cassin, Cima Piccolissima
  • Climber Dropped When Lowered in Autoblock Mode
  • Climber Dies in a Fall at Dishman Hills, Washington
  • Climber Falls 200 Feet on the Nose
  • Danger Zones: The Nose - Accidents On El Cap's Most Popular Route
  • Rappelling Accident Leaves Climber Shattered
  • Gunks Climber Raps Off End of Rope
  • Inattentive Spot Leads to Broken Arm
  • My Helmet Saved My Life - Short Story Series
  • Man Survives Fifty-Foot Ground Fall
  • Bolt Breaks, Climber Falls to Death
  • Earthquake, Avalanche, 21 Dead on Everest, Over 4,600 in Nepal
  • Climber Falls to Death, Apparent Bolt Failure
  • Tragedy on Infinite Bliss - Rappelling Claims Climber
  • Gear Rips, Leading Climber Critical
  • Impaled by a Quickdraw
  • Two Carabiners Break on Leaning Tower
  • Climber Fined For Obstructing Rescue
  • Climber Triggers Rockfall, Kills Two on El Cap
  • Gear Pulls: Grounder at White Rock, New Mexico
  • Death on Capitol Peak
  • Respected Climber Falls 50 Feet and Dies at Cathedral Ledge
  • NPS Chops Bolts: Man Dies Descending Forbidden Peak
  • Not Again: Eldo Climber Raps Off End Of Rope
  • Flake Breaks, Leader Falls, Hits Belayer
  • BUNGLED!: Autoblock Belay Device Misused
  • Fatal Gym Accident
  • Solo Ice Climber Dies in Fall
  • Three Killed in Cairngorms
  • Ice Climber Killed
  • Despite Warnings, Three Injured in Mount Washington Avalanche
  • Four Dead in Scottish Highlands
  • Bolt Pulls Out in the New River Gorge
  • Belayer Drops Climber 70 Feet to Ground
  • Rope Cuts, Climber Dies in Eldorado
  • Belayer Pulls Leader Off Ice Climb
  • Fifty-Footer Rips Three Screws
  • Rope Chopped by Carabiner
  • Climber Falls 140 Feet and Lives
  • Todd Skinner Killed on Leaning Tower Rappel
  • Climbing's Insidious Danger: Rockfall
  • Top Rope Slips Off
  • Rappel Knot Fails, Climber Falls 300 Feet to Death
  • Ice Cave Collapses, Kills Hari Berger
  • Climber Unclips From Anchor, Falls to Death
  • Counterweight Rappel Failure
  • Back Cleaning Results in 150-foot Fall
  • Climber Dies When Rappels Off End of Rope
  • Mouse Attacks
  • Hold Breaks, 60-foot Fall
  • Avalanche Kills Six In Alps
  • Autoblock Belay Failure Causes Fall
  • Rappel Swing Goes Awry, Climber Injured and Rescued
  • Ice Climber Falls Entire Pitch, Dies
  • Climber Comes Unclipped, Falls 140 Feet at Red Rocks
  • Ice climber rides Vail's famous Fang 100 feet when the pillar collapses
  • Two Bolt Hangers Break, Climber Falls
  • Nose-hooked Carabiner Breaks, Causing Ground Fall
  • Bowline Comes Untied, Climber Falls to Ground
  • Rope Burns Through Lowering Sling, Climber Falls to Ground
  • Gear Rips, Leader Hits Ledge
  • 600-foot Ice Climbing Fall
  • Ice Climber Unropes, Slips, Falls 60 Feet
  • Ice Climber Dislodges Ice, Belayer Hit and Seriously Injured
  • Belayer Drops Leader Due to Miscommunication
  • Climber Rappels Off Rope, Dies
  • Leader Rips 10 Pieces on El Cap, Falls 80 Feet
  • Leader Falls, Gear Rips, Belay Fails
  • Climbing Accident: Ice Climber Dislodges Ice, Belayer Hit and Seriously Injured


    Mike, 45, was about 25 feet from the top of Dracula (NEI 4), a famous 110-foot testpiece in New Hampshire, when he realized that something was wrong. The rope went tight, Mike said, and it stayed tight. He yelled down to his older brother Chris (who was out of sight) for slack, but he heard nothing. The rope was pulling him away from his firmly planted ice axes. Mike was able to downclimb until he was below his last screw, which alleviated some of the rope's tension. He clipped directly into that screw with a quickdraw and then drove in another screw, to which he also anchored. Secure, Mike was then able to see Chris and assess the situation. His brother had been knocked unconscious, presumably by ice that Mike dislodged while leading. Chris's limp body slumped over his passive belay device, which still held the rope. Chris, unconscious, had slid down the snowy stance beneath the climb, pulling the rope down with him.

    After yelling for help for 10 minutes, Mike gained the attention of two climbers who rushed over. One of them tended to Chris while the other took control of the rope and lowered Mike from his two-screw anchor. Chris was still unconscious. The back left side of his helmet was badly fractured and his head was bleeding heavily. While the two climbers waited with Chris, Mike rushed to the parking lot, about a mile away, to initiate a rescue. With no cellular reception, Mike knocked on the door of a private home near the trailhead. The residents graciously allowed him to phone an ambulance. Mike then retrieved a rescue litter cached at the trailhead, and returned to the accident scene. Hardly a quarter mile up, Mike met Chris, who had regained consciousness and was stumbling down with the support of the two climbers.

    Although he was able to walk out, Chris's injury was severe. An ambulance rushed him to Memorial Hospital in nearby North Conway, where he was diagnosed with a fractured skull. He was promptly transferred to Maine Medical Center in Portland, from which he was discharged on December 11, returning to his home in Lexington, Massachusetts. Chris is reportedly recovering slowly. As of press time, he had been admitted to a third hospital, Boston's Massachusetts General.


    Mike and Chris share over 40 years of collective experience. They have spent their adult lives climbing around New England and have taken on serious alpine endeavors such as a 1990 expedition to the Himalaya. Dracula was well within their ability levels and they were very familiar with the route. In fact, on the morning of the accident, Chris had successfully led Dracula. He'd found the cold ice to be brittle and prone to fracturing. Mike, his belayer, was keenly aware of the falling ice.

    After Chris led Dracula, he set a belay at a large tree on top of the flow, and Mike followed the pitch. While walking the descent trail, the brothers checked the conditions of other routes. Most were not in, and the few that were climbable were occupied. Nobody was on Dracula so the brothers decided to do another lap.

    During Mike's turn leading Dracula, he made sure Chris took advantage of a protected belay in a rock alcove at the base of the route, well away from the route's principle fall line. Despite the pair's sound decision making, Chris ultimately fell victim to a large chunk of ice that bounced, shattered and sent basketball-sized chunks toward him. While Chris had no control of the ice fall, he did have control over other factors, such as his choice of helmet.


    Rick Wilcox, president of the area's Mountain Rescue Service and owner of International Mountain Equipment, helped collect Chris' equipment the day of the accident. He observed that Chris' kevlar helmet, an outdated HB El Cap, had no foam liner. According to Wilcox, older helmets such as this one were built for strength and durability. While they may remain intact after multiple blows, hard helmets transfer the energy of a falling object directly to the skull. Over the past 10 years, Wilcox says, the philosophy behind climbing helmets has changed. Industry research such as that done by the International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation (UIAA) Safety Commission has favored foam-lined helmets that help absorb the energy of a falling object. These helmets protect the head in the same way that crumble-zones in modern automobiles protect passengers in car crashes.

    Wearing any helmet is always preferable to not wearing one, but a newer, foam helmet might have mitigated the severity of this injury.

    Reader's Commentary:

    Don't want to use Facebook, but still want to comment? We have you covered:

    Add Your Comments to this article: