• Climber Dies in Fall From El Cap's East Ledges
  • Fatal Unroped Fall On Easy Terrain - Bear Creek Spire, California
  • Simul-Rappel Goes Tragically Wrong - Reed’s Pinnacle, Yosemite
  • Dropped Haulbag Strikes Climber in Yosemite
  • Rappel Knot Fails, Climber Falls to Death on the Goat Wall
  • Climber Loses Finger Tips in Crack
  • Climber Grabs Draw, Skins Finger
  • Gear Pulls, Climber Decks at Indian Creek
  • Climber Dropped at Instructional Clinic
  • 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
  • Man Survives Fifty-Foot Ground Fall
  • Bolt Breaks, Climber Falls to Death
  • 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
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    Bolt Pulls Out in the New River Gorge


    Although not the route the accident occurred on, the one shown here, also at the New River Gorge, has bolts straight up in a horizontal ceiling. While a properly placed bolt in good sandstone can hold up to two tons in a straight-out pull, an improperly placed bolt can fail.On June 23 two groups from area gyms were climbing at crags along the Meadow River in the New River Gorge, West Virginia. Instructors from the gyms were guiding the climbers and both groups were overseen by an AMGA-certified rock-climbing instructor. At approximately 5 p.m., while the rest of the group was packing up to leave, one of the gym instructors, Arian Bates, decided to lead one more route.

    He chose a sport route at the Rehab Crag that was red-tagged, indicating that the line had not yet been redpointed. But, having heard, incorrectly, that the line was an open project, he decided to try it.

    The climb was about 55 feet tall and followed a steep 5.12 slab for five bolts to a horizontal six- to eight-foot 5.10 roof. The roof had two bolts, with another just over the lip. These three bolts and the two-bolt anchor had in-situ quickdraws. When the AMGA guide questioned Bates about his ability to climb the roof, Bates said that he would lower off a fixed quickdraw if he had trouble.

    Bates set off and completed the slab, but fell at the first bolt in the roof. He hung for about five minutes, then decided to bail. As he lowered from the first bolt in the roof, he cleaned his draws off the lower bolts. At the second bolt off the ground, Bates swung onto a small ledge, unweighted the rope and unclipped the draw. When he re-weighted the rope, the bolt in the roof pulled out. Bates fell 10 feet to the ground and fractured his tibia.


    Properly placed bolts of the appropriate length and diameter do not pull out of solid stone. Nuttall sandstone, the type of rock found in the New River Gorge, is especially solid. The bolt that pulled out was a 2.5-inch by 3/8-inch stainless-steel wedge anchor. Bolts of this type in solid rock have a rated pull-out strength of around 3,500 pounds. Bates dynamically weighted the rope when he stepped off the ledge, but forces generated on the bolt could not have reached anywhere near the rated pull-out strength. Therefore, it’s reasonable to assume that the bolt was improperly placed or defective.

    Inspection of the bolt revealed damaged threads on the shaft and that the nut was fixed (unable to spin). Further, the expansion collar on the bolt was not fully engaged. Finally, there were hammer marks on the shaft, nut and hanger. One possibility for the marks, thread damage and subsequent failure is that the hole diameter was too small (perhaps a metric bit was used).

    The AMGA instructor and a local climber returned after the accident and rappelled the route, inspected the bolts and attempted to remove the hangers. All the bolts appeared solid, yet when the local climber tried to wrench off the nuts, the studs spun in the hole, preventing him from removing the hangers. Clearly, something was wrong with all the bolts, though it is impossible to diagnose the exact problem.

    According to local Dan Brayack, the route was his project. When he bolted it on aid, the bolt in the roof didn't drill properly and it didn't tighten down. With his drill battery shot, Brayack redtagged the line to keep people off it until he could return to replace the bolt.


    In any anchoring scenario—even using provisional anchors to bail midway up a route—you must have two independent protection points, preferably equalized. In this case, Bates could have left a carabiner clipped to the last bolt in the slab and backed it up with a long sling fixed to the other bolt in the roof. This should have prevented the accident.

    It could also have been prevented had the bad bolt been promptly replaced.

    Finally, view all fixed gear—bolts, pins, chain, quickdraws—as suspect. As discussed in a recent article [Cliff Notes, No. 197], accidents involving fixed gear are on the increase. Most of us, like Bates, put our faith in fixed gear all of the time, but we’re beginning to see the folly in that blind trust. Take responsibility for your own safety by using your own gear when possible, and by backing up fixed gear. 

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