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Accident Prevention

Bolt Breaks, Climber Falls to Death

On March 13, 2015, Scott Sederstrom, 44, a nurse in Mammoth, California, and longtime fixture on the East Side outdoor scene, failed to return home after a day of climbing at the Owens River Gorge. That night, Sederstrom’s fiancée, Suzanne DeBonno, became concerned and drove to the Lower Gorge parking lot, where she found his van and dog, Yogi...

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Climbers on the two-pitch Superfly (5.10c), put up in 1997. The Gorge has great climbing, but some routes have old—and possibly dangerous—hardware.On March 13, 2015, Scott
Sederstrom, 44, a nurse in Mammoth, California, and longtime fixture on the East Side outdoor scene, failed to return home after a day of climbing
at the Owens River Gorge. That night, Sederstrom’s fiancée, Suzanne DeBonno, became concerned and drove to the Lower Gorge parking lot, where she found
his van and dog, Yogi. Shortly after midnight, DeBonno called the Inyo County Sheriff’s Department. A deputy and a Fish and Game officer were unable
to locate Sederstrom, and at 6:30 a.m. called in the Inyo County Search and Rescue. An hour later, a friend who had joined the search discovered Sederstrom’s
body at the base of Life in Electric Larvae Land (5.10b).


ANALYSIS

According to Frank Klein, a member of the Inyo County SAR who investigated the scene, Sederstrom was found on the ground, with a stick
clip attached to his harness (holstered through a gear loop) and an eight-foot loop of slack between the tie-in point and a threaded GriGri clipped
to his belay loop. A quickdraw was clipped through the loop of rope, with a bolt hanger (no bolt) on the outer carabiner of the draw. The third bolt
of the route was missing.

It appears that Sederstrom was stick clipping his way up the climb, going from bolt to bolt, unclipping the bolt below him as he went, when the third bolt
failed. Sederstrom fell 25 to 30 feet to the ground and suffered trauma to his head. He was not wearing a helmet.

A Mini Traxion, a device commonly used for toprope soloing, was sitting on Sederstrom’s pack. Friends have speculated that he was clipping up the route
in order to set up a rope for soloing.


PREVENTION

Much discussion on climbing forums has focusedon the bolt, a 5/16ths, split-shafted Rawl buttonhead.
According to climbers involved in bolt replacement, these bolts commonly crack in the middle, creating “time bombs.” Investigators found the bolt that
failed on Sederstrom and indeed it had cracked in the middle. A heads-up to all climbers: These buttonhead bolts should not be installed or trusted.
Use bolts with a diameter of at least 3/8ths in compact rock like granite, and ½-inch in softer stone.

Yet, despite the alarming fact that a bolt apparently broke under body weight, this accident could likely still have been prevented had Sederstrom followed
the basic safe-climbing tenet of redundancy. Never trust your life to a single piece of gear.

Standard protocol for lead rope soloing includes a belay. For example, the rope is anchored at ground level and you self-belay, feeding out slack and clipping
each piece while progressing up the climb. In the case of a fall or gear failure, the piece below will act as a backup. If Sederstrom had used this
method, it is probable, given the location of the second and third bolts, that the second bolt would have caught him before he struck the ground.

Finally, it’s possible that Sederstrom would have survived his fall had he been wearing a helmet. One of the members of the Inyo County SAR team who found
Sederstrom confirmed that, “the main injury was in an area that would have been covered by a helmet.” Of course, without access to an autopsy report,
we can’t confirm that the head injury was the cause of death.

This article was published in Rock and Ice 227 (July 2015).