These notorious rock climbing accidents are both riveting and inspirational. If any of our readers find themselves in a similar situation, we hope they will remember how other people kept going and made it to the top. Most rock climbing accidents happen unexpectedly, fast, and are over.
A stone is thrown, a piece is pulled, and a leg is broken. A rescue mission is launched. Few climbs result in actual survival situations, where agony and uncertainty last for days or even weeks. Many such instances become legendary stories due to their rarity and intrinsic drama. Others are kept secret, known only to family and friends.
But we also seek to inspire, because survival stories show the hidden strength that many of us possess. Several of the climbers mentioned here stated they took strength from Doug Scott’s dramatic descent down the Ogre while recounting their mishaps. And if any reader ever finds themselves in a similar situation, we hope they will remember how other people kept going and made it to the top. Moreover, you can find the best guide for rock climbing in Yosemite with complete information, from weather to daily expenses per person.
Colorado’s Eldorado Canyon, 1978
Coral Bowman, one of Colorado’s most powerful female climbers in the late 1970s, aspired to be the first all-female ascent of The Naked Edge, a five-pitch 5.11 in Eldorado Canyon. Bowman and Sue Giller ascended six pitches to the first belay of the Edge on September 12, 1978, following a 9mm rope for pulling a pack with sweaters and water.
They free-climbed the first two pitches of the Edge by taking turns leading, and Giller was in the middle of leading the third pitch when the rope became tangled below the ledge. She called for Giller to return to the ledge so Bowman could descend their single lead rope to free the locked haul line, then re-climb the second pitch on the top rope.
Bowman hurried the anchor set-up, frustrated by the delay, and neglected to reverse the gates of the two carabiners that fastened the rope to the anchor sling. The sling forced open the carabiners, and the rappel rope flew out as she leaned over the wall, topping pitch two. Bowman free-felled roughly 300 feet to the ground.
Time seemed to stand still. Bowman recalls gazing over her shoulder to the ground and envisioning worried friends around her. After falling approximately 20 feet and moving quickly, she stretched out and grasped the 9mm haul line with both hands. Even though the friction burned her hands, Bowman was able to slow down and eventually stop her fall.
She wrapped the free end of the haul rope over her leg to reduce the pressure, and as her hands stiffened into useless claws, she slid down to the anchor above the first pitch, inserting the narrow haul rope into the carabiner brake. Giller followed her and started lowering Bowman to the ground. Bowman was very scared, but Giller was glad he was still alive.
Annapurna, Nepal, 1992
Pierre Beghin and Jean-Christophe Lafaille intended to find a new route up Annapurna’s roughly two-mile-high south face. Lafaille, who was just 27 years old, was on his first Himalayan adventure. They fixed around 500 feet of rope and climbed alpine style the rest of the way. They were pushed into a standing bivouac on 70-degree ice in a blizzard at 24,000 feet after four days. They had just made it 600 feet before the storm forced them to turn around.
Beghin erected one anchor from a single cam to save gear for the long descent. The cam popped halfway down this rappel, and Beghin fell into the void, taking the ropes and all their apparatus with him. Lafaille was on his own at 23,500 feet, well over 6,000 feet above advanced base camp.
At first, he was too stunned to move, but he eventually continued to solo down mixed terrain that had angles ranging from 75 to 80 degrees. After 9 p.m., he finally made it down to the bivy area located 600 feet below. He stayed there all day the next day while the storm raged on. After another night, he started going down again. He had picked up 20 meters of 6mm cable that they had left at the bivy site.
He utilized lengths of tent poles for rappel anchors despite only having a single sling and two carabiners. Then Lafaille misplaced a crampon. He miraculously found the lost crampon in the soft snow two hours later.
He eventually reached their ropes and began descending for the supplies they had left at 21,650 feet. Then a flying boulder struck his right arm, fracturing both bones—and Lafaille was right-handed. It took him half an hour merely to ignite his stove in the morning.
He rested all day before returning to rappelling, this time using his good hand and teeth to rig the rappels. When pulling the ropes got too tough, he abandoned them and continued down climbing. He eventually limped into base camp.
Trango Tower, 1990, Pakistan
Even if nothing had gone wrong, Takeyasu Minamiura’s ascent would have been a monument to tenacity and perseverance. The 33-year-old climber spent 40 days soloing a new route on the northeast buttress of the 20,469-foot Trango Tower (commonly known as Nameless Tower)—a 30-pitch line that leads up to A4—while hauling hundreds of pounds of food, water, and equipment.
On September 9, he stood just below the peak, ready to make his most daring move yet: he tied a tiny parachute to the haul bags with all of his hardware, ropes, food, and bivouac gear and released them into the Dunge Glacier, 6,000 feet below. He then strapped himself onto a paraglider and prepared for his airborne drop.
The launch did not proceed as planned. Minamiura was turned upside down and plummeted almost immediately. The canopy gave way, and the Japanese climber plunged into nothingness. However, the chute that had failed him saved his life when it hooked on a boulder and stopped Minamiura’s plunge.
He only had a down jacket for warmth, but he still had his radio, so he contacted buddies who had just done their heroic climb on the nearby Great Trango while dangling in his harness from the paraglider rigging. The four Japanese at base camp proceeded to prepare for a rescue mission.
Minamiura spent the night with his feet dangling but managed to escape the rig and trek to a 16-inch-wide ledge the next morning. He’d be there for the next six days. Two of his companions hiked to a Pakistani army helicopter base and convinced the pilots to try to save him. As the Pakistanis’ Lama helicopter got closer to Minamiura at 20,000 feet, it became unstable, so the pilot stopped the attack.
Meanwhile, the other two Japanese climbers gathered their gear and requested that they be flown to the Trango Glacier, which was located on the other side of the tower. They began their ascent of the British Route on the south face, which had not been done since the spire’s initial ascent in 1977.
The climbers led the way as rapidly as they could, leapfrogging over fixed ropes that were 14 years old and in disrepair. Minamiura encased himself in his emergency parachuting system (which was too low-performance for the perilous flight from the tower) and stroked his feet all night to keep them warm; throughout the day, he slept.
Pilots attempted and failed twice to drop food and water for him. On September 15, however, following the second drop, the pilot radioed that a block of cheese had wedged itself into a flake 15 feet above him. In the process, Minamiura decided to take the risk of climbing to the cheese, and in the process, he found a bigger ledge from which additional food might be sent to him.
Finally, on September 16, the Japanese climbers reached the pinnacle of Trango Tower and immediately rappelled to Minamiura’s ledge after racing up the British Route in just three days. Minamiura returned to the glacier two days later, 49 days after departing.
Climbers claim that survival tales show a latent ability in many of us. In 1978, one female climber attempted the first all-female ascent of The Naked Edge, 5.11 in Eldorado Canyon. Coraline Bowman plummeted 300 feet as the haul rope became entangled beneath her belay ledge. In a blizzard at 24,000 feet, they were forced into a standing bivouac on 70-degree ice. They lost all of their hardware and rappel gear after losing a crampon.
Takeyasu Minamiura spent 40 days soloing a new route on Trango Tower’s northeast buttress. He tied a tiny parachute to carry bags with goods and threw them 6,000 feet below, approaching Dunge Glacier. He was upside-down and plummeting when the launch failed. Pilots attempted to drop food and drink for him twice, but both times failed when a chunk of cheese became stuck 15 feet above him.