ElCap Report 5/20/13

ElCap Report 5/20/13
By Tom Evans
Yo… another day of perfect climbing weather but due to recent circumstances the cliff is very vacant. The action these days is on the three most popular routes on ElCap. Of course, those routes are, the Nose, the Salathe, and Zodiac. So I am going to share the action with you.  At the end of this report is an analysis of yesterday's accident, as told to me my Marc Venery, the surviving member of the team.
Today’s ElCap Report ….written just for you …unique in all the world!
Zodiac: Joe Shultz was seen working up the third pitch this afternoon after hauling kit to the top of the 2nd pitch. He talked about blasting tomorrow, when I spoke to him a few days ago… we will see!
Nose: The Nose was the busiest route on the rock today and that isn’t saying much!   The most visible team was a team of two Spanish climbers who I watched do the King Swing with determination, if not beta! They got it done after a time and were last spotted climbing into Camp 4.
1) Spanish team leader climbing the corner up to Camp 4, one lousy bivy for sure!
Lower down a couple of teams were seen working on the lower section of the route.
2) A team of climbers working the Stoveleg (aka “Legs”) crack this afternoon.
Higher up the three person team of Lea, Vicky, and Hamik, are making excellent time up the route and were, unfortunately, overshadowed by yesterdays events. They have been moving right along and should have topped out by dark this evening.
3) The team, at the finish of the “Changing Corners” pitch.
Salathe: The Salathe team from yesterday climbed to the Block this afternoon and I think they just might stay put there tonight.
4) The “Block”, one of several bivy ledges on this mega classic route.
In other news: I talked with Marc Venery, the surviving climber, from the accident yesterday, this morning and he told me about the events that befell them. Mason Robison was leading around the big, blocky overhang, just above the bivy, at the start of the final 700ft dihedral.   He was about 20ft above the belay, when a piece of gear he placed (a camming unit) caused a large flake to fall upon him, as the gear pulled out of the rock. He fell backwards and outwards, past Marc. As he fell, the flake severed his climbing rope, a couple of feet from his tie-in to his seat harness. 
With his climbing rope cut, he continued falling a distance of about 230ft, until the haul and tag ropes, (ropes not used to climb on, but to haul bags and gear) came tight. The haul rope was a  “Static Line”, which does not stretch to absorb a falling climbers energy, and thus produces a bone breaking force on the climber, if it is his only rope when falling. Static lines are never, intentionally, used for actual climbing, as they are not made for that purpose, but hauling bags instead. His tag line was a dynamic rope and was attached to his chest harness.
His static line was attached to his seat harness, but the ropes were all tangled in the fall and when the impact came onto him, he was killed instantly.   Since static ropes don’t stretch, they are ideal for pulling up bags, as the energy a climber uses on the rope when hauling bags, will not be lost due to stretching of the rope.
 However, many climbers don’t use static ropes to haul bags, even though they are more energy efficient.  It is just with this kind of accident in mind, that climbers will use a dynamic rope (one made to stretch and absorb a falling climber’s energy) to haul bags with, just in case the climbing rope gets cut. Then, they have a chance to be saved by the haul line, if it is tied into their harness. Whether or not Mason would have been saved by having a dynamic hauling line is uncertain…but with a static line, he never had a chance. 
As you know, I have done many rescue reports, including pictures and comprehensive write ups. However, these rescues were not fatal ones and ultimately had good outcomes. I don’t feel it is appropriate for me to do such a report this time, even though there was much heroic work done by the YOSAR team, especially the men, Jack and Ed, who were lowered, on ropes, to get to the victims. I did take many shots of the events and have given them to the NPS to use in analyzing their operations, and making future recommendations to improve climber safety.
Those of you, who know me, know how this terrible accident has impacted me. I am dealing with it by keeping busy and doing positive things. My heartfelt condolences go out to all of Mason’s friends and family. He was a fine man and a very experienced climber, who I enjoyed shooting on many of his ElCap climbs. He will be missed by all who had any contact with him.
So that’s the way it is, for this Monday, the 20th day of May, 2013.
Later, Tom

Quick release?

Thanks for the sobering report.
A 230 ft fall takes about 4 seconds.
That's not a lot of time, but it might just be enough time to release yourself from the static line if you had a device designed to do the job.
Suppose you had some sort of quick-release attached to your harness, and then the static line attached to the quick-release instead of your harness.
When you fall, you reach down and activate the quick-release, thus dooming your gear but maybe saving your life.
If it saves another tragedy like this, it might be worth thinking about what such a quick-release might look like.
Obviously you might still get tangled in the ropes, or fall further and deck out, but it's better than nothing.

Spanish climbers

Do you know the names of spanish team climbers?
Thanks and good job I hope to visit yosemite in middle september

Thanks for the write up.

Take care and be well.

Tom, I can only imagine how

Tom, I can only imagine how badly you feel about this. Mason was a fun guy to talk to, when I met him hanging at the Bridge with you. Please don't let this bring you down. What you do for the climbing community is very important, but it means that you will always be the first to hear bad news, as in this case. the universe of Yosemite climbers who know El Cap grieves with you. If I were there I would come by to give you a hug or something. We climb for diverse and personal reasons, many of which we cannot adequately explain to non climbers. Your wonderful pictures and commentary are, perhaps, the best way to share the experience of climbing the Big Stone to our loved ones. I hope that being able to experience the wonder of El Cap through your lenses and words will allow Mason's family to at least see why he, and all of us (past, current, and future El Cap climbers) are so compelled by and drawn to this fantastic monolith. I hope Susan and I will make it up there in the next few weeks and see you.
Thank you again.

Thanks for reporting despite the circumstances.

Take care Tom.



the amount of force on the body from a 230-foot fall on a static line is just unimaginable -- but for sure he died instantly and I would think, painlessly. RIP, Mason.




Very respectful and informative report. Thanks Tom.

Love ya Tom, take care buddy

Love ya Tom, take care buddy and keep up the good work.