Climber Survives 90-foot Fall in Tennessee

This article originally appeared on Climbing

On Saturday, October 14, Kevin Junge, from Tryon, North Carolina, fell approximately 90 feet after lowering off the end of his rope and then sustaining a longer fall off the belay ledge. Junge suffered a broken pelvis, broken vertebrae, and a fractured right arm.

Junge was climbing with two friends--Riley Stephenson and Andy Koerber--at Starr Mountain, Tennessee. The little-known spot hosts just nine routes with top anchors. A trail to the top of the bluff, which overlooks the Hiwassee River, gives hikers access to the view while climbers use the trail to set up top ropes. The climbs themselves begin from an easy-to-access ledge, which drops off about 40 to 60 feet (depending on location) to the ground.

<span class="article__caption">Junge was setting up a top rope on <em>Flake Route</em> when he suffered the fall.</span> (Photo: Courtesy of Andy Koerber)
Junge was setting up a top rope on Flake Route when he suffered the fall. (Photo: Courtesy of Andy Koerber)

After the group of three climbed a 5.9, Junge circled up to the top in search of another set of anchors (they had only been to the cliff a few times). After finding a set that was easily accessible, the top of Flake Route (5.8), Junge anchored the rope and threw down the line. He thought he heard the rope hit the below ledge, where the group would belay from, but was unable to visually varify. The rope in fact didn't quite reach the ledge, however neither Koerber nor Stephenson were within sight of the line to notify Junge.

Because the group had just climbed the 5.9, the back-up knots at the end of the rope had been untied, and Junge did not retie them. As Junge rappelled, the line slipped through his ATC, and he fell about 15 feet to the belay ledge. He tried to self-arrest but continued to slide, falling through an unfortunately located V-notch on the ledge. He fell another 50 to 60 feet before landing among sticks and a rock outcropping at the bottom of the wall.

"We immediately had 911 dialed, but presumed he was probably dead," writes Koerber, who was still on the ledge with Stephenson. They quickly scrambled down and found Junge responsive.

<span>In total, nearly 50 people were involved in the rescue.</span> (Photo: Courtesy of Andy Koerber)
In total, nearly 50 people were involved in the rescue. (Photo: Courtesy of Andy Koerber)

"When we found Kevin, the rope was all wrapped around him and only one side of his ATC had the rope still through it," writes Koerber, which may mean that Junge wasn't rappelling off the exact center of his rope.

The mountain project description describes "two dangerous spots where the trail [across the ledge] is cut by a V-notch in the cliff." The first notch is protected by a safety cable, however, the second, where Junge slid off, is not.

Right away, Stephenson and Koerber could tell Junge's leg and arm were broken. They were concerned about his back and pelvis, so they jammed a few sticks underneath him for support. Wind gusts of up to 50 mph made an airlift out of the question, so the West Polk County Volunteer Fire and Rescue dispatched seven teams from 14 agencies. Rescuers set up a four-rope system to stabilize and secure Junge as they lowered him down the incline. Furthermore, rescuers also removed trees to cut a straight path down the mountain. In total, nearly 50 people were involved in the rescue.

Junge, who arrived at the hospital late that night, underwent surgery the next morning. His friends have set up a GoFundMe here to help account for Junge's medical and personal bills.

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