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Fall on Rock, Failure of Nut, Exceeding Abilities, Washington, Leavenworth


Washington, Leavenworth

Jean Heineman (23) and I had been climbing together for some weeks in Yosemite Valley and were in Leavenworth finishing our trip of climbing. I had been climbing rock for most of the decade, but Jean had started only the year previous. Jean’s technique was solid; just the day previous she had seconded me on a 5.10b route, but she had been leading for only several months, though up to 5.9. On May 24, 1980, we decided that for her to practice leading more she would lead Classic Crack (5.8), a climb normally top-roped. She led up about 7–8 meters and placed a #8 hexcentric in what looked like a poor placement since the nut slotted outward with little crack constriction below it. She then led several meters above it and began to have trouble jamming the crack. I yelled up to her to come down since it looked like she would fall. She pushed on and fell, pulling out the nut, which pulled her over backwards as it pulled. She hit the ground on her heels, then her back, and blacked out for several moments. I examined her and there was no evidence of injury, so after a few minutes she got up and we climbed a bit more. Then she said she was sleepy, so she took a nap in town, after which I took her to the hospital in Leavenworth. It turned out that she had bruised her back and chest from the impact of the fall. (Source: Robert Loomis, letter to the u.s. editor)


Heineman had followed and led harder climbs but still needed to find her level of control in leading through. She chose to climb on when she was in trouble on bad protection. The nut proved unreliable. She should have backed off to lead what she felt in control of, reset the nut, or doubled the nut with a back-up nut. I should have made her rest more and taken her directly to the hospital. (Source: Robert Loomis, letter to the u.s. editor)