American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Rock, Falling Rock, Failure to Test Holds, Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1987


Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park

(On August 26,1986, Doug Grimm [40] was climbing the northwest corner of Twin Owls on Lumpy Ridge when he fell. Here is his report.)

The fall resulted during a down-climb of an easy 5.4 pitch on the northwest corner (backside) of the Twin Owls, when a 45 by 60 centimeter rock being used as a hold came loose. I failed to recognize the rock as a separate piece and thought it was an attached part of the main rock.

I had belayed my partner down the ten meter pitch and reminded her to put in protection, even though she had an upper belay, to prevent any penduluming, and to protect me when I followed. I had just removed the last runner remaining and was using both hands on a “bulge” when it (very surprisingly and quickly) pulled out and I fell over backwards aproximately three to four meters to the ground onto some boulders landing on my tailbone. After some rest I found that I could walk and a rescue/carryout was not needed. X-rays later revealed a broken sacrum. (Source: Doug Grimm)


One factor is recognizing potential hazards, such as the large chunk which “appeared” to be a solid part of the main rock. I am in the habit of testing holds which seem questionable—this one didn’t at the time, but I’ll certainly be more careful in the future.

The other lesson brought out is that of strategy of protection for the second climber, which the leader must consider as important as his own under certain climbing situations, such as this instance of both following on a downclimb and traversing at the same time. There was no solid rappel anchor to rappel from so we decided to downclimb the short ten meter section. The reason we did not continue the climb was a notice at the Lumpy Ridge parking area that stated the entrance gate would be locked and the area closed at 1800. While trying to get back to our car so we wouldn’t be locked in, I was surprised to see a couple of other climbers still on the rock who seemed unconcerned about the closing time. When we finally did make it to the parking lot and our car, at 1850, we found the gate unlocked and there appeared no intention of locking it, as numerous other cars were still in the parking lot, indicating that others who probably were more familiar with the area knew that the gate was not going to be locked. (Source: Doug Grimm)

This ANAM article has been reformatted into HTML. Please contact us if you spot an error.