American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Foothold and Handhold Broke Off, Unfamiliar with Rock Type, Poor Positions, Nevada, Red Rocks

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1988



Nevada, Red Rocks

After the American Alpine Club Annual Meeting broke up on December 6, 1987, AAC members and friends met at the parking lot at Sandstone Quarry. As I was traveling alone, I asked around for a partner and met Jock Glidden. We agreed to climb together and set off with everybody else to a small canyon about 100 meters north and west of the parking lot. Jock and I decided on a flaring crack on the north wall of the canyon. I led up and placed a TCU about two meters off the ground. As I was contemplating the next move, my foothold broke and I fell, pulling the protection. I started up again and this time placed a Friend about four meters off the ground. I climbed until my feet were about one meter above and to the left of the Friend to a fairly secure stance and stopped to find another placement. What had looked from the ground to be a small Tri-cam hole turned out to be lichen. My right hand hold broke first and when I checked my balance with my left hand, that hold broke also. The rope was between my legs, and as I fell out and backwards, I was flipped upside down. I swung in an arc that landed me face first on the Aztec Sandstone wall. Jock lowered me and immediately people came to my aid. There was a doctor, a nurse, and an EMT on the scene. I walked to the parking lot and was taken by private car to the University Medical Center Hospital in Las Vegas. I suffered two broken teeth, fractured the right condular of my jaw, and tore my right ear canal. I will have permanent dysfunction in the hinge of my jaw, to what degree only time will tell. (Source: Ramsey Thomas, 28)


The rock at Red Rocks is a fairly friable sandstone when dry. After a rain it is apparently even more friable. It had rained recently and the canyon floor was moist. I knew the holds that broke were questionable, but I had tested them by tapping and pulling. I also knew the rope was under my leg and intended to flip it over my leg before I proceeded. I did not expect the holds to break, as I had been weighting them for almost a minute before they did break. The cause of the accident was perhaps an unfamiliarity with the friability of the rock and the fact that the rope was in a position to flip me over. (Source: Ramsey Thomas)

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