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



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)