FALL ON ROCK, PROTECTION PULLED OUT
California, Tahquitz Rock, Consolation
On July 4, 1992, I was about 25 feet into the third pitch of our climb when I came off. Two pieces that I had placed failed. One was a small Metolius tri-cam unit a few feet below the spot from which I fell. The cams tipped out and reversed. A foot or two below that piece I had a wired, curved stopper or rock. It didn’t wind up in front of my harness afterward. One is left to guess what happened to it. Perhaps the carabiner failed or the swage on the piece failed. Mike Jaffe remembers hearing two distinct sounds just before I flew past. He describes it as, “Bam! Bam!” The first sound was likely the TCU blowing out, the second the other piece. In any case, I went on a longer ride than expected. I think it was good fortune that I had just cleared an overhang, so I took to the air and didn’t go tumbling down. I have a vague recollection of wondering what had happened with my pieces and when I was going to stop falling. I had no sense that I was going to die, no life flashing before my eyes, just gray and blue and then some green. When I finally stopped falling and got some friction underfoot, on a small face and held by the rope, I was fairly calm. I talked with Mike, letting him know I was OK but for some pain in my right knee. Very little in the way of abrasions and blood. He let me know that he had hurt his hands, one badly. I asked him to let me down a bit so I could move over into a crack. I clipped into a fixed piece there so that we could be somewhat more free to get our bearings on the situation. I considered climbing up to him and going up and off by a different route. On testing my right knee it became apparent that I wouldn’t be doing any more climbing that day. Mike said he didn’t think he would be able to climb either, given the injuries to his hands. We went about rappelling down the roughly 350 feet to the base. This took an hour because of our various infirmities, the perceived need to deal with the damage to the rope (discovered only after I almost rappelled past the worst of the damaged spots), and our somewhat unsettled, not totally clear state of mind.
The piece that finally held my fall was a small, solid hex slung on perlon, a good placement just right and above the place where Mike sat on belay. When he caught me he was pulled over into the piece. Some rope ran through his hands and the belay device (a new Black Diamond figure eight with red anodizing), burned his hands in the process. As a medical student, Mike was impressed with the fact that, although the burn when through the dermis and some blood vessels, there was little bleeding because the wounds were instantaneously cauterized. (Source: From a letter sent to New England Ropes and ANAM by Terry Hartig)
(Editors Note: Hartig was impressed by the fact that his 60 foot leader fall did not result in the rope parting. We were impressed by the lack of more serious injuries.)