FALLING ROCK, INEXPERIENCE, OVERCROWDED ROUTE
Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, Hallett Peak
On September 4, Labor Day, Tom(40) and Ed (42) had planned to climb Culp-Bossier on Hallet Peak. We got a late start as we got to the base of the climb at 0815. Someone at the base said that there were eleven people on the route. Because of this we decided to climb the Love route (5.9) so that there wouldn’t be anyone above us.
While we were getting ready to start, a couple of sport climber types came by. I call them sport climber types because they were going to climb this seven pitch face at 12,000 feet elevation in shorts, with no shirts and no rain gear that I could see. Also, they said that their primary climbing area was Table Mountain and Clear Creek Canyon in Golden, CO. They were going to climb Culp-Bossier also. I told them that there were eleven people on the route and they asked what we were doing. I told them. They said they would like to follow us up the same route. They wanted to see our guide book because they didn’t have one.
Later they asked me of it would be OK if they passed us by taking an easier line to the right. I said it would be all right. They passed us and then got back on our route about 50 feet above us.
After they got above us, they were slow. They were kicking rocks off and dropped a couple pieces of gear. It was obvious that they didn’t have very much experience at this sort of climbing. Tom and I were not climbing real fast, but we were quickly catching up with them.
At the top of the giant pedestal, which is about four pitches up including some simul- climbing, I heard a rock go by. It is hard to describe the exact sound. The only thing I can think of which sounds like that would be a bicycle pedal. I am sure that this is because it was spinning at a high rate of speed as a result of glancing off the face higher up. Only after it hit a ledge below us did we hear the people above us yell, “Rock.”
A couple of minutes later I am looking up and see another rock falling toward us. I yell, “Rock,” and press my body to the face. The rock hits the ledge that we are standing on to my right with a lot of force.
I look over at Tom. He says, “My arm is broken.” At first I think he is kidding. He isn’t. He is standing about 12 feet away, as we were moving the belay station to take advantage of a better line on the upper face. I belay him over to me and look at his arm. It is bleeding quite profusely. His whole side is soaked with blood and when he leans against the rock blood starts running down the rock.
I yell up at the two above us and say, “You just broke his arm.” One of them was on the crux and looked down, but didn’t say anything. This is the last we see of them. There are a couple of climbers near us on Culp-Bossier. They stop climbing and watch us. They look really competent and I am sure that they would try to help us if we ask. I don’t ask because it would take a while for them to get to us, and it would put them at risk because they would have to traverse the blank upper face of Hallet.
After attaching Tom to the anchor, I do what I can for him in terms of first aid. I wrap his arm in a bandanna and tape it on to control the bleeding. We don’t have anything with which to make a splint.
Now to get town ASAP, I set up a rappel. I will rappel down and hold the end of the rope to control Tom’s rappel. I am heading for the large gully just to the east of the route. On the way down, we get the rope stuck and I have to solo back up to get it unstuck. After four full double rope rappels we get to a ledge with some trees. At this point I can make a splint after which Tom feels more comfortable.
Also, I see some hikers below. I call out and ask if they would get our packs and shoes from the base of the climb. They helped and did this, but, didn’t stick around. This saved some time because it was going to be about a 200 foot vertical scramble back to the base of the climb over talus to get this stuff.
We do the last rappel. At the bottom we meet some other climbers. These guys have some triangular bandages with which we make a sling for Tom. One of these climbers says he is an EMT and wants to clean the wound. Tom and I don’t feel like this is a good idea. Tom is an RN and I have first responder training. They also offer to help carry some of our gear out which we gladly accept. I get all of my stuff and Tom’s stuff in my pack except one rope and Tom’s climbing shoes which the other group carries. They are a great help and we both appreciate their help.
We walk out. Getting down to the lake is a little tricky but Tom gets down OK. Walking out, Tom is still dripping blood. His bleeding never really stopped until we got to the car and he stopped moving around. The total distance to the parking lot is just over three miles.
No one other than the people who helped us at the bottom of the climb were ever involved in getting us out. We didn’t notify the Park Service about the accident.
Tom wants to go to the hospital where he works as a nurse. I know that the rock hit him at 1400.1 don’t remember when we got to the parking lot, but we got to the hospital at 2000. This was Labor Day and the traffic was bad going down the Canyon.
Tom’s injury ended up being an open fracture of the radius in his right arm. The fracture was about two inches from the elbow and the bone was crushed. This injury required two surgeries and Tom was in the hospital from Monday night until Friday afternoon. Tom ends up having the upper two inches of the radius removed. This may result in some minor disability for him in the future.
So what could we have done differently that would have prevented this?
Get an earlier start?
Not climb when people are above us? But we were the first people on the route until we were passed via easier ground.
Not have let them pass us when they asked? Would this have prevented them from passing us?
Maybe stop climbing for a while until the current climbing fad ends and all the sport climber types move on to the next trendy sport?
Sorry, but it’s true. There are a lot of people out there today who don’t know what they’re doing. (Source: Ed, who wishes to leave it at that.)