American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Rock, Inadequate Protection, Exceeding Abilities, Ontario, Milton, Buffalo Crag

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 2001

FALL ON ROCK, INADEQUATE PROTECTION, EXCEEDING ABILITIES

Ontario, Milton, Buffalo Crag

On Sunday, April 2, G.S. (56) was leading Tapestry, a one-pitch 5.8 rock climb. He placed good protection just before setting outwards over a small roof to tackle a thin crack on a bulge. He got several meters higher when his arms “burned out.” As the face was overhanging, he opted for a controlled fall. He jumped outwards a little, fell straight down an estimated nine meters, halted for an instant as the rope stopped stretching, then swung violently back into the face, striking it with his right foot. Both bones in the lower leg shattered and pierced the skin. He was lowered by his partner, who then called 911 on a cell phone. The Milton Fire Department evacuated G.S. to the local hospital, which transferred him to the regional trauma center in nearby Hamilton. There, x-rays revealed four fractures in the foot along with the broken tibia and fibula. Before he was wheeled into surgery he was warned that amputation was a possibility. However, surgeons were able to save the leg by installing four plates during the five-and-a-half hour operation.

Analysis

G.S. had been climbing for six years and was an experienced leader in midlevel routes. He says he had been pushing it that day as he was not in top form, but did not feel he had been reckless. He says he never imagined how quickly the forces build up in a pendulum type of fall. He compared the impact to that of jumping off a three-story building to a concrete sidewalk.

There is a tree growing out of the bulge, but the route description in the guidebook admonishes using it for the sake of climbing style—climbers may be wise to ignore this. Had G.S. slung the tree for protection he could have reduced his fall to a meter or two. G.S. was wearing silk long underwear and it kept dirt from entering the ugly wounds and open bones and may have saved his leg from amputation. Interviewed for this report, G.S. asked that it be impressed upon readers the long-lasting consequences of a simple fall. Doctors originally indicated he would be active again in four to six months. However, the leg fractures reopened seven months later and further surgery was required, delaying G.S.’s recovery to an estimated two years in total.

G.S. also points out that the rescue operation took over three hours to get him to a hospital that is only ten minutes away. Any efforts that other climbers can make to get an injured climber to the cliff top, provided they don’t endanger the injured climber, could cut hours off the rescue time. (Source: David Henderson)

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