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Fall on Rock, Protection Failure, North Carolina, Looking Glass Rock, The Womb


North Carolina, Looking Glass Rock, The Womb.

Ian Randall (26) and I, Josh Whitmore (23), both experienced climbers were climbing The Womb (5.11) on the north side of Looking Glass Rock on June 9. The accident occurred on the first pitch. I was approximately 40 feet off the ground with a cam placed at foot level when I fell. The piece pulled and I fell to the ground landing in a seated position on a boulder at the base of the climb, followed by a roll onto the ground. I never hit my head. (I was wearing a helmet.) I experienced extreme pain in my coccyx and in the center of my back. Both Ian and I are Wilderness First Responders. He log-rolled me into a position on my back, completed primary and secondary surveys, stabilized me the best he could and went for help. There was no one else in the area.

One-and-a-half hours later, Ian returned with the local rescue squad who packaged me onto a backboard and litter, transporting me to a trailhead approximately two miles away. Members of the Schenck Job Corps and two North Carolina Outward Bound crews also assisted in the litter carry.


Forty feet seems like a long way up to have placed just one piece of protection, but due to the nature of the climb it was reasonable. The first 30 feet of the climb is a gently sloping slab (5.3-5.4) that offers no protection. The route then traverses up and right above steeper rock. This section is considerably harder but offers good protection. I climbed the easy section, placed a piece to protect myself for 3-4 feet of climbing to a rest stance. I placed a second piece (a mid-sized cam) as high as I could reach. I knew that I needed the first piece higher at the crux, so I backed cleaned it. This left me with only one placement, the mid-sized cam that was well placed in a horizontal crack. I went back and forth several times in the next section trying to work out the sequence. When I fell, I was in the process of down-climbing. I believe that the piece pulled because it had “walked” into a bad position from its original good placement due to the back and forth movement of the rope running through the protection carabiner.

In hindsight, there are a number of things that could have been done differently that may have prevented the piece from pulling. A long runner on the cam would have created less drag, allowing the rope to run “smoother.” The cam could have been placed deeper into the crack to prevent “walking.” I could have placed more than one piece in opposition, equalized two pieces, or not back cleaned the first piece. One large lesson I learned is that the first piece needs to be a bomber placement, multidirectional, and minimal potential for “walking.” (Source: Josh Whitmore)