FALL ON ROCK–FAILURE TO CLIP INTO QUICKDRAW, WEATHER, INADEQUATE EQUIPMENT–SHOES
New Hampshire, Rumney Crags
Mark (33) and I have been climbing together for a few years now. I recently took a lead climbing course and have already led a few climbs. Our new friend, Hande (21), was interested in climbing and today was going to be her introduction to the sport. We decided to climb at Rumney, in New Hampshire. I had recently climbed there and even led a few sport climbs. It would be perfect for Hande’s first day of climbing.
The day was overcast, but we set out anyway, hoping that the tree cover would protect the cliffs. We got to Rumney at 0930 and hiked to a nice 5.7 sport climb that would be perfect. A group was already there, packing up. They stated that it was too wet to climb and they were heading out. We decided to climb it anyway, as it was more of a steep slab climb. Plus, I had already climbed it a few weeks before.
I started the climb by 1000 and was two bolts up in minutes. Then I fell. No problem, Mark did an excellent job catching me, and I was fine. Hande was a little nervous, but we explained that I would set up a top rope for her. I proceeded back up the cliff, which was easy climbing with a few 5.8 moves on sharp rock.
Once I was in reach of the third bolt, about 20 feet up, I clipped in my quickdraw. The lower carabiner was hanging just above my head. My feet were on a few little nubbins, which made me nervous. My Boreal Zephyrs were not as sticky as I had hoped, and I had been having trouble with them for weeks. I pulled up on the rope, yelled, “Slack,” and Mark dished it out. My left hand was on a sharp finger hold and my right was trying to clip.
I don’t know why I couldn’t clip that ’biner. I had three or four tries and just could not clip it. The next thing I remember was leaving the cliff and yelling, “Falling!”
Due to the slack I had pulled up to clip with, and the fact that my last clip was about 8 feet below me, I fell about 20 feet to the deck. I hit, butt first, on a rock that was slanted towards the cliff. As I hit the rope went taut and pulled me towards the cliff. Mark had instantly locked me off when I fell, but all that slack allowed me to deck. I ended up leaning against the cliff trying to catch my breath, as the wind had been knocked out of me. Mark came to my side and asked, “What do you want me to do?”
I said, “Ambulance.”
I have been an Emergency Medical Technician for three years, two with my Intermediate certification, so my mind was racing with the possible injuries I had just sustained. I knew my mechanism of injury was significant and I potentially had some very serious injuries. I was thinking compression fracture of my vertebrae and a pelvis fracture—both very painful and life threatening.
I instructed Mark to piggyback me to the ground. I then taught him how to do a full trauma assessment on me to see if I had broken anything. Luckily, everything seemed clear.
Mark got a cell phone and called the local ambulance squad, Plymouth Fire- Rescue. I talked with them on the phone to relay my status and what they would need to extract me from the climbing area. Within minutes they were there. I was back-boarded and taken to the ambulance. I was then transported to Speare Memorial Hospital. X-rays showed that nothing was broken and a CAT scan verified that no blood vessels were torn. However, I had lost two units of blood somewhere and the doctors could not determine where. So, I was admitted overnight to the CCU (Critical Care Unit) in case something that was overlooked would cause my condition to deteriorate rapidly.
Luckily, I was discharged the following morning with an “A-OK” from the surgeon. I was badly bruised and had a very uncomfortable half-hour ride home. When I looked in the mirror at my injuries, I realized I had lost all that blood to my butt, as one side was swollen larger than the other.
What caused me to fall? Was it just the failure for me to clip? Was it just the wet conditions? Was it because of my non-sticky shoes? Or was it the fact that, during breakfast, we had a long discussion about the fact that none of us has decked on a fall? Since I do not really believe in voodoo magic, let’s look at the others.
I think three things caused my 20-foot plummet. The direct one was not clipping. For a few nights after my accident I would close my eyes and see that carabiner moving away from me as I fell. I just could not get the rope clipped in. To prevent this, I have set up a quickdraw on my gym where I clip rope in 5 times per hand per side every night before I go to bed. Practice makes perfect.
Also, why was I reaching for the clip? I should have climbed higher so there would not have been so much slack. When I fell, the slack included the rope from me to where the ’biner was and then back down. I effectively doubled my slack when I reached high for the clip. It almost killed me.
The two indirect causes were the rain and my shoes, which just don’t stick. I no longer climb in the rain, and I purchased new shoes made with the newest rubber. They stick much better than my previous shoes.
This accident demonstrated to me that it is just a few mistakes that lead to a big fall. Three things caused me to fall that day, and it has taken three weeks to recover—a horrible way to start my summer vacation. It has also shown me the value of a good belayer. Yes, Mark did not catch me, but that was because there was too much slack in the system for him to catch me. He did everything right. Plus, he has the extraordinary ability to remain calm in a crisis situation. After I fell and was leaning against the cliff, I overheard him telling Hande what we needed to do. He spoke in a very calm manner and was definitely in control. If he had panicked I would have had to call the ambulance myself. I feel very comfortable climbing with him now because I know that, if something happens, I can depend on him one hundred percent. Faith and trust in your belayer is one of the most important aspects of climbing. Even if all your equipment works, if your belayer doesn’t work, you’ll have to yell at them from the skies above.
Every climber should have some medical training. Not everyone needs to go out and get an EMT certificate, but some level of medical training should be taken, such as a first responder course or even a first aid course. You never know what is going to happen. It is imperative to be able to not only bandage minor wounds but also realize when the injuries are life threatening.
(Source: John Kettinger—25)