American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Rock, Solo Climbing with No Protection, Colorado, Boulder Canyon, The Dome

  • Accident Reports
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  • Publication Year: 2003

FALL ON ROCK, SOLO CLIMBING WITH NO PROTECTION

Colorado, Boulder Canyon, The Dome

On October 26, Scott Hamilton (49) lost his grip while climbing a difficult route on The Dome without ropes, safety gear, or a helmet. He fell more than 150 feet, hit a steep slope and tumbled another 100 feet into Boulder Canyon. Witnesses climbing nearby told authorities that they heard a yell, looked up, and watched him fall through the air.

It is believed he was either on King Kong or Gorilla’s Delight. Both routes are rated 5.9, meaning they contain moves where only one reasonable hold exists. If Hamilton was on Gorilla’s Delight when he fell, he was in the process of joining an elite and daredevil group of people who have ever climbed it without safety gear. Henry Barber once said he came closer to dying on Gorilla’s Delight than any other climb he soloed.

Those who knew Hamilton say they are mourning a well-liked, intelligent, and articulate man. Since 1999, Hamilton has worked at the East Boulder Recreation Center, introducing kids ages eight to 15 to the climbing wall. Last year, he pioneered a women’s wall program, now one of the center’s most popular offerings. “He was always emphasizing safety, safety, safety, safety,” said Ken Silva, a program manager at the center. “It wasn’t like him to be without ropes.” Hamilton moved to Boulder eight-and-a-half years ago from northern California. In addition to teaching climbing, he held various part-time jobs at local warehouses. Standing about six feet tall with short, peppered hair, he was the portrait of a muscular climber. He lifted weights four times a week where he worked. Often, the single man would go climbing alone. “He was very comfortable doing things a little scarier than I was,” said his friend Kevin Scott. Hamilton taught Scott how to climb. Over the past three years, the two had climbed together nearly 50 times. “That’s when he was happiest,” Scott said. “When he was out there.” (Source: From a story by Chris Barge in The Daily Camera, October 29, 2002)

Analysis

Invoking the name of Henry Barber in conjunction with this climb causes me to begin with a personal observation of Henry’s combination of abilities. I had the pleasure of doing two climbs with him—and then watching him do a solo on-site—in Guilin, China, in 1980. (This was after our six- man team had made an attempt to do a new route on Minya Konka.) Like a pianist or dancer, part of Henry’s brain structure is in his hands and feet! People who are accomplished in these fields do not have to think about what their hands (fingers) and feet should do once the head has orchestrated the series of moves to come. This, combined with the skill to suppress any feelings of panic (and strength, of course), allowed Henry to push through on routes like Gorilla’s Delight.

Climbers like Scott Hamilton achieve a level of confidence, especially on familiar routes and in familiar territory, that sometimes results in a miscalculation or a reduction of focus. We also cannot help but ponder the ultimate question: Why did he attempt to solo this route? If part of his life was being a mentor to youngsters, why would he put himself in the classic “do what I say, not what I do” position?

As he chose to solo with no protection and no helmet, he also chose the possible consequences. All that can be said in conclusion is that, based on close to thirty years of compiling this report, I have found that very few experienced climbers have taken serious falls while solo climbing without protection. (Source: Jed Williamson)

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