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Fall on Rock—Inadequate Protection, Off Route, Inexperience, Colorado, Boulder Canyon, Eagle Rock


Colorado, Boulder Canyon, Eagle Rock

On June 5, J.H. (20) and Z.T. (20) were climbing the Great Dihedral, a 3-pitch, 5.5 trad route in the infrequently climbed Eagle Rock area of Boulder Canyon.

J.H. began leading the second pitch, which the website describes as: “Climb slabby rock with little pro as it steepens… you will see a fixed pin under a large roof, don’t go that high but traverse left on scary moderate ledge to a slab that brings you up and left and into the dihedral (scary moves above tricky pro)…”

He fell 60 feet before Z.T. caught him on belay. J.H. impacted the rock face and sustained a compound tib/fib fracture, a maxillary nose fracture, and multiple cuts and bruises.


J.H. did not traverse left as described and had difficulty finding gear placements. He unknowingly climbed off route to clip a series of three fixed pins under the large roof. He used very short quickdraws rather than long runners, which created a high degree of rope drag as he traversed left into the dihedral. Here again, J.H. had difficulty finding gear placements. He spent several minutes trying to place a micro-nut, but ultimately gave up. The slabby face above seemed relatively easy and J.H. could make out a ledge where he assumed the bolt anchor would be. He decided to “run it out” on this section and 10 to 15 feet below the ledge he slipped.

The climbers lacked adequate information on the difficulty of the climb, in terms of both rating and gear placement. First, novice leaders should ensure that they select climbs well within their limits. Multiple sources of information would have been very helpful in this case. Second, climbers transitioning from sport to trad may often be accustomed to following a bolt line, and therefore face route-finding challenges. Third, recognizing when and where long runners should be used can also be problematic for sport climbers. In this case, the use of quickdraws created severe rope drag which made the “easy” slab section that much harder. Fourth, running it out always increases the distance of any fall. Finally, the ledge where J.H. assumed the two-bolt anchor would be was in fact 10 to 20 feet below the actual anchor.

It should be noted that the fact that he was not wearing a helmet did not contribute to the severity of his head injuries. (Source: From a report by the Rocky Mountain Rescue Group)