American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Rock, Fatigued, Placed no Protection, "Too Relaxed" Arizona, Cochise Stronghold

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 2009


Arizona, Cochise Stronghold

Ever since my fall I have been reliving the events of that day, but I have also been psychoanalyzing why I fell. I can still vividly see the fall. I have also pondered, for weeks now, whether or not I should post my “accident”. You see, for me the only justification for bringing this to light is the hope that someone—anyone—could benefit from my predicament and, hopefully, learn from it to reduce the possibility of a similar accident happening to them.

I was climbing in Cochise with a good friend the other week. Things were pretty much typical except, maybe, for the fact that I was running on little sleep and that I was in a negative mood. I tied in as usual and made my typical pre-climb assessments. I was confident enough, the grade was well within my ability; I was “up” for the climb. But, something was wrong. Something must have been wrong because I fell. Upon reflection I can clearly see that I was too relaxed. I was too mellow for the seriousness of the climb and, perhaps more specifically, the seriousness of the landing.

I led up maybe 15 feet feeling comfortable. I had not placed any gear. At one point I do remember looking at a placement, but decided not to put anything in because I was thinking I had to save the gear to finish the pitch. At one moment I stopped. At that moment I recall thinking, hey, I have no secure handholds and poor foot placements. I then recall thinking that I should put in a piece. But, in the split seconds that followed my right foot skated and the next thing I realized was that something was wrong; I was falling. I somehow turned myself around, sliding down the face with my palms on the very steep (near vertical) slab, my feet leading. In the next instant I was on the ground and my left foot was jammed into a crevice. The sole of my foot was up, my heal was extended down (I hyper extended my ankle; dorsi-flection), my predicament only then coming to realization.

I have only one question for myself. That is, why had I stopped in (or perhaps more correctly, moved into) a place with no handholds and only marginal foot placements? Especially given that I had no gear in. This question haunts me a bit, because it makes no sense to me. Being comfortable on a route is not new to me, although I think that I may have been a bit too relaxed in this case. I can usually mange to increase my excitation level to a point consistent with my assessed level of the risk of the climb. Perhaps, in this case, I failed to do that.

I have a slight brake in my Talus, and the doc said that I would heal with little to no long-term problems. But, I want to learn from this experience and, yet, I am not yet quite sure what it is that I need to learn.

As a side note, I have witnesses multiple falls from climbers. In one case a friend zipped three pieces and landed at my feet, on his back, on top of the rope bag. To me the fall happened nearly instantaneously; it was over (I thought) in a split second. Yet, for my fall, I can see all the events happening; I see myself sliding down, conscious of the fact that my palms were pressing against the rock, my feet in front of me, my knees slightly bent, and then the landing. I would surmise that it took less than 1 second, but I visualize it as a sequence of clear events with time to ponder and think about the event. (Source: David Arthur Sampson)

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