FALL ON ROCK, OFF-ROUTE
North Carolina, Blue Ridge Parkway, Shiprock
The three of us had been climbing since late morning on September 4. It was now early evening and two of us decided to try an unnamed route described to us by a climber we met on our previous trip to Ship Rock. We checked out the features and picked out the route as best we could from the ground. I geared up and began climbing. The first part of the climb involved a juggy, run-out section up some blocks and over a small bulge to the base of a low angle slab. The slab offered plenty of protection, so I geared up for the roof above me. After placing good gear near the lip of the roof, I pulled over it without much difficulty and placed what would be my final piece, a BD #2 nut, in a bottleneck six feet or so above the roof.
At this point the climb thinned out into a featureless face route for the remaining 15 to 20 feet of the climb. From the beta I had on the route, I knew to the left of my route was a route a grade harder and to the right was a route two grades harder, so I figured the path of least resistance was the route I was on. I continued up and slightly to the left where I saw the most features. As I continued up, more features became apparent on the rock, and after climbing through the majority of the blank face, I came to realize I had split off onto the route to my left, a fall grade harder and more runout than my anticipated route. I stayed calm and took a quick look around, eyeing what looked like a fairly deep three-finger pocket at the very edge of my reach that, if I could get a hold of, would get me through the run-out section to good protection above me. Realizing I had no other options, I committed to the hold hoping for the best. The hold was much shallower and more sloped than anticipated—not enough for my pumped out fingers to clinch onto.
The first 12-15 feet of the fall was air. I began to think everything was going to end smoothly until I realized I was passing my last piece. Remembering the low angle slab below me, I braced for impact. Initially I landed square on my right heel, then fell sideways and onto my left side.
After explaining what I did wrong and how I got off route to my partner, I sat down near the base of the climb for a while until my partner led the correct pitch and cleaned the gear. With their help, I limped down the short approach trail to the Blue Ridge Parkway and waited by the side of the road for my ride. The damage: a fractured heel bone, a cracked rib, and plenty of scrapes and bruises, but I live to climb another day.
Always climb within your limits and, though I didn’t hit my head, wear a helmet! (Source: Will Chirico)