American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Rock, Poor Communication, Inadequate Belay — Distracted, Kentucky, Red River Gorge

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  • Publication Year: 2012

FALL ON ROCK, POOR COMMUNICATION, INADEQUATE BELAY - DISTRACTED

Kentucky, Red River Gorge, Muir Valley

On March 21,I took a lead fall, landing at the base of the climb Suppress the Rage (5.12a) located at the Sunny Side. I was at the second-to-last bolt when I decided to rest before making the last hard move. I must admit that I started climbing kind of suddenly, maybe surprising my belayer. Anyway, when I was less than one meter above the bolt I fell off. Before I had time to realize what was happening, I found myself screaming and hitting the ground with my right leg and then my butt. Fortunately the rope got tight at the very last second, so I didn’t fully impact the ground. But still, I broke my pelvis and two vertebrae.

Analysis

Here is why I think this happened. First of all, my belayer got distracted as soon as I decided to rest for a few seconds. I saw him talking with people while I started falling. Second, there was too much slack in the rope, because it doesn’t make sense to take a 12-meter fall, when you’re only one meter above the bolt. Third, he told me that, as soon as he realized I was falling, he grabbed the rope above and below the Grigri, compromising its activation.

The moral is to pay attention to what you are doing. Always confirm that your belayer knows how to belay properly. The Grigri can be a deceiving belay device to use for the inexperienced. Some think it works by itself and don’t pay attention to how it functions in the correct way!

I’ve been climbing for more than ten years and consider myself to be experienced. This was the first time climbing with this person, so we didn’t know each other well enough, and there was probably lack of communication. It wouldn’t happen to me with my usual climbing mates. (Source: Edited from a report by Francesco Peci)

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