I’ve been meaning to do this for a while so now that I am finally healing up, I figured I write up my accident report and see what feedback anyone had so that something could be taken away from what happened.
We (May, Lin, Robb, and I) had begun the day on April 11th at Rock Hudson out of Hidden Valley Campground in J-tree because Robb was keen on jumping on Hot Rocks. This was my first day climbing outside in months on account of being tied up in lab with work and grant-writing. May and I started the day with 5.7 about 50’+ left of Hot Rocks and things seemed to go well enough. Robb and Lin, meanwhile, had warmed up on the 5.9 just left of Hot Rocks, Looney Tunes. After May and I finished up on the 7 and the other folks had moved off of the 9, I finally found the stones to rack up for Looney Tunes. I was feeling a little apprehensive since I hadn’t been climbing much crack, just mostly bouldering hard in the gym, and had never led a 9 in J-tree onsight.But I promised myself 2 things: I was going to test my limits and I would place less pro than I usually do since I usually throw in too many pieces and flame my forearms pretty well when it’s not necessary due to an unreasonable fear of falling.
The climb starts in a really thin seam with slabby feet that wasn’t too bad. About 15’ up I got to a good stance in a pod and slotted in a small nut above me. The placement was a bit shallow so I decided to climb up a couple more feet where the seam widened to a finger crack and throw in a better, larger nut. Both were placed with an angle of pull downward. From there the climbing continued up a slightly less than vertical crack with intermittent pods and corners that I found quite awkward being somewhat bulky and inflexible. Some stemming and face moves mixed in got me about 10-15’ above my last nut where Iplaced a green Metolius. While placing I dropped a black Metolius which thankfully only went skidding down the slab to May but really succeeded in pissing me off and throwing off my concentration. From then on, things started going south as I had to hang-dog a bit and just couldn’t find a smooth way through some pods. While hang-dogging, the lower nut (my 1st piece) zippered out on account of the slabby wall. May was comfortably pressed up against the wall and at no point that day did I pull her up despite outweighing her by, conservatively, 70 pounds which is pretty amazing actually.
I finally managed to get past that section and onto some much easier ground right before I thought the crux would be. At a good stance 10-15’ above and to the right of the green, I threw in a red Metolius in a place that I thought would be good enough for what I needed. I figured I’d slot in a piece then climb couple movesto a better stance and placement that was in line with the little bit of climbing left below the chimney at the top. So I put the red in a somewhat shallow but not terribly sketchy part of the crack with the leaves of the cam mostly equally cammed. One was slightly off but not too bad and definitely contacting the wall. If I remember correctly the crack flared a wee bit behind the piece and above it. I can’t remember for sure if I put a quickdraw on the cam or not but I don’t believe I did. I began climbing above it and quickly realized that the crack got much thinner and the corner/pod more awkward. I got into a place where I was maybe 5’ above the red Metolius on good feet but without any pro small enough to slot into the crack: it was ridiculously shallow fingertips for me. I couldn’t downclimb because there was a bulge at my waist that I couldn’t see past so I decided to go for it stemming my feet on the walls of the pod. Well…that didn’t work so well.
My foot blew and as I began to fall onto the red Metolius I could feel the tension in the rope onto my harness. Apparently (I don’t remember), I yelled, “ Whoa (pause) WHOA!” because I felt the piece take my weight and then heard that dreadful sound of metal scraping on rock accompanied with the sudden release of tension that could only signify the popping of my piece. At this time, I remember simultaneously a general feeling of dread and the thought that I was falling for a very long time (Robb estimates it at 40’). I wondered to myself if the green Metolius was close enough to me where I would be caught by the rope because if not, that would be it for me. There was this distinct and puzzling uncertainty about whether or not I’d survive this.And then there were GREEN and PAIN.
When I regained my senses, I realized that I was stuck half in a yucca at the base of the climb and that my harness was killing my back. I was blinded somewhat because my glasses had been wrenched from my face and the swords of the yucca were scraping my helmet and arm. I realized that I had NOT hit the deck and needed to get lowered the last 4-6’ (maybe 8?) because I just wanted to lie down since the pain was profound but that May could no longer see me. So as calmly as I could, I started ordering May to lower me and just repeated it until I had enough slack tolie on the ground.
After that, Robb, Lin, and May essentially conducted a rescue of my sorry self and behaved wonderfully. I truly can’t thank them enough. Robb cleared my spine and I remember that my primary sources of pain were my knee and my back which was really just stiff. I had some cuts and abrasions from that damned yucca as well. They cleaned up and got me the hell out of there and back to SD where I went to the ER. I was diagnosed there with a broken 2nd rib (just below and behind the clavicle), a classic case of masking of injuries, broken probably from hitting the wall with an outstretched arm. My back remains stiff; and one week later, I ended up pulling pieces of yucca out of my forearm (3mm long) and the top of my shoulder (9mm long) that the ER docs should really have picked up.
Almost 7 weeks have passed and I’ve decided to continue climbing despite a fall that forced me to reflect on the purpose of climbing. Ultimately, though, the system and gear all worked because I never did deck. It looks as though the piece blew because it walked a bit. Yet I only made 3 moves above it at the most and all in line with the piece. And though the cam wasn’t 100% well placed, I’d give it a 90-95% which I had thought would be good enough to take a short fall. Obviously not...