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Belayer Failure = Broken Back
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gblauer
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Feb 12, 2007, 12:05 PM
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Belayer Failure = Broken Back
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On Saturday, 2/10, I lead an easy 5.7 as a warm down. I got to the top of climb, clipped the last bolt, called out to my belayer and let her know that I was done with the climb and that I was going to drop off the wall. She acknowledged me and off I came.

Edited: I called down to her, let her know that I was at the top of the climb. I was a foot above my last bolt, so I elected to let go and "drop" off the wall rather than sling the horn. She acknowledged my intentions and said that she was ready for me.

I never felt the "tug" of the catch and continue to ride to rope all the way down to the floor. I landed on my feet, crunched into a ball, rolled on to my back. I immediately felt a "bloom" of searing pain across my lower back. Two days later, I am out of the hospital with an L2 compression fracture.

What did I learn?

1) It can happen to anyone (yes, even you)
2) You are only as strong as the weakest link in your system
3) Cull the herd; select your belayers carefully and only allow those you trust to give you a belay
4) Keep your circle small; know your belayers, constantly check on their potential for distraction, moods and energy level

So, several months of hard core training down the drain with one 30 foot fall. I really hope I can get my head back together.

Climb on.


(This post was edited by gblauer on Feb 12, 2007, 12:47 PM)


zeke_sf


Feb 12, 2007, 12:12 PM
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Re: [gblauer] Belayer Failure = Broken Back [In reply to]
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I'm very sorry to hear that! I know it's hard, but be thankful the results were not worse, as they easily could have been (recent belay related fatality at Owens). I wish you a speedy recovery, as that is going to be the hardest part (trust me, I've been out for three weeks because of an injury). Good luck!


granite_grrl


Feb 12, 2007, 12:16 PM
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Re: [gblauer] Belayer Failure = Broken Back [In reply to]
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gblauer wrote:
So, several months of hard core training down the drain with one 30 foot fall. I really hope I can get my head back together.

I'm glad you didn't loose anything more. I hope that you'll heal well and I'm glad that you're around to write this post.

Too many people think "it wouldn't happen to me", but this kind of shit happens when you least expect it. It can happen to you.

It took me a couple of reads to understand what happened (I think). You were going to take a practice fall off the top and were never caught? Am I understanding what happened.


styndall


Feb 12, 2007, 12:17 PM
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Re: [gblauer] Belayer Failure = Broken Back [In reply to]
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What happened?

Did she just not lock off? Did she think you were going to rap? Did she walk off and leave?


raymondjeffrey


Feb 12, 2007, 12:22 PM
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Re: [styndall] Belayer Failure = Broken Back [In reply to]
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I'm as confused as styndall is: What the hell does 'drop off the wall' even mean? In AZ we say something like "Got me?" before we lower off. If we are rapping then our belayer knows this cuz we say 'Off belay, I'm gonna rap'.


roy_hinkley_jr


Feb 12, 2007, 12:24 PM
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Re: [gblauer] Belayer Failure = Broken Back [In reply to]
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Ask your doctor about an injection of bone cement into your L2. This is commonly done on octogenarians who have compression fractures but they often won't tell young'uns about the treatment. It can dramatically speed healing time. Otherwise, you are looking at 6 months of no climbing plus another 6 months before you're mostly without pain. The back brace they may offer helps for the 1st month but is nasty to use. Vicodin is your friend. There are no exercises that will help, though lots of well-meaning friends with no experience will suggest otherwise. It's just a matter of time for the bone to heal.

Count yourself lucky...it coulda been *much* worse.


(This post was edited by roy_hinkley_jr on Feb 12, 2007, 12:25 PM)


the_climber


Feb 12, 2007, 12:25 PM
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Re: [granite_grrl] Belayer Failure = Broken Back [In reply to]
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DUDE! Holy shit!

Sorry to hear about this. Glad it wasn't worse. Man you could have cracked your head open on top of everything too. I Truely hope you heal as fast as possible. Worry about getting your head around things AFTER you heal physically. The unf^*cking of the head will happen in time. Heal your body first..... Oh, and Fire your belayer! I've been dropped a few times before. About 25 feet max, and it sucks. Huts too. Wheather it was a comunication error, or inattention, it is not excusable. Back injuries suck big time. Hurt mine in highschool football, didn't break it, but came close. Take my advice don't push it and try to get back too some. Take the time to heal. And be happy you're still here.

Wish you all the best,

B


iamthewallress


Feb 12, 2007, 12:25 PM
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Re: [zeke_sf] Belayer Failure = Broken Back [In reply to]
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I'm really sorry that you got hurt, gblauer. I've had my own close call, although it was different in nature to yours. A couple of things on my list of stuff I learned might be good on yours too.

1. I try to trust myself on the rock as my primary attachment, and the belay system second.

When I have the option (i.e. I'm not out of control and falling), I like to double check my attachment to the belays system before committing my life to it. That means that I pull on the belayer side of the rope to give myself a back up until I feel the belayer get me on tension.

When being lowered, if practical, I might keep a hand on the other side of the rope so that if control of the belay is unexpectedly lost, I can grab it and save my bacon.

2. When possible I rap instead of lower. I am probably more aware of my life wish than anyone else...even those that love me.

I am also most aware of my attachment when it's all there in front of me, and I can test the system while backed up to slings at the anchor. I can't always see what's going on w/ my belayer.

I feel like I am less likely to be accidentally lowered off the end of the rope or taken off belay someday if I take the extra time to rest on top (if necessary) then rap.

I am less likely to do this if we're running laps on a TR that's already set up though. In that case, I do keep ahold of the opposite side of the rope.

FWIW, I know climbing legends who've been dropped or dropped others. It is partly from them, that I've learned to take care of myself when possible/practical before choosing to put my life in someone else's hand (i.e. taking or lowering). Parnter screening is important, but if you put yourself in the position of being in control of your safety, you'll probably be even safer.

Heal quickly!!!


(This post was edited by iamthewallress on Feb 12, 2007, 12:28 PM)


Dillbag


Feb 12, 2007, 12:25 PM
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Re: [raymondjeffrey] Belayer Failure = Broken Back [In reply to]
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raymondjeffrey wrote:
I'm as confused as styndall is: What the hell does 'drop off the wall' even mean? In AZ we say something like "Got me?" before we lower off. If we are rapping then our belayer knows this cuz we say 'Off belay, I'm gonna rap'.

I am also confused... was it a lack of clear communication? Or someone who didn't really understand and have mastered the ability to belay a leader?

Hope you have a fast recovery!


gblauer
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Feb 12, 2007, 12:26 PM
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Re: [styndall] Belayer Failure = Broken Back [In reply to]
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styndall wrote:
What happened?

Did she just not lock off? Did she think you were going to rap? Did she walk off and leave?

Based on my injuries and memory of the fall, I think she must have had some control of the rope. I only injured my back; my knees, feet, hips were all fine. She reported a burning on her palm. She knows that she lost control of the rope and could not regain control.


gblauer
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Feb 12, 2007, 12:28 PM
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Re: [raymondjeffrey] Belayer Failure = Broken Back [In reply to]
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raymondjeffrey wrote:
I'm as confused as styndall is: What the hell does 'drop off the wall' even mean? In AZ we say something like "Got me?" before we lower off. If we are rapping then our belayer knows this cuz we say 'Off belay, I'm gonna rap'.

Sorry for the confusion...I told her that I was done with the climb and was going to let go. I have climbed with her before and she new that I was going to drop below my last bolt. A mini practice fall if you will. Her job was to catch me and lower me to the ground.


Dillbag


Feb 12, 2007, 12:29 PM
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Re: [gblauer] Belayer Failure = Broken Back [In reply to]
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What type of belay device was it? Just curious...


gblauer
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Feb 12, 2007, 12:31 PM
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Re: [Dillbag] Belayer Failure = Broken Back [In reply to]
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Dillbag wrote:
What type of belay device was it? Just curious...

ATC


maldaly


Feb 12, 2007, 12:32 PM
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Re: [iamthewallress] Belayer Failure = Broken Back [In reply to]
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Sorry to hear about your accident. I compressed L3 a long time ago and it was a month of recovery before I felt like climbing. Roy Hinkley's compression must have been really bad.

I'm with 'thewallress here. The single most important thing I do before being lowered off is make eye contact with the belayer to be sure he/she is paying attention and has got me. The second most important thing I do is to hold on to the other side of the rope with a death grip until I can feel that the bealyer has me. I HATE it when the leader clips the anchors then just drops off, assuming that I have him. No way...

Mal


Partner taino


Feb 12, 2007, 12:33 PM
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Re: [gblauer] Belayer Failure = Broken Back [In reply to]
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Bejeezuz, Gail...

I'm so sorry... If there's something I can do, please let me know - even if it's to second you on 5.2 while you get your lead-head back, when you get out again. :^)

It's amazing that such a thing could happen, especially to you with your experience. Definitely fire your belayer; she's getting off easy with only hand-burns.

Please keep me appraised of your progress, okay?

Tai


redpoint73


Feb 12, 2007, 12:34 PM
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Re: [gblauer] Belayer Failure = Broken Back [In reply to]
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So what exactly happened, what was her explanation?

Sounds like maybe she lost grip of the rope.


gblauer
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Feb 12, 2007, 12:37 PM
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Re: [redpoint73] Belayer Failure = Broken Back [In reply to]
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redpoint73 wrote:
So what exactly happened, what was her explanation?

Sounds like maybe she lost grip of the rope.

She believes that she had me initially, but, somehow lost control of the rope and could not regain the control. She doesn't really know what happened. The gym owner will conduct an interview, look at her equipment etc. I don't know if he will come up with anything.


gblauer
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Feb 12, 2007, 12:38 PM
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Re: [taino] Belayer Failure = Broken Back [In reply to]
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Tai...thanks so much for your support. I will keep you posted through email. Gail


zeke_sf


Feb 12, 2007, 12:39 PM
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Re: [maldaly] Belayer Failure = Broken Back [In reply to]
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maldaly wrote:
I HATE it when the leader clips the anchors then just drops off, assuming that I have him. No way...

Mal

I think it should be a safe assumption you do have the belay, and I'll also admit I'm guilty of the above practice. Unless "off belay" is involved, there's no excuse....Usually I try to make eye contact, maybe a "you got me?" type thing. This unfortunate experience does show, however, that even the simplest situation in our sport merits another look by even the most experienced. Poor Gblauer gets on what she thinks is a casual 5.7 and ends up with a serious injury.


reg


Feb 12, 2007, 12:44 PM
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Re: [gblauer] Belayer Failure = Broken Back [In reply to]
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OUCH !! hope your recovery is rapid - from your profile pic (your racked up and loaded for bear) you seem to have enough expeirence. what happened that she dropped you? was she not looking ? was she not holding the rope. did you make eye contact before droping off. lot's to be learned but communication i think is high on that list. get well soon.


markc


Feb 12, 2007, 12:44 PM
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Re: [gblauer] Belayer Failure = Broken Back [In reply to]
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I'm really sorry to hear about your accident. I hope you mend well and soon, both physically and mentally. I can imagine the psychological damage will take some time.

Would you be willing to answer a couple questions? I'm curious to know what you said you your belayer, if there was a reaction, and where this took place. Have you been belayed by this person before?

The reason I ask is because I think some of us (myself included) can get lax with commands. I've had partners complete a climb and say, "Okay." I'm sure I've been guilty of it myself. Is the person ready to be lowered, is she anchored in and it's okay to remove the belay? It doesn't really mean anything.

Context can also play a role. In the gym, "okay" seems more excusable. There's the expectation that you'll be lowered off every route. With a regular partner in a noisy gym, I've used a hand signal or given a look and a nod. Maybe not the best practice, but it's easy to get lulled into a complacent state with loads of cycles that have gone smoothly.


redpoint73


Feb 12, 2007, 12:46 PM
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Re: [zeke_sf] Belayer Failure = Broken Back [In reply to]
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My guess is she lets the rope slide through her brake hand in order to lower you, and let it zip through her hand too fast. Once its starts to go, you cannot stop it.

When I have taught beginners, I will show them to lower with both hands on the rope, and hand-over-hand the rope to feed it. That way, you always have a secure grip on the rope with at least one hand, as opposed to just letting it slide through your palm. Its not as fast, but it is safer.

Oh, and just to be clear, I'm not so much giving this advice to the OP, but more as just a tip for the more novice viewers of this forum.


(This post was edited by redpoint73 on Feb 12, 2007, 12:50 PM)


Creek_Nostalgia


Feb 12, 2007, 12:50 PM
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Re: [gblauer] Belayer Failure = Broken Back [In reply to]
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sorry to hear about your accident! I want to send some encouragement your way, however. 6 weeks ago i broke my back. compression fractures in T6 and T7 as a result of cliff diving. The recovery is speedy and you'll be back on your feet in no time!! so no worries! pick a belayer you often climb with so you know eachothers ability and develop trust!


gblauer
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Feb 12, 2007, 12:54 PM
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Re: [markc] Belayer Failure = Broken Back [In reply to]
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markc wrote:
Would you be willing to answer a couple questions? I'm curious to know what you said you your belayer, if there was a reaction, and where this took place. Have you been belayed by this person before?

The reason I ask is because I think some of us (myself included) can get lax with commands. I've had partners complete a climb and say, "Okay." I'm sure I've been guilty of it myself. Is the person ready to be lowered, is she anchored in and it's okay to remove the belay? It doesn't really mean anything.

1) I have climbed with her on several occasions. She knows that I never sling the horn and take mini practice falls at the end of every climb.

2) I was hanging off the last hold, a foot above my last bolt. I told her that I was done with the climb. "I'm done Nancy, coming off" . She acknowledged me with an "ok". We made eye contact and I let go of the last hold.

3) When I am outdoors I use very distinct commands:
On belay, off belay, on rappel, off rappel, take etc.
I never vary with my commands.

4) When I am indoors, since I always have eye contact with my belayer, I always let them know that I am going to drop off the wall. Again I ALWAYS take mini falls at the top of every climb. I always wait for my belayer to acknowledge my intention.


the_climber


Feb 12, 2007, 12:57 PM
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Re: [redpoint73] Belayer Failure = Broken Back [In reply to]
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redpoint73 wrote:
My guess is she lets the rope slide through her brake hand in order to lower you, and let it zip through her hand too fast. Once its starts to go, you cannot stop it.

When I have taught beginners, I will show them to lower with both hands on the rope, and hand-over-hand the rope to feed it. That way, you always have a secure grip on the rope with at least one hand, as opposed to just letting it slide through your palm. Its not as fast, but it is safer.

Oh, and just to be clear, I'm not so much giving this advice to the OP, but more as just a tip for the more novice viewers of this forum.

On that note I would have to disagree with you on the hand over hand thing. It encourages letting go with the break hand... despite having another hand on the rope. I would recomend to the novice to use both hands on the rope, but to lower as normal. But this is off topic and best for a separate discussion.


Regardless of how it happened, it happened. Rest up good and heal. When you are ready to get back at it. Take things slowly and set realistic goals. You'll get there, but it will take time.

Side note: Seems like there are a lot of us on here recovering from one injury or another...

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