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Red River Gorge -- Motherlode Accident
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spikeddem


Mar 8, 2011, 8:11 AM
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Red River Gorge -- Motherlode Accident
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This happened Friday, March 4th 2011. I was climbing at The Motherlode on a route called Kick Me in the Jimmie. The route is a constant 10-15 degrees overhanging for 55-60 feet.

The last fall of the last climb of the day should have been a routine, clean ~12' lead fall onto the fifth bolt. After the expected catch passed, it became clear that my belayer didn't have control of the rope. I fell about 35 feet to the ground. If someone could pick the spot on the ground to crater on at any given point on that climb, I probably landed on that spot. It was a smooth boulder that sloped gently towards the ground. Another foot in any direction would have been much more devastating.

I remember bracing myself for impact, hitting the ground, and notifying everyone that I was okay about one second after I hit. I was, against the odds, just about completely fine. My ankle was a bit tweaked, and my ass hurt. I was able to walk out of the crag just fine, and now I can hardly even feel the bruise on my butt. The belayer had rope burns on the wrist of his guide hand (non-brake hand).

My belayer has been climbing for ten years (never dropped anyone before this accident), and I've been climbing with him for just over a year. He was belaying with a tube-style device that looked this, although it's possible it was a different model/brand. The rope was a Maxim Glider 9.9 Basically, it sounds like he just took his brake hand off the rope for a split second when he was trying to move into a better position to catch the fall (not sure why he wasn't there beforehand?). Once he realized his hand wouldn't be able to get the rope, he just tried compressing it by leaning forward and just pressing his forearms onto the device/rope (hence the rope burns on the forearm).

This was completely unnecessary, and it never should have happened. It reminds me of the scene in Ocean's 11 when Don Cheadle's character has a partner that screws up something during a heist, and Cheadle's character yells at him, "You had one job to do!"

Relying on a belayer is difficult for me mentally now. I tried climbing on the following Sunday and Monday. Even being lowered is terrifying if I start to accelerate even a little bit (the reasonable variance that happens sometimes). If this accident had at least been with an inexperienced belayer, I could have realistically blamed myself, and found fault with trusting "beginner" belayers. But now, considering that someone with ten years of experience--and no previous dropped falls--dropped me, it's got me in this mode of "How can I really trust anyone?"

It's only my faith in belayers that is shaken now. I believe that if I was comfortable soloing something before, I'd be just as comfortable soloing it still.

My plan is to go to the gym and practice taking larger and larger falls until I can get back to my old self.

Please stay alert while you're belaying, it's your only job.


(This post was edited by spikeddem on Mar 8, 2011, 8:18 AM)


justroberto


Mar 8, 2011, 8:45 AM
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Re: [spikeddem] Red River Gorge -- Motherlode Accident [In reply to]
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Damn, dude. Glad you're all right. Did you go to the hospital just in case?


vegastradguy


Mar 8, 2011, 8:55 AM
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Re: [justroberto] Red River Gorge -- Motherlode Accident [In reply to]
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jesus, you're are lucky that you landed where you did- glad you're all right.

sorry to hear about your trust in belayers- but its only been a few days. your plan sounds like a good one- good luck getting it back. i would only add that itd be good to find someone you really trust to work on this with rather than a random or someone you havent climbed with alot.


Lbrombach


Mar 8, 2011, 9:09 AM
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Re: [spikeddem] Red River Gorge -- Motherlode Accident [In reply to]
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Good luck on the mental recovery...may your enjoyment of the sport not be ruined forever.


Lbrombach


Mar 8, 2011, 9:11 AM
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Re: [Lbrombach] Red River Gorge -- Motherlode Accident [In reply to]
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Unless you're one of the scumbags that trash the Red and piss off the Webers... but other than that - glad you aren't crippled or dead.


justroberto


Mar 8, 2011, 9:12 AM
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Re: [spikeddem] Red River Gorge -- Motherlode Accident [In reply to]
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spikeddem wrote:
Please stay alert while you're belaying, it's your only job.
Belaying = field-goal kicking. You has one jorb; fuck it up and people will hate you forever.


spikeddem


Mar 8, 2011, 9:26 AM
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Re: [justroberto] Red River Gorge -- Motherlode Accident [In reply to]
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justroberto wrote:
Damn, dude. Glad you're all right. Did you go to the hospital just in case?
Thanks.

I haven't been to the hospital. I didn't have any issues walking from the base of the climb to the car. On the way to the car I had to be careful not to roll my ankle, as it felt like rolling it would be a very bad idea. By the time we were driving by Miguel's my ankle felt fine.


Gmburns2000


Mar 8, 2011, 9:54 AM
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Re: [spikeddem] Red River Gorge -- Motherlode Accident [In reply to]
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Damn, that sucks, dude. Glad that you're OK. Fingers are crossed that you get your head back in the game. It has to be tough to come back from that, but don't let it get to you such that you can't come back. The harsh reality that everyone makes mistakes. The good reality is that life does, in fact, go on.

I don't think your belayor's fault is necessarily not being in the proper place to begin with. Yes, I'm sure that would have helped to prevent this, but you said that he took his hand off the brake strand. I'm not sure why it was necessary to do that to move. When I need my hands to move around while belaying, I still manage to do it without letting go.

I have made it out safe from a similar experience, though, so I understand your nerves.


MS1


Mar 8, 2011, 9:54 AM
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Re: [spikeddem] Red River Gorge -- Motherlode Accident [In reply to]
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spikeddem wrote:
This happened Friday, March 4th 2011. I was climbing at The Motherlode on a route called Kick Me in the Jimmie. The route is a constant 10-15 degrees overhanging for 55-60 feet.

The last fall of the last climb of the day should have been a routine, clean ~12' lead fall onto the fifth bolt. After the expected catch passed, it became clear that my belayer didn't have control of the rope. I fell about 35 feet to the ground. If someone could pick the spot on the ground to crater on at any given point on that climb, I probably landed on that spot. It was a smooth boulder that sloped gently towards the ground. Another foot in any direction would have been much more devastating.

I remember bracing myself for impact, hitting the ground, and notifying everyone that I was okay about one second after I hit. I was, against the odds, just about completely fine. My ankle was a bit tweaked, and my ass hurt. I was able to walk out of the crag just fine, and now I can hardly even feel the bruise on my butt. The belayer had rope burns on the wrist of his guide hand (non-brake hand).

My belayer has been climbing for ten years (never dropped anyone before this accident), and I've been climbing with him for just over a year. He was belaying with a tube-style device that looked this, although it's possible it was a different model/brand. The rope was a Maxim Glider 9.9 Basically, it sounds like he just took his brake hand off the rope for a split second when he was trying to move into a better position to catch the fall (not sure why he wasn't there beforehand?). Once he realized his hand wouldn't be able to get the rope, he just tried compressing it by leaning forward and just pressing his forearms onto the device/rope (hence the rope burns on the forearm).

This was completely unnecessary, and it never should have happened. It reminds me of the scene in Ocean's 11 when Don Cheadle's character has a partner that screws up something during a heist, and Cheadle's character yells at him, "You had one job to do!"

Relying on a belayer is difficult for me mentally now. I tried climbing on the following Sunday and Monday. Even being lowered is terrifying if I start to accelerate even a little bit (the reasonable variance that happens sometimes). If this accident had at least been with an inexperienced belayer, I could have realistically blamed myself, and found fault with trusting "beginner" belayers. But now, considering that someone with ten years of experience--and no previous dropped falls--dropped me, it's got me in this mode of "How can I really trust anyone?"

It's only my faith in belayers that is shaken now. I believe that if I was comfortable soloing something before, I'd be just as comfortable soloing it still.

My plan is to go to the gym and practice taking larger and larger falls until I can get back to my old self.

Please stay alert while you're belaying, it's your only job.

As someone who was dropped about a year ago, I can relate. (In my case, the belayer was relatively inexperienced, but many of the psychological consequences are the same.) I think your plan for regaining your confident on lead is good; take it slow and you'll get your game back.


onrockandice


Mar 8, 2011, 10:09 AM
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Re: [spikeddem] Red River Gorge -- Motherlode Accident [In reply to]
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This reminds me of a climb I was on. Where I had a 'stupid' moment and then a 'come to Jesus' moment.

I was on belay and I'm well regarded as 'solid' in the belay. My climber had just left the anchors and was headed up we were 600' off the deck. He went into a rest as he got gear out to place it. I took this time get a pebble that was stuck into the bottom of my foot off. (I had tried rubbing it off on the ground, my leg, even the ropes stack. It was just pushed that far into the skin that I made it worse.) I reached down as fast as I could to rub that pebble off (with my brake hand) and as I came back up his eyes and mine made contact.

Not a word was spoken, ever. He knew I understood and I knew that I had just had my ass handed to me by a man I regarded as my closest friend on rock. I had learned a vital lesson.

When you are the doorway between another man's life and death you better know which priority is higher. I could have had him clip in with a draw, I could have verbally communicated my intent and he easily could have down-climbed.

The thing that terrified me (now that I understand FF2) is that he was above the belay and had not clipped his first piece. He would have fallen and possibly stripped the belay and it might have been both of us tumbling down.

None of that happened. I learned something and I don't think I'll ever forget it. Jesus was pretty clear:

"Thou shalt not let go for any reason with thy break-hand."

I'm pretty sure that if there was an 11th commandment that's what it would say.


ClimbSoHigh


Mar 8, 2011, 12:03 PM
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Re: [onrockandice] Red River Gorge -- Motherlode Accident [In reply to]
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Wow, thanks for sharing. Glad to hear you were more or less OK.


olderic


Mar 8, 2011, 12:13 PM
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Re: [onrockandice] Red River Gorge -- Motherlode Accident [In reply to]
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onrockandice wrote:
T

"Thou shalt not let go for any reason with thy break-hand."

I actually think Jesus could spell better.


jt512


Mar 8, 2011, 12:13 PM
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Re: [onrockandice] Red River Gorge -- Motherlode Accident [In reply to]
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onrockandice wrote:

I was on belay . . .

No, you were belaying. Your partner was on belay.

In reply to:
I reached down as fast as I could to rub that pebble off (with my brake hand) and as I came back up his eyes and mine made contact.

Correction. You weren't belaying, and your partner was not on belay.

Jay


(This post was edited by jt512 on Mar 8, 2011, 12:15 PM)


Rudmin


Mar 8, 2011, 12:30 PM
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Re: [onrockandice] Red River Gorge -- Motherlode Accident [In reply to]
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onrockandice wrote:
This reminds me of a climb I was on. Where I had a 'stupid' moment and then a 'come to Jesus' moment.

I was on belay and I'm well regarded as 'solid' in the belay. My climber had just left the anchors and was headed up we were 600' off the deck. He went into a rest as he got gear out to place it. I took this time get a pebble that was stuck into the bottom of my foot off. (I had tried rubbing it off on the ground, my leg, even the ropes stack. It was just pushed that far into the skin that I made it worse.) I reached down as fast as I could to rub that pebble off (with my brake hand) and as I came back up his eyes and mine made contact.

Not a word was spoken, ever. He knew I understood and I knew that I had just had my ass handed to me by a man I regarded as my closest friend on rock. I had learned a vital lesson.

When you are the doorway between another man's life and death you better know which priority is higher. I could have had him clip in with a draw, I could have verbally communicated my intent and he easily could have down-climbed.

The thing that terrified me (now that I understand FF2) is that he was above the belay and had not clipped his first piece. He would have fallen and possibly stripped the belay and it might have been both of us tumbling down.

None of that happened. I learned something and I don't think I'll ever forget it. Jesus was pretty clear:

"Thou shalt not let go for any reason with thy break-hand."

I'm pretty sure that if there was an 11th commandment that's what it would say.

Why not just use your other hand? Or switch the rope to your other hand? This is why belay rules such as, "only your right hand can hold the brake strand" are stupid. There are a lot of reasons that you need to be able to do stuff while belaying, like untangling ropes, getting ready to move, picking pebbles out of shoes. Keep one hand on the brake, use the other hand when the climber isn't moving. Worst that happens is you short rope your buddy.


jt512


Mar 8, 2011, 12:31 PM
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Re: [spikeddem] Red River Gorge -- Motherlode Accident [In reply to]
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spikeddem wrote:
My belayer has been climbing for ten years (never dropped anyone before this accident) . . .

Years in service can be misleading. There are some climbers who just never get it: from the moment your climber leaves the ground until he says "off belay" your brake hand must be continuously holding the rope. I've seen beginners who get it immediately and guys who've been climbing since the 70s who don't. You have to assess every belayer individually.

A week ago, a climber on the route next to me was standing on a ledge at the fourth bolt of his climb, and I looked over at his belayer (using [?] an ATC), and he was just standing there with his hands on his hips not holding the rope at all. I finally asked him, "Is your partner clipped in up there?" And he goes, "Oh, I guess 'technically' I should keep my hand on the rope." He then put his brake hand back on the rope, so I guess "technically" his partner was back on belay.

Some people just don't get it.

Jay


(This post was edited by jt512 on Mar 8, 2011, 1:15 PM)


lena_chita
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Mar 8, 2011, 12:53 PM
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Re: [spikeddem] Red River Gorge -- Motherlode Accident [In reply to]
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Wow, I'm glad you are O.K. With all the boulders at the bottom there, landing without breaking anything is no small miracle.

Years of experience are not necessarily indicative of competency. I don't know of this person's background, but some people climb/belay for many years and never take or catch an unexpected lead fall, while others catch a dozen falls a day.
Though you are right, we look at years of experience as a shorthand for overall competency, and if you can't trust someone who has been climbing for 10 years, how can you trust anyone?

It seems that the longer I climb, the more people I have climbed with -- but the circle of people I really really trust keeps getting smaller with time, not bigger.

Good luck rebuilding the confidence, and getting back into climbing at your limit. Time is a big thing.


notapplicable


Mar 8, 2011, 7:09 PM
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Re: [spikeddem] Red River Gorge -- Motherlode Accident [In reply to]
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Damn Spike, glad you threaded the needle on that one. It sounds like your belayer was able to create enough friction that you were not in complete free fall, is that right? Could you feel the friction on the rope as you fell?

Either way, good luck with sorting out the confidence/trust issues. Hopefully you have one or two longstanding partners you can fall back on to belay for awhile.


blondgecko
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Mar 9, 2011, 3:13 AM
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onrockandice wrote:
The thing that terrified me (now that I understand FF2) is that he was above the belay and had not clipped his first piece. He would have fallen and possibly stripped the belay and it might have been both of us tumbling down.

[pedant]Actually, that situation would only be a FF2 if you actually had him on belay. If you'd dropped him, he'd have fallen to the end of the rope, reducing things to a fall factor at most slightly above 1. Not that I'm recommending this as an option, or anything.[/pedant]

To spikeddem: damn, dude. Glad you're OK.


socalclimber


Mar 9, 2011, 4:00 AM
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Re: [spikeddem] Red River Gorge -- Motherlode Accident [In reply to]
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Glad your ok, that was a big fall. That would also be the last time I climbed with that person.


Partner rrrADAM


Mar 9, 2011, 4:13 AM
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Glad you are OK, brutha... I remember watching Mike Reardon get dropped by a very experienced belayer some time ago at Malibu.

Personally, I've never been dropped, but I would have a LOT of confidence in a belayer with experience who HAS dropped someone in the past, as they would most likely be the most attentive belayers from that experience.


Partner j_ung


Mar 9, 2011, 4:18 AM
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Crap, Spikey! Glad you're in one piece!


Partner j_ung


Mar 9, 2011, 4:20 AM
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jt512 wrote:
spikeddem wrote:
My belayer has been climbing for ten years (never dropped anyone before this accident) . . .

Years in service can be misleading. There are some climbers who just never get it: from the moment your climber leaves the ground until he says "off belay" your brake hand must be continuously holding the rope. I've seen beginners who get it immediately and guys who've been climbing since the 70s who don't. You have to assess every belayer individually.

This so true. I see it all the time and wonder how some people have gone through all those years without killing somebody.


Pres


Mar 9, 2011, 5:07 AM
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damn! This is a great reality co-signer. I'm just starting out, and for me the reality of the belay is still being instilled. I tend to be very serious about everything I do, and hearing this is one of those gut check shares. Thanks, for putting that out there for me to keep in my base, and for reminding those with more experience about it.


gblauer
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Mar 9, 2011, 6:33 AM
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spikeddem wrote:
. it's got me in this mode of "How can I really trust anyone?"

It's only my faith in belayers that is shaken now.

So glad to hear that you are ok. THis happened to me in the gym, with much more serious consequences. I broke my back and it really shook my confidence in all belayers (except my husband and Jen/Gavin). Interestingly, I was able to get back to indoor climbing very quickly. My "head" indoors was great. Outdoors was an entirely different story. I was sketched for almost the entire outdoor season. I categorized the accident in the "bad things can happen when you climb" column. I had irrational/rational fear about almost everything.

Fast forward to today...I am still "aware" of the inherent dangers of the sport, I double check every thing, but, I have moved on. My head is decent, I only climb with trusted/experienced partners and hope that I will never experience that 35 foot free fall again! I agree with Lena, my circle of trust has gotten much smaller.

Good luck, I hope you recover quickly.


(This post was edited by gblauer on Mar 9, 2011, 6:40 AM)


spikeddem


Mar 9, 2011, 6:50 AM
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notapplicable wrote:
Damn Spike, glad you threaded the needle on that one. It sounds like your belayer was able to create enough friction that you were not in complete free fall, is that right? Could you feel the friction on the rope as you fell?

That is correct. It definitely wasn't 100% free fall. It's about what you'd imagine if you tried to catch a fall with the climber's waist about 4-5' above the last bolt, but used your wrists to brake--which is, of course, what happened. Hard to say if I could feel the friction. I do know that I could hear the rope whizzing over a material (probably the belayer's jacket and/or wrist). With a complete free fall, I'm not sure if I would have heard that at all.

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