Sunday, February 27, 2011

Accident Analysis: 15 Foot Ledge Fall

On Saturday February 26th at Whiteside Mountain in North Carolina I fell on pitch 3 of the Original Route. The fall was due to a loose rock that I pulled off while down-climbing through a roof. I was down-climbing in order to extend the sling on my previous piece of gear because it was causing some awful rope drag. Because of the move I was putting an outward pull on the mail-box sized rock with most of my body weight. The block came loose and I immediately fell backwards. There was a sloping ledge below me that I had just traversed from the right. The rock and I hit the ledge at the same time, luckily in different places. The rock continued to rocket down the 200 feet of slab below and crash on the ground. I landed directly on my gluteus maximus and slid a couple more feet before my slide was arrested by a #8 Black Diamond Stopper. After a string of expletives I assessed myself for injuries. My rump was the only thing that hurt, but I waited for the pain to subside to see if it was masking any other painful injury. After a minute I realized nothing else hurt. I was fine. And really surprised that I was fine.

Whiteside Mountain, North Carolina. The Original Route (5.11a) ascends 9 pitches in the center of the upper wall.

Now for the analysis. The accident occured due to loose rock. How can we avoid loose rock? Testing blocks like this before trusting them helps. Tapping it to hear if its hollow or pulling with partial body weight before using full body weight are a couple ways to test. I did tap the rock and notice it sounded a little hollow, but I used it to ascend this section and it had already held. But when down-climbing I pulled harder because I couldn't see my feet and ripped the block out. It was a fluke type of accident that I was really lucky to get out of scot-free. As a side-note one might ask why I didn't have more gear above me? Good question. I tried to get a piece in to lower off of, but there was nothing to find. Climbing at Whiteside is in general run-out, and for most climbers probably shit-yourself-scary. So that probably didn't help the big fall.

If you have a similar story about a near-miss feel free to share it in the comments section. I'd love to hear and learn from others.