Climber's accountI have followed this topic for a few days now, and it seems appropriate that I post my account of this event, and a few comments directed toward some conversations that have come about here.
It seems that only a few people actually witnessed CLee's fall, and as her belayer, I am almost certainly the one who, unfortunately, had the best view. I and another member of our group took an early lap up Breakfast Burrito immediately upon arrival to Drive-By that morning. The route being every bit as enjoyable and exciting as I remembered from last year, I began talking it up to CLee, suggesting she do it, as it is well within her abilities, and a classic of its grade.
As is usually the case, Breakfast Burrito had a line of climbers waiting for it all day, and when she finally had a chance a few hours later CLee took her turn on Breakfast Burrito. She and another member of our group got set up, stick clipped the first bolt, and then I came over and put CLee on belay. I stood just to her right, at the base of the wall under the first bolt. She started up the route, hung the second draw, repositioned, and as she reached for slack to clip, her left hand slipped off of her hold and she came crashing to the ground. She landed flat on her back on a flat boulder, her head just at its edge. Her eyes rolled back in her head, she seized, and only moments after impact a stream of blood was flowing from the back of her head. I offer this image only to demonstrate the seriousness of the situation, as some people participating in this conversation seem to believe that the attention she received was excessive.
With a nurse on hand (something for which I am infinitely grateful), CLee was stabilized until the ambulance arrived. Most improbably, she sustained only a minor laceration and sizable bump to the back of her head, a serious rope burn on the back of her thigh, bruising to her back, and some lingering head and body aches.
There are several precautions that could have been taken to prevent such an accident: stick-clipping the second bolt, spotting the climber, belayer being prepared to take in a lot of slack in a hurry by jumping off of something, first and second bolt being located nearer to each other. In retrospect I wish CLee had a helmet on her head, that I had been spotting her, that the second bolt had been stick clipped. Any of these things could have made a serious difference, but the procedure we followed is typical, and the one I most often see being followed by others at The Red. Almost everyone knows the dangers of clipping the second bolt, including CLee, and her hand slipping was unexpected. As she said, she was not excessively nervous or pumped. This has been a lesson to me to never climb something, or allow someone else to climb something, if there is a potential for a ground fall, because there are always factors for which one cannot account.
It is very easy to perceive the impetus that drives those of you who seek to place blame on either the climber or the belayer in this situation, particularly given that you were not on site when this accident took place. It is difficult to accept that these things happen to the smartest, most cautious, strongest, and most experienced of us. It is frightening to acknowledge the inherent risks of an activity we all love and with which we have become a little too comfortable. Climbing will always be dangerous, no matter how well prepared those involved become. The human role is the least predictable in these situations; all other precautions should be in place to compensate for this, so that when a human error occurs (such as an unexpected hand slip), there are back-up systems in place to compensate.
I strongly advocate the education and preparation of all climbers in safer techniques. At this time, there are probably more rock climbers in the US than ever before, and a lot of them are inexperienced. As I understand it, the bolts that are placed on sport routes are there to make climbing them as safe as possible. I see no reason not to have second bolts closer to first bolts, so that even with the ever-present human error factors, decking will be unlikely. I think higher first bolts are potentially dangerous, because those without stickclips handy will likely still attempt to climb and will not have protection until 15 or 20 feet.
Finally, I thank everyone who was at Drive-By Crag that day. It seemed that everyone played a role in assisting CLee in a time when she needed attention most, and given the seriousness of her immediate condition in contrast to her current condition, I have little doubt that those efforts had a positive impact on her health. In particular, I thank the nurse from KU Hospital (whose name I could not spell even if I wanted to name her here) who was at the crag that day. She was a true professional, and I hate to imagine how things might be different were she not present.
I joined this forum today primarily to thank those who were there at the crag and acted immediately to assist me following my fall. I don't know how or if I can ever adequately thank you, but there is little doubt in my mind that were it not for your actions, I would not be able to joke around, let alone walk and function the next day.
I would like to clarify about what happened though. While it is true that I don't have years of outdoor experience, I am not a naÃ¯ve, ignorant gymrat who had no business on breakfast burrito. I have successfully lead-climbed more "difficult" routes but had the misfortune of slipping off my handhold as I reached to clip the rope...while I was a little shaky, I did not panic nor was I at all pumped. Likewise, my belayer was in no way responsible or at fault for what was ultimately a very scary accident. I had stick clipped the first bolt, but should have gone for the second. The bolts weren't too far apart...but I definitely think the first bolt could have been higher. That said, it was my hand popping off that led to my fall, not anything else.
To address the above comments: in retrospect, yes, the airlift was by its very nature precautionary, but at the time, it was a response to the fact that I was knocked unconscious, siezed and was bleeding from the head. I don't know how or why I was able to leave with nothing but a severe ropeburn on my leg and a bruised head (with some lingering headaches on the side), but I count myself incredibly blessed to be able to walk away (relatively) unscathed. I only was laughing and joking because I was and still am incredibly grateful for how things ultimately transpired and to put my peers at ease...it's my coping mechanism. But by absolutely NO means am I proud or boastful of what happened. I respectfully request that you stop spreading that image of me without actually knowing me. Perhaps we can grab a beer and actually get to know each other! Smile
Once again, thank you a thousand times over to those who were involved in the incident. I honestly do not know what I would do or where I would be without you. if you are ever in chicago, let me know. I owe you dinner at the very least!
**I will henceforth always extol the virtues of stickclipping the second bolt and wearing a helmet while leading!!!!!**