Climbing incidents

After about 100 short-day climbing trips over 5 years, I'm happy to say that I haven't been involved in or witnessed any serious climbing accidents, but there have been a few minor incidents that set me thinking, and which I report here.

1) Onto the void - getting hit on the head by a piece of rock

The rock that hit my head I almost invariably wear a helmet when climbing, partly in case of an out-of-control leader fall, but mostly against falling rock and equipment. Pretty much everyone I climb with has had a close call with third-party gravity, and yet surprisingly few wear helmets. This bothers me even more after the following incident : On a trip to check out Kanalklippan in Stockholm, with no intention of climbing and thus no helmet, I was watching Al climb when he knocked a walnut-sized stone from a ledge about 2m above me. It hit me square on the head, and stunned me so that I saw stars in classic cartoon style, and almost passed out. This was a tiny stone, less than 2oz in weight (40g), and travelling at about 10mph (6 m/s, 20kph) when it hit me. I could probably have controlled a belay afterwards, but any bigger or higher and I would have most likely dropped the rope. In this case I got away with a small cut and a big bump, but it made it clear how much damage small items can do.
First lesson :
Wear a helmet, especially if you think for a living.

2) Getting a bad rap - stuck on the rope at Tyresö

Getting a bad rap Our day's climbing at Klövberget resulted in one ascent, due to a couple of rescues that took up the rest of the time. Getting down to the base of the climbs from the approach is tricky, because the path down is hard to find, and rappelling takes you over a 25m overhang down to quite steep scree. Al started to rapel down with his 20kg pack, but soon got his prussic caught in his rapel device. Because he had no chest harness he had trouble staying upright, and he couldn't rig an ascension system. Luckily we had another rope, so after a long period of wondering what was happening, I could rig the other line and go over the edge to help out. No big deal, and I probably wouldn't even mention that incident, if it hadn't been repeated soon after by another party. Al had climbed back up when the girl in the picture started down her rope, and stopped half way. At first I thought she was checking out the routes, but after maybe 10 minutes of silent hanging (and slow rotation towards the horizontal) I called up to ask if she was OK, and was answered with a sheepish 'no'. I tried to talk her through making a chest harness out of a sling, and escaping her prussic while I gave her a fireman's belay, but with no luck. Eventually I could shout at Al to get him to lower another rope to her, and all ended undramatically again, but the two incidents wasted many hours of the day, and with slightly different circumstances, could have become big epics. One of the biggest problems was communication - once Al had gone over the edge it was very hard to get into a position to see or hear what was happening, and shouting up 25m is only practical in the very calm conditions.
Lessons :
Use short prussics.
Make a simple chest harness from a sling before rapping with a big pack.
Think about carrying walkie-talkies if you are somewhere more remote than Stockholm.

© Mark Harris 2004

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