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Topic Author's Original Post - Mar 30, 2010 - 03:18pm PT
I did not have the stomach for it when John's father asked me to, a month after the accident.
However, given the recurrent discussions about soloing, so frequently peppered by speculation over what might have happened to John, I feel compelled to share with the climbing community what evidence I have, regarding the circumstances of his death.

People can draw their own conclusions, as I have drawn mine.
I hope it will help bring a measure of clarity and closure to all concerned.

1. The autopsy report:
Cause of death: massive cerebral hemmorrhage.
No evidence of internal organ damage.
No cardiac/pulmonary injury.
Both wrists and ankles broken.

2. Body ID:

Three hours after John was pronounced at the Mammoth Hospital, I went to ID his body, ( twice, because the first time, the Sheriff was not able to attend).

The ONLY head trauma was a 3 inch wound at the juncture of the parietal and frontal bone, VERY HIGH,, at the curvature of the crown.

The wound had clean margins, without excoriations or ecchymosis.

It appeared to be a penetrating wound, not a crush wound.

The back and the rest of the head were intact.
"Racoon eyes" were evident.

3.Approximately one month after the accident, John's father and I reviewed the photographs taken at the Mammoth Hospital ER. They confirmed # 2 above.

4. John's father and I read the medics and the ER reports, which supported the autopsy findings.

5. I went to the Dike Wall 40 hours after the fact.

The skid marks of his body in the winter debris/gravel on the slab below Mr. Kamikaze were consistent with a fall from the route itself, NOT from the descent route: The marks would have been further to climber's right, had he fallen while descending.

6. The first party on scene stated that they heard what might have been the sound of a rock falling, then a muffled groan, then they saw a "puff of smoke".

7. I asked Urmas Frenosch to climb the route 4 days after the fact. He stated he could not find evidence of broken holds.

I climbed it myself about a month later and had to agree with him. Please keep in mind that John and I regularly used that climb as a warm-up and had done so 2 days before the accident.
The holds are not abundant and they are all on a couple of dikes that snake across the wall: had anything broken, it would have been quite obvious.

I hope this information will be of help.

I will not be available until later tonight, should there be further questions.


ron gomez

Trad climber
Mar 30, 2010 - 03:22pm PT
Thanks for posting this Paola, I can only imagine the difficulty, but as you say, we can only draw our own conclusions. I hope we will be respectful of this report and only have kind and supporting words for you, John and his family.
Thank you
Ron and Kelly

Tucson, AZ
Mar 30, 2010 - 03:31pm PT
This is difficult to read but seems timely. Thank you for posting, Paola.

Sport climber
Austin, Texas
Mar 30, 2010 - 03:32pm PT
Even though you did not have to, thank you for bringing some closure to this very sad event.
RIP John.
Lynne Leichtfuss

Sport climber
Will know soon
Mar 30, 2010 - 04:02pm PT
God, Paola, the guts you have. I can know more than most the pain and grief you feel because of my husbands horrid death. Thank you for the information. There is an under current of speculation, talk and rumor which would be nice to put to rest. I would like to call you sometime if that's ok. Peace and you are in my prayers. Lynne
Toker Villain

Big Wall climber
Toquerville, Utah
Mar 30, 2010 - 04:05pm PT
We started out poorly but I'm happy to say that we parted as friends so this was more info than I wanted, but thank you for putting some closure to the speculation.

Trad climber
It ain't El Cap, Oregon
Mar 30, 2010 - 04:44pm PT
Paola... tough to post, tough to read... but essential. Thanks. I had always held that there was no way John fell on the descent. Not John. My discussions with him the week (and day) previous about his sudden lack in arm strength/coordination must be the reason for this tragedy.

You are one brave soul.
the Fet

Mar 30, 2010 - 04:45pm PT
Thanks for the post. Even though we don't know the whole story this very much helps our curiousity and ability to learn from the accident.

I have a friend who broke through a skylight doing contruction and fell 80' to concrete. Broken ankles and wrists too, long recovery. I would guess the same thing happened to John (stuck the landing) but then his head hit as well.

Social climber
Mar 30, 2010 - 04:49pm PT
Paola - It took great courage to write your post. Thank you for doing so.

. . . not !
Mar 30, 2010 - 04:54pm PT
I know he had an appreciation for fortunate climbers who'd survived high falls , such as Bruce Lella's 120 footer (in the Gorge I think) - and I once heard him tell the story of a climber in the valley who was in a death fall and somehow was caught by a seperate rope (?) . Add the fact that he had already survived his own fall while free-soloing ('80s ?) - - - the injuries you describe sound as if he was able to purposely break his fall with his limbs , and for the most part protect his head . There was a paramedic report about him breathing ok when they got to him . Sounds like he almost pulled off another amazing escape , accept for the relatively remote location / time and distance to the hospital .
Karl Baba

Trad climber
Yosemite, Ca
Mar 30, 2010 - 05:11pm PT
Love you Paola

Being Real takes courage and helps everyone..THanks



Trad climber
The state of confusion
Mar 30, 2010 - 05:12pm PT

I hope with time it becomes easier for you and
the rest of John's family.
Be well.

Trad climber
Santa Clara, Ca.
Mar 30, 2010 - 05:15pm PT
Thanks, Paola. Sounds like he almost made the landing.

Sorry for your loss, and Tyrus'.
tom woods

Gym climber
Bishop, CA
Mar 30, 2010 - 05:41pm PT
Thanks for having the strength to put out the word. I read here the other day that he fell on the walk off. Thanks for the clarification.

As for those that say this doesn't matter? In a sense you are right, but for some reason, I feel it matters.

JB had an effect on all of us, as an inspiration and as a guy who put his money where his mouth was so to speak. His life and now his death, are often in the heads of other climbers.

Does his death lead to a re-evaluation of our personal styles of climbing? I'm not saying it should, but none the less, it sure has.

Does it change anything, knowing the cause? I don't know, but I do think about it.


Mar 30, 2010 - 05:51pm PT
Thanks for the analysis.

Very interesting.

For myself I'm pretty interested in this because I've climbed and known John for so long and I'm real curious how he fell.

So the ultimate knowledge is no one really knows if he actually fell while climbing the route or slipped at the very top ready to make the descent.


Mar 30, 2010 - 05:53pm PT
Thank you for your candor.
Your reasons are good enough.
With great respect for you and John and Tyrus.
-Wayne Burnes

Trad climber
The Great North these days......
Mar 30, 2010 - 06:28pm PT
Thank you for this.
Karl Baba

Trad climber
Yosemite, Ca
Mar 30, 2010 - 07:09pm PT
I agree that it hardly matters if John fell on the walkoff or the route. It might be of note or interest.

We die when it's our time to go and for reasons other than broken holds or loose scree. John has given us signs that this was his time and I wish him well on his journey

and continued love and healing to his loved ones



right here, right now
Mar 30, 2010 - 07:10pm PT
My heart goes out to you Paola.
Pretty straight ahead, as they say in the jazz world, for you to post this stuff up.
And so much more, beyond words.

I'm going to go reread some of the offerings in his birthday thread now.

Mar 30, 2010 - 07:45pm PT
".... it hardly matters if John fell on the walk off or the route."

Totally bizarre?

One of the greatest rock climbers and free soloist in the world falls and it doesn't matter how it happened?

Totally bizarre ....

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