Great Moments in Climbing: Dropping the rack! Who's done it?


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Rick A

Boulder, Colorado
Topic Author's Original Post - Feb 28, 2007 - 09:11am PT
Of all the non-fatal mistakes you can make climbing, one of the most knuckle-headed is dropping the rack. I am chagrined to admit that it has happened to me on more than one occasion.

By far the worst example was on the FA of Electric Ladyland, an overhanging aid route on Washington Column. This climb was Richard Harrison’s idea and he had scoped out the line: a series of thin, slanting cracks for most of the way, except an obvious pitch where, even without binoculars, you could see it would need wide gear. So, Richard borrowed from the residents in Camp 4 a marvelous assortment of bongs, wide hexes and even tube chocks. We had multiples on the biggest bongs, big nuts, and assorted other jumbo gear, from 3” on up. Since it looked like there would be only one pitch of wide, the king-size rack was on a sling separate from the thin hardware and stowed safely in the haul bag.

A day and half into the climb, we got to the base of the wide crack and, sure enough, it was just as wide as we had estimated from the ground. We were eager to complete the pitch and reach the only ledge on the climb, one pitch up. There were three of us at the belay and we opened the haul bag to get the needed hardware.

Accounts differ among Richard, Gib and I as to what happened next, and who was responsible. But it is 30 years too late for recrimination, and all of the accounts agree on the essential fact that the sling, with all of the bongs, tubes and wide hexes, somehow eluded our collective grasp and fell, without touching the rock, all the way to the distant trees below.

I certainly wasn’t going to attempt to free climb that pitch without any protection and when I suggested the idea to the best off-width climber among us, Gib, he just laughed. So, I managed to jury-rig my way up the pitch stacking up to three items in a placement (nothing wider than 2.5”) until I ran out of gear. Then, deeply embarrassed, I placed a bolt beside the perfectly good crack, cleaned the stacked equipment below me and finished the pitch by the same process.

Richard on the ledge above the crack.

Come on out there, fess up. Who has fumbled the handoff?

Feb 28, 2007 - 09:47am PT
Fabulous tale, RA.

I did not take the honor, but was privelaged to observe in disbelief 18 cams on a sling sail hundreds of feet to the dirt. The fine gentleman responsible was just that: responsible (and a fine gentleman). I was like "just give me whatever cams you have and we'll work it out." But his rack had been stolen from his car some months prior. He was saving up for a new rack, but ended up spending the dough on mine. He replaced all my cams the next day. Happily, we put them to successful use a couple of weeks later on that same route.

Cheers to that homeboy!
Toker Villain

Big Wall climber
Toquerville, Utah
Feb 28, 2007 - 09:49am PT
On an attempted FA of the T-bird Mike Strassman dropped a rack of cams and biners that Mark Pey AMAZINGLY caught from his jugs a pitch below (major arm bruise).

Less than two hours later Strassman dropped the other rack, not so "lucky" it decked.

End of attempt.

Trad climber
Lee, NH
Feb 28, 2007 - 10:43am PT
Cold-fingered, I fumbled the handoff of a pack to my partner a couple pitches up the Black Dike. It zoomed off down the ice, then kept going at impressive speed for 1,000 feet down the frozen-over talus field below.

Amazingly, the ride was so smooth that we found the pack the next day, undamaged despite its wild ride.

Big Wall climber
Stoney Point
Feb 28, 2007 - 11:18am PT
Is the wide crack on the left? Or is the wide crack above the ledge. What is on the ledge, Raptor nest?


Trad climber
Poughkeepsie, NY
Feb 28, 2007 - 11:19am PT
I managed this noteworthy accomplishment in (I think) 1970 on the West Face of Sentinel (see picture of my partner John Stannard (jstan) in the thread on old-school photos).

I was leading the chimneys above the expanding flake pitch, and had to turn around several times in the process. Each time I turned around, the gear, which was on two or three slings, had to be shifted from one side to the other so as to be on the ``outside'' of the chimney. After one such turn too many, I noted a sudden sense of lightness. The thought that perhaps I had finally refined my sorry excuse for chimney technique was immediately cancelled by the melodious tolling of every bong we had bouncing merrily down the wall on their dedicated sling.

I don't know exactly what happened, but somehow during the change-overs the bong sling ended up just pinched between the others and not really hung on any body part. My grotesque imitations of chimneying then set it free.

The chimneys were basically unprotected anyway, so finishing the lead without the bongs wasn't any different than finishing it with the bongs. Stannard, who must have been flabbergasted at my incompetence, was kind enough to say nothing, although even in the Yosemite heat you could see the steam coming out of his ears.

As it turned out, good fortune was with us. The bong sling's bid for freedom ended two rope-lengths below when it magically hung up on a twig about the size of my thumb. We were able to tie our two ropes together, rappel to the bongs, retrieve them, and continue on our way.

Feb 28, 2007 - 11:30am PT
Actually I was just glad Richard got the chimney pitch. I wouldn't have had a clue as to what to do in it.
Dingus Milktoast

Feb 28, 2007 - 11:31am PT
Angus and I were climbing Braille Book a long time ago. I led the chimneyish pitch and set a belay, up comes Ang. He ropes in and I hand him the rack. He looped it over the top of a rock instead of clipping it to something. Then he proceeded to knock it off!

It went down inside the chimney, MY RACK! We heard it scream as it bounced down deep inside the crevice and stopped. F*#K!

Angus rapped down to where he could see it, stuck some 8 to 10 feet inside no-man's land. The grace that saved us from defeat on a 5 pitch 5.8 route was that he hadn't transferred the gear from the lower belay and my lead, so we have just enough to finish the route.

A week later we were back. Angus cut a long branch, 10, 12 feet long, and duct taped a big meat hook looking thing to it. We made a comical sight to the other climbers in the vicinity when we started up Braille Book with our giant home made cheater stick.

Fished my rack right out of that crack he did, then he wedged the meathook stick back in there as a joke.

It was gone a few years later next time we did the climb.


Sport climber
Venice, Ca
Feb 28, 2007 - 11:44am PT
That pic of RH laying in the bird's nest is an all-timer, Ricky.

Richard also had an even more ghastly rack drop on the Nose with the late, great Nick Escourt. Right up by the top, a sling came untied and most of their rack whistled into the void. They had like a #2 wired Stopper, a #8 Hex and a steel bong. Things got worse from there . . .


Gym climber
San Francisco, CA
Feb 28, 2007 - 12:10pm PT
john ..

i think you wrote about that story on "Close Calls" .. love that book! ..

Boulder climber
Sick Midget Land
Feb 28, 2007 - 12:17pm PT
I have fortunately never dropped the rack. However, when climbing in Josh with Charles, after he failed to lead the route and came down, I forgot the rack entirely. Upon arriving at the last bolt on the route (Good to the last drop) I look down to find I have no gear. As I start to move up another move Charles starts accusing me of showing off (already 20+ feet out) until I point out that the rack is sitting next to him. Just that day I had put a biner on my chalk bag so I used that to clip and then finished the route. I don't think I had ever before, or have ever since, had a biner on my chalk bag. Fate is sometimes quite forgiving.

Ice climber
Feb 28, 2007 - 12:51pm PT
On our way up the Sentinel slabs to do the second ascent of the Gobi Wall. I had a Joe Brown Extendable pack that was completely full of pins, nuts, clothing, etc that I was carrying. Don Lauria was my partner and we were psyched. At the top of the slabs, I passed the pack to Don, a sort of thrusting/thrown gesture and came up short of his outstretched arms. The pack with everything in it (except for two ropes), went flying down the slabs and we never found it. Rumour had it that Werner and some of the C4 guys went looking and found pieces sometime later.
THAT was an expensive mistake.


Big Wall climber
Stoney Point
Feb 28, 2007 - 01:30pm PT
So what kind of bird nest was destroyed? Seems like that could get one some jail time.

bob d'antonio

Trad climber
Taos, NM
Feb 28, 2007 - 01:54pm PT
Not the rack but a critical peice. Climbing in the Black Canyon I got off route about eight pitches up. Climb a few new pitches...down climbed one of most scary pitches I ever done...almost totally exhausted...I traverse to a off-width crack. With almost no gear and one number four friend. I ran it out about 20-25 feet on 5.10 climbing. Pulled the friend off the rack and then watch it fall 1200 feet to the ground. I wanted to cry. I slither down the crack...made it to good piece and started to back-clean/downclimb back to the belay.

My one and only forced bivy in the "Black".
Toker Villain

Big Wall climber
Toquerville, Utah
Feb 28, 2007 - 02:02pm PT
Even a forced bivy is better than retreat in the Black.

I only wish that I wasn't speaking from experience...
bob d'antonio

Trad climber
Taos, NM
Feb 28, 2007 - 02:11pm PT
Ron...I still had to do the "Walk of Shame". No water, one rope and we rapped back to the ground and the river. I drank two quarts in about 5 seconds. I looked for the friend...but didn't find it. was mid-week and no climbers looking down at us and laughing.

Social climber
the Time Before the Rocks Cooled.
Feb 28, 2007 - 02:21pm PT
Posted earlier, in a different thread...

(Not a tale of dropping the rack, but something equally serious...)

Back in the Day, doing shorter aid routes in the Valley was seen as a legitimate thing to do. These were considered as necessary "practice" before one tackled the big walls, and some were valid routes in their own right. Before Peter Haan and I had done any walls, we spent one Spring Break in the Valley doing aid. I remember being quite proud (and thrashed!) after doing the Direct South Face of Rixon's Pinnacle as a legitimate aid route that week. Must have been back in 1968 or '69...

After Rixon's, Peter suggested that we go up to Sickle Ledge. Now, I was probably 16 or seventeen at the time, and the Nose had such a HUGE aura for me! But Peter said it was a good thing to do; four pitches of aid and then we'd rap off. OK. Sure.

We swung leads, slowly, and got to Sickle in the mid-afternoon. Time for the descent...

Problem was, we had only two cords. No problem, since there were sets of double-bolts every 120' or so. Oops... Big problem, since one of us managed to DROP one of the cords while setting-up the first rappel! (Great rope handling skills!) Oh, sh#t.

Fortunately, there was a fixed line left from Glen Denny's filming of their ascent of the Nose for the movie "El Capitan". Unfortunately, there was a fixed line left from Glen Denny's filming of their ascent of the Nose for "El Capitan"! That was it. One single 11mm kernmantle that probably had been on that wall for, what, four, five or six years? And that was our only way off! (I have a vivid memory of that cord being almost pure white—as if the sun had bleached every bit of color out of the mantle.)

Two or three hundred feet down these fixed ropes, we could feel these stiff, frayed and faded lines twist through our biner breaks. We could hear them creak and pop, and we could see the dust blow-out through the mantle every time they'd stiffly twist over the bends in the 'biners!

Now I probably weighed 120 lbs, total, with all my gear. But Peter...

By all rights, we should have died on that descent!

Ice climber
Feb 28, 2007 - 02:32pm PT
Hmmm....nothing epic on my part, but I DO have to thank John Long here because I have dropped entire biners full of chocks while fumbling on lead. I believe I read somewhere in one of his books that you shouldn't rack same-sized chocks together on one biner because if you do drop it, you're out an entire size-range. Good thing I had a mix of different sized nuts on the other biners, on at least a couple separate occasions...

Thanks John! Love your books.

Blava nie, ty kokot!
Feb 28, 2007 - 02:53pm PT
I was 16 and staying in Yosemite Valley. We (all the usual suspects of that time,1979) were hanging out in the lodge parking lot. Lynn and Yabo took off to do the Chouinard/Herbert on Sentinel rock. As I remember, Yabo dropped the rack from the 4th pitch during a gear change. Some words were exchanged while they watched the rack plummeting to the base. So, they rapped to the base, picked up the rack and jumped right back on the route and finished it. I recall them arriving at the lodge parking lot rather late that night.

Feb 28, 2007 - 03:00pm PT
Why would anyone want to drop their rack?

It's not a popular thing to do.

Maybe Yabo, when he was gear testing my biners by dropping all of them off mammoth terraces. The biners did not look to good after he returned them.
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