Lost My Thumb on the Nose


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Big Wall climber
Nor Nev
Oct 15, 2010 - 01:04pm PT

Still wondering what the hell caused your thumb to come apart like that?

Hope you get well soon and that thumb works.

Doug Robinson

Trad climber
Santa Cruz
Oct 15, 2010 - 01:19pm PT
Amazing story. I too was struck that you can type!

So lucky it happened close to the ground. Imagine if you had been in the upper dihedrals, you thumb would have been a lot worse for the wear when it decked.

Heal up, and don't forget to fill us in on just how it happened.

All the best,

Sport climber
Sacramento, Ca
Topic Author's Reply - Oct 15, 2010 - 01:29pm PT
John R back. someone said it was a job to type this one handed. AND THE HAND I USED HAS 4 TUBES COMING OUT OF IT. sorry for caps. it took 3 hrs to type. thanks to all of you for your thots and prayers. doctors said this AM i should be released next week then 4 to 6 weeks later the bone securing pins removed then physical therapy. clint and others asked what was the mechanism that did the cutting, i looked at the other post on this subject on super topo by matt which includes pics (he will post some of my leeches later). looking at the second picture (which was of the piece just below the piece that pulled-the top piece) (i did not have the lead line thru that piece so that explains why i fell so far) i was high stepping in my aiders and so was holding on to something near the top of the aider while reaching high to set the next piece, the only thing i can figure is that whatever i was holding on to somehow my thumb went thru the cable on the cam and when i fell the rope went tight in the cam before it pulled and my thumb was caught between the tight rope and the cam wire. i remember, when i fell, that the cutting sensation occurred at the beginning not the end of the fall.

Trad climber
Folsom, CA
Oct 16, 2010 - 12:09am PT

Glad you you get to keep both of your thumbs so you can text. That would be a real bummer. Having Aid climbed with you before I have seen you grab cams directly to get a really high step in the last loop of the aider. I suspect your thumb went in between the trigger cable of the small cam you were placing. When you fell it sliced the thumb off like the cable used to kill Luca Brasi in the movie "The Godfather".

You should ask for donated SF Giants playoff tickets to be given to your rescuers (Me and Matt) for doing such a great job. Maybe you can throw the first pitch. Just don't throw too hard.

Curt Taras

Boulder, CO
Oct 16, 2010 - 12:32am PT
Jesus. Glad you got it reattached.

I lost the tip of my pinky in a stupid off-route-on-4th-class-dirt trail-finding error in cathedral gully. Not reattached.

I won't be coming back to this thread b/c I don't want to see any pictures, but heal fast.

Trad climber
The land of Fruits & Nuts!
Oct 16, 2010 - 03:10am PT
Holy Sh1t John, from your emails I understood it to be someone else who was climbing with Matt that lost their digit. I had no idea it was you.

If I were to have an accident on the big stone, there are few people I know with the skills and a cool enough head to fully trust to help get me down in a timely fashion. Matt is definitely one of them. Glad you were in good hands with both Matt and Curt.

Here's to a successful, full recovery.


Trad climber
Oct 18, 2010 - 01:38pm PT
Hi John,
My son, Logan, and I were fixing ropes down from Sickle when you fell, and we heard and saw your fall. "I've lost my thumb" took a few seconds to sink in. I was hoping it meant something else, like maybe you had a favorite stopper you called your thumb, but you clarified the statement for your partner with all the grisly details, and it became clear what had happened. After the fall and initial shock you sounded amazingly calm and stoic. You gotta be one tough dude! I got down first and when your buddy asked me to help look for it, my reaction was "we are never going to find this needle in a haystack." Fortunately when Logan got down he thought "I'll find it. I can find it because I always find crazy stuff." Sure enough he did. He says he saw the grisly end first and knew immediately what it was. Your buddy scooped it up with a nalgene bottle filled with water.
We are glad to hear that they were able to reattach it and hope that it is fully functional soon. Write us and let us know how things are going.

Social climber
Oct 18, 2010 - 02:28pm PT
Indeed we all would like to read thumb good news about your recovery!!!!

Trad climber
Oct 18, 2010 - 02:29pm PT
a friend of mine cut off his thumb with a bandsaw, many years ago, and had it surgically reattached. that was 30 years ago, and the surgery is far more advanced now.

best of luck with yr recovery.

Big Wall climber
Nor Nev
Oct 18, 2010 - 04:14pm PT
Wow again.

Cut off by the cam cable. Hope your feeling better. Now we need to ban cams or thumbs all over the world are going to be lost to sensless falls like this. Ok that was a thumb idea. I'll go now.

Oct 18, 2010 - 04:23pm PT
the Fet

Oct 18, 2010 - 05:17pm PT
Get well soon and thanks for sharing your story.

A couple classic lines:

I then looked down to see the end of my thumb falling down 400 feet to the bottom.

If, after using the swab, the bleeding isn't adequate, a leech is placed on the hole and the leech removes the blood while cleaning the hole. It also emits an anticoagulent that increases blood floow.

Maybe we shouldn't just put leeches on everything. This could lead to advances in all sciences and... naahhhh!!


Sport climber
Sacramento, Ca
Topic Author's Reply - Oct 26, 2010 - 11:39am PT
George and Logan: Thanks for even looking for my thumb but to find it is just amazing. George, my thoughts were like yours, why look cause there is a zero chance of finding it but Logan didn't think that way, and found it. His attitude of always being able to find "crazy stuff" was a huge benefit in my case. We did see you guys ahead of us and my partner observed you the next day making good time free climbing above Dolt tower. I am home now and everything is progressing well. The doctors that reattached this take this real seriously and won't allow you to get out of bed for any reason for the first 5 days. I am now up some but have to keep it above my head when I am. Most of the time I am reclining.
'Pass the Pitons' Pete

Big Wall climber
like Ontario, Canada, eh?
Nov 2, 2010 - 11:11pm PT
Wow - the things you miss reading when you're on the wall!

So how's it goin'? Is it still attached?

Anyway, if you're ever in Yosemite, and see my driving by, and need a ride, well, you know what to do....

Social climber
Nov 3, 2010 - 12:30am PT
hey there say, john... now that this was bumped... i too, am wondeing how you are doing...

the things was a real neat "miracle save" for sure...

god bless...
post, soon as you can...
Aya K

Trad climber
New York
Nov 3, 2010 - 03:39pm PT
holy cow!!! how did they find your thumb?!!!

Trad climber
auburn, indiana
Nov 3, 2010 - 04:45pm PT
I will trade you
I will trade you
Credit: ellingwood

Trad climber
Albuquerque, NM
Nov 3, 2010 - 06:13pm PT
Here's to a speedy recovery.
You'll be back climbing sooner than you think...

There are a number of digit-ally challenged climbers out there who end up climbing just as much post-trauma as pre and with no real ill effects.
So hang in there.

I lost my thumb tip to a table saw. Back then, limb re-attachment surgery was not really in the cards, especially since the dog thought fresh meat made for a special treat.


Trad climber
Nov 3, 2010 - 06:20pm PT
ellingwood, was that really necessary?

sorry about your hand.

Wishing both of you a full and smooth recovery.

Trad climber
las vegas, NV
Nov 4, 2010 - 12:01am PT
Sorry to hear about your accident. I hope the thumb attachment allows you full use again. Here's a story your might relate to:

I was climbing with two friends in Zion back in the early 90's on Space Shot when my friend was aiding the third pitch. He had placed a nut above him in the thin crack and clipped the lead rope. Then, as he held onto the carabiner connected to that piece with one hand, he was reaching down with the other to unclip his etrier when the nut pulled. He fell to the next piece, and when the rope went tight, two of his fingers were caught in a loop of rope over them against the biner. The two fingers were avulsed to the bone, but still attached. We bundled the fingers together with my headband and had him elevate his hand and hold a pressure point while we hurredly arranged for rappels to the bottom. After being evacuated to a hospital in St George where a hand surgeon was waiting, he underwent hours of surgery. He was climbing again later that year =)
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