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Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Topic Author's Original Post - Jun 25, 2006 - 01:38am PT
This seems to be my year to get banged up... but fortunately it seems only to be bruises...

Today ablegable and I were into an easy day with lots of altitude, Tuolumne Meadows doing a rib to the Dana Plateau above Lake Ellery. Something like 2000' and then a fun descent. Most of the climbing was steep scrambling with a few interesting moves thrown in, we took a light rack (stoppers, some hexes and slings) and a 100' rope (skinny!).

In the very first part we are soloing up a chimney system, I'm hanging back and a block unexpectedly blows out from under Eric's feet, fortunately he had solid holds for his hands.

The block calmly submits to gravity. The block probably weighed > 100 lbs. And it was executing a pretty vertical fall. I was off to the side, slightly, and it grazed my shoulder and slightly less grazing on my hip. After persuading me to move out of its way, the block eventually crashed down and stopped without making too much ruckus.

I was ok, no broken skin.. and no fratures (at least I assume I would have felt a lot worse). So we continued to the top... a bit sore, and now getting more so.

Anyway... let's hear your falling rock stories. I was a little jibbed after that but did ok for most of the climb. Of course, everything is instantly suspect as loose and ready to take a ride. Fortunately nothing else came off.

Adventure climbing...

Trad climber
Santa Cruz, Ca
Jun 25, 2006 - 03:21am PT
A few years ago I was climbing on Munginella with a buddy behind a party of two. I was leading the second pitch as they were finishing the last pitch. Anyone who's done those routes on the open books can picture all that loose rock up on the top. These knukle heads figured this was a good route to practice...hauling. I happened to be on the section of the second pitch that goes out away from the wall. The follower of the party above was at the belay above me about 30 ft., and the leader was up above hauling his haulbag. However or whenever it happened he unloaded an absolute torrent of grapefruit sized rocks down me. Amazingly nary a ONE hit me as I stood there trying to get as much of my body under my helmet as I could. In so many words I told the follower that what they were doing wasn't the best idea... They never even yelled rock...
Walt Heenan

Trad climber
Voorheesville, NY
Jun 25, 2006 - 09:35am PT
A few years ago I was climbing at the Gunks way down in Near Trapps to get away from the crowds. We start up a route and it turns out there is a party traversing on a ledge about 90 feet above. Pretty soon a rock comes crashing down and lands about 20 feet to our left - no warning. A few minutes later another one lands closer - again no warning. Finally after the third one we are getting really pissed so we yell up for them to be careful and to at least warn us. To my stunned disbelief they yell back indignantly that they are from Colorado and they are experienced climbers and it is OUR resposibility to get out of the way of anything THEY knock off!?!?! Go figure.

Social climber
Jun 25, 2006 - 01:48pm PT
About 15 years ago on the East Face of Mt Whitney I was almost killed by roock fall. At the end of the Fresh Air Tranverse there is a rotten chimmney. My inexperienced partner wanted to lead the pitch out of the chimmney. I told him go immediately right and do not touch anything to the left. He went up about 15 feet and decided to go left. I yelled, "NO! Go right!". He reach out and touched a 25 pound rotten flake and off it went.

I could not get out of the way. I leaned in and covered my un-helmeted head. The impact was so hard I thought my neck was broken. Immediately my arm swelled from the impact and my scalp split open in a star pattern. I was alive and lead the rest of the route. To make matters worse it started to snow near the summit. Now I always wear a helmet and choose my partners more carefully.

Sport climber
St. Louis
Jun 25, 2006 - 01:57pm PT
Several years ago while climbing at Seneca I was really unnerved by these two guys climbing next to me. They constantly kept yelling "rock!" "ROCK!!" "ROOOCK!!!".

Everytime they'd yell, I'd flinch and cover myself.

I was really getting annoyed at their clumbsiness (not THAT much rock fall is normal at Seneca on the East or West Face). But then I realized that one of the guys climbing was named Brock.

I told them that they need to use a nickname when climbing.

Big Wall climber
Stoney Point
Jun 25, 2006 - 02:00pm PT
Picture this, you have just finished the third pitch of the Nose when you hear screaming from above. A few seconds later pieces of rock the size of baseballs and bricks is hitting the granite all around you. You can smell the burning granite.

Or picture this, you are on the East Face of Whitney starting the washboard and chunks of granite rain down from the party above as big as bowling balls.

But all in all the most dangerous rockfall I have seen has been at Williamson Rock.

Chicken Skinner

Trad climber
Jun 25, 2006 - 02:18pm PT
One time during an extremely busy day at Manure Pile there were a pair of climbers that were constantly shouting back and forth and felt the need to do this about every 20 feet. One of the climbers happened to be named Rock. His partner would yell "Hey Rock" prior to communicating his signal. It was quite amusing to watch everyone at the base running for cover in the woods. I ran too, the first few times, then I relaxed and watched the show.Climbers, don't name your kids Rock.

Mighty Hiker

Social climber
Vancouver, B.C.
Jun 25, 2006 - 02:48pm PT
I dinged my head on a rock yesterday, on the west ridge of North Twin Sister. A nice ridge scramble, too much boring hiking on old logging roads. Anyway, no real need for a helmet -it's a ridge, with decent rock. And a very hot day. But at one point I straightened up, and smacked myself upside the head on a fixed rock. Blood everywhere, but it stopped fairly quickly. I have a tender spot there this morning.

Can't be too careful, I guess. Maybe I should shout "Head" the next time I do this. (Or perhaps "rock" - there may be some common attributes.)

A main reason I now wear a helmet even for rock climbing is the proliferation of other climbers. There's almost always someone above or nearby. If I choose to climb below or near to other climbers, it's my look out. Though I hope they'll shout "rock" when necessary.


Flagstaff, AZ
Jun 25, 2006 - 03:32pm PT
In '93 we were humping loads to the base of The Trip. Near the base of The Nose I hear this sound that seemed like an F-16 was flying low overhead. I look up just in time to see a bowling ball sized block, most likely traveling at terminal velocity, heading right at me. I ran about five steps and tumbled forward with my hual bag on. The rock landed right where I was when I heard/saw it. It exploded and sent rock fragments everywhere though I manged to not get hit by anything. My partner was far enough ahead of me that I didn't see him until we were at the base of The Trip. I pulled out my pipe, packed it full of weed and starting hitting it like i was on oxygen with an asthma attack. I repeated that process probably five times before I "calmed down". We got two pitches up the trip before we decided it was time to bail. I was sofa king scared I couldn't see straight. I recall watching a guy zipper half of the fifth pitch on the Trip (which was going to be my pitch). We decided on something easier - nothing like dragging five days of beer up WFLT.

I didn't see this rock but the scar was impressive. When we did Lunar Eclipse in '94 or so it had not been done since a large block on the 8th or so pitch had fallen off. I still vividly remember staring at the rock scare at the base and being rather impressed. I added a few machine heads to that route to work around the missing rock.
Tahoe climber

Trad climber
Austin, TX to South LakeTahoe, CA
Jun 25, 2006 - 04:15pm PT
Belaying a friend at Luther Spires the other day. I'd led the route, an easy warm-up 5.9. She, much lighter than me, pulls on a solid looking rock that I'd used on the lead.
It comes off - luckily she was on toprope, and I'd decided to belay from a bit further away, in the shade.
45 lbs, triangle shaped.
I just "took" as it hit her and spun her around, then prepared to dodge the rock. It landed next to me in the dirt, so it didn't bounce.
Tough girl - she shook it off, despite bruises and scrapes to both legs, and finished the climb and others.
Scary - we were pretty shook up for the rest of the day, and Ed's right - everything begins to look suspect for a day or so.
Jerry Dodrill

Bodega, CA
Jun 25, 2006 - 04:44pm PT
Tuolumne - Descending steep gully climbers left of Hobbit Book. I step on this large tombstone size block that teeters, right at the top of gully. There are folks below, so I can't just trundle it. Put a big chalk X, like skull and crossbones on it and we chimney past one at a time. ten minutes later, half way down, we hear Rock! and the whole gully fills with huge missiles coming at us. Some guy "tests" it by pushing it with his foot, despite being able to see us below. Only cover is up hill under a huge boulder, so I'm running towards (!) the incoming stones. My friend Carolyn panics and falls down. When the dust settles there's a big chunk of rock between her legs with a white X on it. Shaking, we run down.
Tahoe climber

Trad climber
Austin, TX to South LakeTahoe, CA
Jun 25, 2006 - 05:14pm PT
Holy crap, Jerry!
Crazy story!


Trad climber
Lee, NH
Jun 25, 2006 - 05:16pm PT
I step on this large tombstone size block

This reminds me of the route Tombstone in Eldo, so named by the FAist because it was a roof crack with a large flake wedged in it, and if that flake came out on the leader it would bury him and stand there as his tombstone. (Is that flake still up there?)

On Half Dome, tourists threw off big rocks that sounded like runaway propellers by the time they roared past our heads. On El Cap, falling ice blocks made even scarier noise.

Four times I've had ropes chopped by rockfall, but by good fortune nothing big hit my partners or me.


Trad climber
Jun 26, 2006 - 10:26am PT
Sorry Ed, hope your fealing OK today -Eric
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Jun 26, 2006 - 10:42am PT
Eric, actually the soreness has been replaced by the typical blue and green bruise... not your fault dude! We just had a close encounter of the stoney kind, and lived to tell about it. I'd say it was luck, which it was in part, but sometimes good habits make luck a little easier to find.

What we did wrong: route selection, two in a chimney at the same time

What we did right: multiple solid points of contact, separation distance, vigilance

So we literally dodged a "bullet" (a large granite one).

I am always amazed at the casualness of the violence that large objects propelled by gravity can wreck. A simple brush caused a lot of bodily grief.

Be careful out there!

Adventure climbing has a risk element that provides the definition of the activity. Weigh the consequence of the risk carefully, and stack the deck in your favor when possible. And never forget that there is an element of the random, you can go out and do everything "right" and be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Michael Golden

Mountain View, CA
Jun 26, 2006 - 01:29pm PT
I was belaying my friend up the first pitch of that 5.7 route on Crystal Crag, near Mammoth, CA, last summer, in early July. The NE ridge, maybe? I had tied into a big tree root as an anchor at the bottom, because I was standing on a relatively small ledge, as a hard snow bank was covering flat ground at the base of the route.

So he climbs up and out of site. Then I hear him yell, "oh f**k!" The rope hadn't come tight, so I didn't know what had happened.

Me: "Monty, are you okay."


Monty: "Rock! Big f**king rock!"

I ran in toward the face and cowered in the alcove that starts the route. I couldn't help myself -- I looked up. Just in time to see microwave sized blocks flying above me and landing pretty much where I had been belaying.

The rope hadn't been cut, though Monty's leg had a pretty good sized bloody but superficial gash in it where he had tried heroically but un-succesfully to hold the rock in place with his shin. It shook us up pretty good. For the second roped pitch of the climb, which is mostly 4th class, I mostly used my gear to guide the rope away from loose rocks, rather than to keep me from falling too far.


Big Wall climber
Stoney Point
Jun 26, 2006 - 01:40pm PT
That time on El Cap I thought it was over. A Baseball size rock falling 1500 feet. I wonder what the terminal velocity would be assuming a sphere and a relative humidity of 50 percent?

Would it take off a head?


Flagstaff, AZ
Jun 26, 2006 - 01:43pm PT
In '89 or '90 Fred Berman and I hiked up to the Canyon Creek Lakes in the Trinity Alps to attempt a new line on Stonehouse. Staring at a photo of the formation we convinced ourselves the Stonehouse arete would go (to the right of dihedral). I started off on the first lead, placed a bolt about 15 feet off the deck, climbed a bit further to a crack where I was able to get nuts for 50 or 60 feet if I remember correctly. From there I did a big stemming move out to a huge block that had rather large and enticing xenoliths (or mafic enclaves) - a very cool move!. It was neat face climbing with enough small gear to keep it sane. Above me was a series of roofs I thought might be difficult. As I finished climbing the xenoliths and got closer to the roofs I reached up to grab a large block. The block was not attached.

With just a little bit of my weight the entire block slide directly towards me. The block was about 2'x2'X2.5' - granodiorite. With my right hand still hanging on, the rock settled onto my left hand and onto my shoulder. I did a barndoor like thing - with right hand and foot still on rock and sorta went with the motion of the rock and kinda tossed/pushed (uh.... got out of the way) of the thing and sent it for a long freefall. Fahhhh-reaked out!

The rock had a brother sitting right next to it though. I remember being frozen in place staring at its twin brother wondering if that bad boy was about to go into my lap - and it was directly in front of me. I tried to kick it as I moved past but it didn't go.

I climbed up to the roof and found moving over them to be not that bad - maybe 5.10-. I managed to get a natural anchor in some horizontals by running webbing behind a "pinch" in the horizontals. I added a half twist to the webbing and it caught nicely in there. I had probabably traversed right of the belayer about 30 feet - he was uphill and safe from the falling rock.

We attempted to traverse to the arete but there was so much lichen we decided to retreat. Berman and I spent the day at camp sitting around the lake drinking Yagermeister and the rest of our beers. We babbled "Oh man" over and over again.

Trad climber
Poughkeepsie, NY
Jun 26, 2006 - 01:52pm PT
Quite a while ago, I was climbing---I think the Jackson-Johnson route---on Hallet's with Barbara Thatcher. We were moving quickly on moderate ground. I had chimneyed about 30 feet up a chimney directly above the belay with no protection and had arrived at a chockstone the size of a large suitcase. It looked solid, but just to be sure I thumped it with the heel of my hand. Whump! It immediately dropped into my lap. So now I'm 30 feet up with no protection, a several hundred pound suitcase in my lap, and my belayer directly below me. The weight of the chockstone is more than I can handle. I can either fall with it, or ease it off my lap---in fact, it is slowly slipping off my lap anyway and I can't stop it.

I shout at Barbara to get out of the way. But she is tied in, she protests. I scream at her to unclip from the anchors and traverse out of the fall line. Doing this involves 5.7 climbing on insecure sloping holds, but I guess the panic and desperation in my voice is convincing. So now she is teetering on these slopers, I'm wrestling with the chockstone, and no one is actually anchored to anything. I'm terrified that when I dump the chockstone, it will hit the rope and take us with it anyway, but time has run out and I let it go. It misses the rope, goes straight down to the belay where Barbara had been standing, explodes into several large fragments, and plummets down into the void. There is no question that she would have been annihilated had she stayed at the belay.

The clattering died down and silence returned. Barbara traversed back to the belay and reanchored. The rest of the climb was uneventful.

Social climber
The West
Jun 26, 2006 - 03:38pm PT
I sent a flake the size of a sidewalk square off the first coral corner pitch on Aquarius once. I had just reached up to the side and pulled on it to get higher in my aiders, and instantly it was gone. Just luck that the rope and belayer were not in the way. It fell hundreds of feet before hitting the wall (deafeningly loud) and then bounced out spinning like a four foot square granite shuriken. It cut a swath of Bay laurel carnage before stopping deep in the forest.

There had been a bat behind it. I remeber simulataneously watching the missile, and the bat suddenly launched into space asleep. The bat slowly opened it's wings and did some gliding passes before getting it together and flapping away.

Also had the Texas Trundle on Texas Tower, an on-route flake about twenty feet long tapering from maybe ten feet to four feet wide. That was loud in a narrow canyon!

Another time, a melon sized rock chopped the hauline on pitch one of the same route.

Another time a fairly small (softball) rock jumped off the last pitch of the North Face of Castelton (My lead, I swear I barely touched it). It fell straight to the base, missed our packs and shoes but, falling onto a rubble arete, made two small avalanches one on each side.

Another time while scrambling around Yinyang, Pharoh's beard or somewhere like that one of my Droog's dislodged a grapefruit that managed to give the Colonel a solid kidney shot that eventually turned purple, but didn't slow him down much as he was safely 'cid-ated.

Goldstone, Micro, scary stuff!
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