Your worst climbing mistakes. . .what happened/why?


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San Clemente, CA
Feb 2, 2007 - 10:50pm PT
I posted this in another forum a few beers back.

In the 90's two 'new guys' were climbing at Indian Cove near Joshua Tree. They walked up to a route called Silent Scream passing a few boy scouts beers in hand. Are you guys climbing? one scout asks as his scout master pulls him away from the degenerates.

Leaving my empty Bud can at the base I set off. The climb went smooth for me and my second until it was time to lower Ammon. I thought there were bolts at the top and only had gear enough for a small crack to the right of where the climb tops out. I used it not knowing about setting up a pendulum in my belay. I set it long to see Ammon climb up stacking the odds further against us.

With a few scouts watching I start to lower and I'm suddenly thrown off balance and smacked into the wall hanging plumb from my anchor. In the blink of an eye both sides of the rope, hand above my device, were in my hand and sped up like a band saw. I knew my partner was falling. Ignoring the pain, I twist the rope spraying an arch of skin many feet into the air, stopping Ammon two feet from the ground after he crunched his elbow on the rock.

The rope had a glaze of skin twenty feet long that wouldn't wash out and kinda smelled funny.

Ammons elbow still hurts a little.

Even though I had a huge grooves in four of my fingers, my pinky down to the bone, I soaked my hand daily in hydrogen peroxcide for six weeks and it healed like new.

The scouts were not impressed.

Frog Man Junior

Social climber
Feb 3, 2007 - 03:40am PT
Me an my Bro Abe were on the 2ed pitch of Nut Cracker (circa 1980) and I just had to have a drink of H20 before following his lead. I unclipped the 1 gallon milk jug of water and glugged down my fill. After clipping in the only jug of water we had I just let it hang, Well it didn't plummeted down to the valley floor. I yellede ROCK! as loud as I could several times, only hearing a foul come back of "you A$$ hol#". Bottem line: look, be sure, then look and be sure for real!

Sport climber
Buzzard Point, TN
Feb 3, 2007 - 09:40am PT
OH SH*T, I didn't bring a can opener!!

I used a sharp rock caveman style atop Salathe on a can of "unknown" origins. Turned out to be canned fruit and "grits"...

One bad mistake--totally unclipped way off the deck...had a nekkid feeling all of a sudden.

Trad climber
Lee, NH
Feb 3, 2007 - 09:57am PT
Since we're in a recycling mode lately, here's a tale about the Direct NWF that I posted a few years back on rec.climbing:

Late in the day, my partner and I had climbed a ropelength up the zigzags, planning to rap down and sleep on Big Sandy. I rapped first, using a double-carbiner brake on our 9mm haul line. With stretch, it just barely got my feet to the ledge. Standing there unanchored and not thinking at all, I slowly let the tail of the rope slide through the carabiners. As it released, the unexpected whiplash threw me off balance. I teetered on the edge, arms windmilling, for a couple of long seconds while the 'biners clattered noisily down the wall as if inviting me to follow. I regained my balance, yelled "ROCK" for any parties below, and sat down shaking at how close that had been.
Don't let go

Trad climber
Yorba Linda, CA
Feb 3, 2007 - 04:15pm PT

I remember that day. Justin and I started freaking out because you were several hours late and coming down in the dark.

Amoung the many stupid things I've done is committing to a tiny sandstone flake (about a 1/2 inch square) while bouldering at the beach. Surprise suprise it breaks. Sand landings are nice, but not when there is a rock just underneath my landing zone. Even worse is when I started spining when the hold broke. It got worse when my feet he a sloping wall off to the side and started to pitch me forward while spinning. Did almost a full turn and a flip to land on my back inches from the rock. DON'T TRUST SANDSTONE.
E.L. "One"

Big Wall climber
Lancaster, California
Feb 10, 2007 - 11:44am PT
Have to chime in here. Worst climbing mistake and worst climbing injury in my 30 plus years of climbing happened when I was doing traverses on the "People's Wall" in La Jolla, California. Was just completing my second traverse, when my arms started to really flame out. I hung from a nice hand hold about six feet off the ground where there was a large bush below me. Figured I would land between the bush and the wall on level ground. Strategically positioned myself for the controlled fall, lined up my landing spot and let go. Just before hitting the ground, my left ass cheeck was "harpooned" by a rather sharp branch of the bush. I lay crumpled on the ground feeling the first waves of shock. I limped to my car, positioned a tee shirt under my ass to provide pressure and control bleeding, and drove to the emergency room. Unfortunately, there was a major accident on the freeway which had the emergency room over capacity. A punctured ass was low priority compared to all the crumpled bodies coming into the ER. Four hours later I was finally seen by an intern who plunked 20 stitches into my ass and said, "Two inches more to the right and you would have had a bullseye!!", the thought have which has kept me from returning to the People's Wall ever since.


Trad climber
Feb 10, 2007 - 12:31pm PT
Got 15 feet off the ground and realized I forgot the rack.

3 times

in the same day

weed was good tho

Truckee, CA
Feb 10, 2007 - 01:11pm PT
Recycled from August. Soon after posting I was asked to submit this to a new book being written by Butch Farrabee and Michael (don't know his last name), called "Off the Wall, Death in Yosemite" to counter the total grimness they wanted a few survivor stories and picked this one. I'm not all that eager to read their book, but apparrantly the other versions have sold well in their respective National Parks.

I was not on the schedule to work, and I had pulled an all nighter in difficult discussion with my girlfriend. I went into YMS just to pick up my paycheck and chill with my best women buddy, KB (an unheralded hot stonemistress from the 70's). Brossman the Bossman, comes into the back room, "some folks want a guide today, your up, thats what Chief Guide means, you take the walk ins when you can!" So off I go and spend a nice day with some nice dudes, we do Keystone corner, Reeds Regular, Bongs away left, and they still have a bit of juice left, so I just run up the first pitch of Reeds Direct trailing the rope. When I am standing on the detached ledge I pull up the rope to tie a bowlin on a bight to the tree, while pulling the rope, with no cams to block it, the cord becomes stuck back in the flake. I turn back in to downclimb to free it, and bobble my balance on the ledge. I make a grab for the unfinished knot on the tree, grab the wrong side and fall backward off the ledge...I let out the loud death yell, plummeting to the ledges below, certain of my impending doom, when I am brought up short by the rope, just as my heel breaks on the small ledge early on the pitch. The rope jammed in the crack, my client had put his hand on the rope running on the ground allowing it to sink in deeper and stick. I am now so high on survivors adrenelin, I swing back to the crack, untie and solo down the lower section easily, back to my shaking clients. I had split my calcaneous into two pieces, which 22 years later can still bug me if I am teaching the snowplow, and the weather is changing.
I learned some valuable lessons that served me well over the next 20 years of guiding. One, do not try to get my climbing kicks while working, it can be bad enough pulling the bulge on top of RCA with rain splattering the stone. Second, guiding is never just a job. The trials of real life, may make it necessary to call in sick occasionally rather than put myself or my clients at risk.
Cool postscript. The client who probably saved me, dropped dead of a heart attack years later. Two years ago, I get a call from his son, he was passing through the park with his sons and was trying to convey to them the adventurous life of the grand father they barely knew. I took the kids up Aqua Knobby, had a great time, and conveyed my respect for their granddad who saved me!


Ice climber
Ashland, Or
Feb 10, 2007 - 01:28pm PT

yeah I was going to say, "I went up El Cap with a stranger."

...but two chicks has that beat by far!

Trad climber
Feb 10, 2007 - 05:35pm PT
I'm posting this up now because this relates to the accident in the Gorge. Obviously, I havn't climbed enough to have anything worse than this happen, and this was an almost, which should cover a lot of questions and ruminations over on the Gorge fatality post.

Climbing with a new partner, we headed to the upper Gorge.
Mistake #1, we didn't talk about the lowering procedure before we started.
Mistake #2, I didn't ask for a clarification of what "OK" meant. I thought it meant, "OK, I'm off", thinking he was going to set up a top rope anchor and rap. Just as I pulled the rope through my device, I looked up and saw him looking at me, rope hanging straight down the wall from his harness, him hanging onto the anchors, looking for the tension in the TR. I immediatly realized what was going on, thank God (or whoever) he was looking to make sure, and I hurridly put him back on belay as the tears and adrenalin started flowing. As I was lowering him, the horror of what just almost happened hit me. When he got down, he sat next to me. I was too choked up to say much besides croaking out "Sorry, I bet you won't climb with me again." To his credit, he said "No, but I'll never say OK again at the top of a climb."
Then we proceeded to talk about what we should have talked about before the climb. And went on to have a great day.

Why didn't he deck that day? Because this guy double, triple checks everything, and when he didn't feel any tension in the system, quickly clipped his daisy back into the anchor. (I didn't see that.)
I learned alot that day.
Now, when I am getting ready to lower off, I don't untie off the anchor untill I feel the tension in the TR, and can see the belay happening.
I quit trying to be "cool" with my on-off belay signals and just keep it traditional and straight forward. If I even here the word "OK" at the crags, it makes me cringe, and if I see it being used in conjunction with belay signals, I always tell this story.
Distractions can be very insidious. There was a bit of that going on this day as well. Male-female stuff.
If someone is yakking at me while I am belaying, I usually just smile and nod. If I am getting sucked into a conversation that is too distracting, I say something.
I double check my partners harness and tie-in each and every time, no matter who they are! My favorite way to do this is grab them by their tie in and give a good yank. Makes for some good jokes.
When I am re-setting anchors, I take my time, no matter how long it takes, and make sure I never come untied from the rock.
I clarify belay signals if I'm not sure. If that's not possible, I just keep them on untill all the rope is up and I get a couple of good tugs on my harness.

What else? Oh, he and I are still partners, even though I almost dropped him on his arse!

Social climber
Flatland, Ca
Feb 10, 2007 - 06:23pm PT
I'm in with WBraun. I'm warped since becoming a Supertopian.

Trad climber
San Jose, CA
Feb 10, 2007 - 10:31pm PT
first trip to camp4, the place where I'm supposed to find climbing partners coming out of the woodworks...
being so anxious to climb... not having a partner, starting to solo up Royal Arches on-sight with a heavy mist... beads of water balling up on the slippery rock... a torrent of water pouring through the easy way... committing to the very exposed slabby face & finger crack about 3-4 pitches up after lots of half-hearted attempts... somehow not dying on that part, and realizing shortly thereafter that I will die if I keep going... finding an alternate way down on-sight (rock still all slippery, etc.)... finding an ancient pile of tattered slings about half a pitch above the ground, somehow hanging off that and wedging into a chimney / body stem and sliding down the last 20 feet ripping up my clothes and somehow not getting hurt.

I've climbed it a handful of times since then, and even solo'd it once in good whether in a pretty casual way... but every time I pass the part I solo'd on-sight with all the water beading up, I just think that it was such a stupid and idiotic thing.

 have a partner lined up ahead of time, or have enough time to find one
 go climbing often enough to not get the urge so pent up that it outstrips all reason and restraint

Trad climber
San Jose, CA
Feb 11, 2007 - 02:13am PT
Actually just thought of a better climbing mistake...

Summer of 1990, long nights in the last days of the Soviet Union.

I was in a youth science exchange program learning about their space program. And I was 16 yrs old, away from an overly-restrictive home for the first time, and I had a childhood full of selling boy scout crap, magazine subscriptions, and other stuff door-to-door to build my selling instincts.

So against multiple dire warnings by our American chaperones and group organizers that we'd be shipped off to a Siberian gulag if we participated in the black market, and after horrific tales of what happened to kids the year before, our first night in Moscow our dorms had visitors hawking their wares. I quickly lost the 2 pairs of jeans I brought with me. Upon arrival in Leningrad (now St Petersberg), I traded the Nike shirt off my back for a Sovietsky Soyuz Socialist Respublic shirt with a map of all the states. Then it got serious.... most of the kids in our delegation were crapping their pants worried about getting caught talking to these people, but they wanted stuff. My buddy and I smelled money.

Every night we started going out for a midnight rendezvous, collecting flags, military pins, navy and army hats like in those bad movies with Arnold Swartzenneger or Dolph Lundgren, etc... A week into it we were taking special orders from our American cohorts, then building up our system of suppliers to fulfill requests. We'd buy 3 military watches and sell 1 for the same price, keeping the others as our personal souvenir stash. The most difficult special request was a woolen trenchcoat with navy ensignia on it. In hindsight I realize that our avarice and ignorant longing for adventure came at the expense of some poor souls who probably had their gear stolen to fuel these trades.

What does all this have to do with climbing? Hold yer horses. It's coming...

So one day we were supposed to go on a tour of the Hermitage, quite a large museum with one of the best art collections in the world. Instead my buddy and I ditched the group right when we got there, and hopped in a taxi across Leningrad to do our dirty business. We ran into complications on the way back, not least of which was our lack of a map, first visit to a large city, and a Russian vocabulary that mostly consisted of "that's too expensive" and "would you like to dance with me?"

By the time we get back to the museum to rejoin our group, all the kids are loaded up in a bus. The physics professor chaperones who have tried hard to ignore our hijinks just can't ignore this. They pretended not to notice when we were falling down drunk after a night of beer, wine, vodka, and beating ourselves with leaves in boiling saunas. But with the sweat beads dripping down the windows of the bus in the baking afternoon sun, and the priceless mix of anger and awe and "you're screwed!" written on all the kids' faces, it was clear that our time was up. From that point on, we were tied at the hip to the chaperones. But everyone has to sleep sometime.

And so comes the climbing part of this epic journey...

We slip past security out the back door of our hotel, bound for our last midnight meeting near an abandoned housing complex. The final round of goods scored, we reach the hotel. Crap! The back door we used is locked. And going through the front is out of the question. Now I haven't formally discovered climbing as a sport yet.... But I've climbed up to the roof of a house or two. Now I'm confronted with a 10-story building, and every balcony landing up to the 5th floor is covered in chain-link fence to prevent people from getting in our out. The drain pipes look pretty solid.... away I go. The plan is for me to climb up, reach a balcony where I can enter, then come down and open the door for my buddy.

I'm fully in the zone of my first solo, 4 stories up. A friendly Russian couple several floors above is attentively watching this American idiot. And then my worst fears are realized. No, not smacking the ground. But the thought of pulling cabbages out of permafrost in a Soviet gulag certainly scared the bujeezus out of me. And the voice of authority, in thick Russian, came yelling from below. The police station was next door to our hotel... should have done more research. In the souped up paranoia created by our chaperones and American organizers, we thought these guys were the KGB. We braced ourselves for torture. We would eventually have to confess. And our bloody stumps of fingers would be digging at icy dirt to extract those cabbages, which our bloodied hollow eye sockets wouldn't be able to see.

Speaking of bloody stumps of fingers, I'm still hanging by my fingers in a chain link fence, stemmed out from a drain pipe, nearly 5 stories off the ground. My buddy has been captured. You never leave your men behind. I froze. I can't make out the Russian, but I'm sure it's something like "get your ass down here and join your friend, so we can beat you to a bloody pulp and make you disappear forever." I complied. Pulling myself together enough to finish the task at hand, I reach a balcony and flop myself over the railing. Meanwhile, the friendly Russian couple above is shouting something down to our captor. Now I'm back down to the bottom, out the door, and into custody with my buddy. Rifle in hand, the KGB agent marches us to the deep shadows on the side of the building. Suddenly frozen cabbages don't seem so bad. Hey, I could learn to like a gulag... it can't be all bad! "Hey buddy, let's talk about this..."

But he keeps walking. We find ourselves at the fully-lit front entrance to the hotel, where we are turned loose in the lobby. Filled with wonder and relief that the KGB didn't execute us, we now dread the hotel security that will surely raise alarms to our chaperones. Again to our amazement, we walk back to our rooms with no event. I guess these Russian dudes are pretty cool!

So I got lucky, but that climbing incident could have led to a fate worse than death.

Feb 11, 2007 - 02:25am PT

Hahahahaha that Russian trip story was a great read. I loved it.

Social climber
Wolf City, Wyoming
Aug 17, 2010 - 05:42pm PT
Nut job, do you remember what hotel it was? We stayed in the Oktyaberskaya, when i was there for a youth exchange in '73... That same summer, if I have the story straight, Alexey, who grew up in Leningrad, was on a foreign exchange, stateside. Wish I'd kept up with my Russian like he's kept up with his english...

Trad climber
Aug 17, 2010 - 05:45pm PT
Worst mistake: Climbing with my girlfriend.

What happened: Dumped her.

Why? As if you need to ask.

Sport climber
Sunnyvale, CA
Aug 17, 2010 - 06:41pm PT

radical wrote:

And it destroyed my fingers.....climbing like an idiot everyday didn't help that either

So from one beginning climber who's had enough tendon injuries doing other sports to be worried about destroying their joints further -- would you elaborate on what you did that was so bad for your fingers?

Trad climber
Berkeley, CA
Aug 17, 2010 - 08:09pm PT
Jaybro, at this point it's all a blur! I see mental snapshots of places, of faces, a few people's names, but I'm drawing a blank on the hotels. We stayed in Moscow Technical University in the beginning; shifted to a hotel in Dmitrov where I thought the shower water would give me lead poisoning; and I remember very little about the Leningrad hotel except the starkly lit lobby and night and the dark back balconies covered in chain-link fencing :)

Maybe a hypnotist could extract more memories?

Edit: Jaybro, just took a look at Oktyaberskaya. That place is the Ritz compared to where we stayed. We had more of the industrial cement prefab theme. In my memories, it kind of matches the movie set for "Running Man" or "Total Recall"

Social climber
Wolf City, Wyoming
Aug 18, 2010 - 08:08am PT
Oktyaberskaya had that air of opulence gone shabby, all to common in the soviet era....
across the street from ploshid vostonaya...
Two Pack Jack

The hills
Aug 18, 2010 - 10:12am PT
Signing up to get on supertopo.

that question still haunts me to this day.

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