my fall off of royal arches on 11/20


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meg AK

Trad climber
Topic Author's Original Post - Dec 14, 2007 - 12:50am PT
Hello to all you amazing people,

First off, my apologies for taking so long to get on this website and reply to you all. I have been amazed and so truly touched by all the love that has come through here and read aloud to me. Thank you. So truly.

So here I am sitting in Doug's living room by a crackling fire enjoying his amazing generosity. He is a gem of a human being, and if it took this to meet him, so be it.

I feel like I need to lay down some details for those of you who are still wondering about them. It is a bit embarrassing, actually, to admit one's mistakes, but also something for everyone to learn from. So I'm going to suck it up and tell you exactly what I was doing while dangling there at the ends of the ropes for quite some time before I finally fell off of them.

The topo of the rappel that is posted under Matt's description of my accident is accurate. We were rapping off that tree, while we should have been still scrambling.... on down that slanting ledge to the climber's right. We talked about it too- all the anchors should be newly bolted, all of that. But we couldn't see the next bolts and we were unfortunately a little too hasty to follow the direction the rap rings on the slings seemed to be aimed, rather than checking with the topo.

In usual fashion of low angle slabs, we threw our ropes and they landed in piles a way down, so I was rapping and continuing to slightly untangle and throw the rope ahead of me as I went. Once I got past the lowest angle part, I could see a rap station below me. I couldn't yet see if the ropes went to it, but it seemed close, so why wouldn't two 60 meter ropes reach, right? That's what it must be set up for? It wasn't until I was quite close that I saw I was just a few feet short.

We have double ropes, that although bought as a pair, red is about 10 feet longer than blue. We've never measured to see if red is long or blue is short, actually, we just assumed red must be long. We all know about assuming. While, red was only a foot or two short. The anchor was old button bolts with colored webbing slings between them and rap rings on those. I know I wasn't meant to use any of those. I actually sort of worked my way up the rope a little bit in that silly way you can pulling on rope and working it through the belay device. I was looking hard for other options. I saw the true anchor far to my right and tried a pendulum over to it, but I could not get nearly as close to that. I believe people may use the tree to back up the scramble to the right anchor down the angled ledge and the anchor I saw was second after that one? I'm guessing here. But I couldn't reach it from the tree.

So back directly below the tree, I start shouting to Matty. As is typical between belays/rappels, he cannot understand my request for him to prussik off the ropes so they cannot run through, enabling me to go onto just red and hopefully reach the old manky anchor that seems to be my only option. After several minutes of trying, I realize I'm on my own.

This is where the real lesson begins, so tune in. I had this feeling that I'm an experienced climber, so I should be able to handle this. I felt like I HAD to figure it out. Maybe a bit of ego in there? Perhaps you understand this feeling of not wanting to remain dangling and wait for someone to finally decide to come help? So I came up with a plan. I was not carrying some of the little prussik cords I always used to carry, no knots in the ends as I always used to have without exception..... I was ill prepared for this. But I did have some full length runners.

So I decided I would prussik onto the blue rope, attaching it to my harness so it couldn't run up and away, but in essence lengthening it. Then I could put my rappel just on red and get to within grasping distance of the anchor. Let me tell you, I didn't really like the plan and knew I didn't want to be doing this, but felt like I didn't have a choice. Listen to those little voices in your head, folks! I knew it didn't feel right. So first I tried to tie off my rappel with a clove hitch back on my harness, and I couldn't manage to fumble my way through that simple procedure, which lets you in on my tiredness and also how unsure I was of my whole plan. So I couldn't get hands free. I am at this point very close to the ends of the ropes, and we all know how slippery the rappel gets at that point. So one handed I was trying to tie a prussik onto the rope and it sure felt impossible at that moment. Which made me decide to go for a bachman's because it's so much easier to create as you clip through the gate of the beaner for your wraps. Slippery, though, so I (again) didn't like it but did it. I attached that to the power point of my harness, weighted it and about held my breath while I let the blue rope slide through my reversino.

System working. Need more extention. The quickest thing was to grab my purcell prussik and attach that to the bachmans at full extension. And then inch that bachman's down further than I liked. Now, I could catch that anchor webbing with my feet. Okay. Had not thought ahead enough, as I was just thinking one step at a time at this point. I needed that purcell prussik to hook onto that anchor, didn't I? Okay, just a few inches of red rope left to hang onto, and very little blue below that bachmans. Oh, then did I wish I had put knot in the end of that blue rope!!!! But I couldn't quite manage it at that point.

I didn't like any of it and had to move on to the next step quick. So I had to get another runner on my harness to use to attach myself to the anchor (unfortunate extra step that I'm actually not sure if I pulled off or not) I do remember reaching in a stretching way, foot bringing webbing up, left hand reaching down to grab it, very aware that the extra pressure of this long reach had the potential to pull that bachman's off the blue rope. But I wasn't scared. There was an almost ledge just below the anchor, and I sort of felt like I could stick it or something. I don't know, I just knew it would be okay somehow. This is all I can give you, really. I have no memory of the fall whatsoever. I think that bachman's must have slipped just as I feared, and in my grab for it, I must have let go of the red too? Somehow, I just fell right off both of them. As Matt reported, the ropes didn't move. My fingers were ground down to meat it seemed, so I think I must have scraped my way down the slab trying to grab on, and maybe that is the secret slow down to my surviving?

So that is the long version of the accident report, for all those who really like the details. Total pilot error, really. But now I want to give you a little current update.

We are settled in living with Doug for a few weeks, and somehow it seems meant to be. This is a valuable friendship that we would not have found otherwise. I had to go for checkups with my doctors on monday, and they were both very impressed with my healing. All staples have now been removed, and x-rays show healing. Apparently my two lungs already sound the same. Although I still need heavy drugs for pain, the ribs now allow me to laugh and cough-two things that were terrible before. I'm healing. It feels like a miracle, and so I can be nothing but happy about the whole situation.

Matty and I are in very good spirits! What was meant to be our dream roadtrip of climbing and skiing has taken a very large turn off course, and somehow we're not even bummed. I think it is because we have felt so surrounded by love and support. This is something that is not so surprising from friends and family, but this site has added all sorts of amazing strangers to the mix, and that is the really inspirational part. It gives me such faith in the goodness of people, and I am so grateful to each and every one of you who has been sending us the good vibe. Thank you so much. I hope my lengthy entry is helpful to you in some way.

Trad climber
Top of the Mountain Mun
Dec 14, 2007 - 01:08am PT
Get well soon Meg. Santa Cruz is a wonderful place to rehabilitate. Thanks for the story.

Dec 14, 2007 - 01:12am PT
Thanks for the update Meg and synopsis of what happened. Heal well.

And special thanks to Doug for showing us the true spirit of humanity.

Trad climber
Dec 14, 2007 - 01:13am PT
Thanks, it really does help us to know what happened. I appreciate it very much.

Trad climber
Dec 14, 2007 - 01:19am PT
how far did you fall?

will you be submitting your story to R&I or Accid. NA Mountaineering?

there are alot of teaching points in your story.

glad to hear you're well.

Social climber
No Ut
Dec 14, 2007 - 01:24am PT
Wonderful spirit, Meg! Wishing you a continued speedy recovery.


San Fran Cisco
Dec 14, 2007 - 01:26am PT
glad you're healing so well. thank you very much for the report--which is not only useful but really gripping; it must have been tough to write.
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Dec 14, 2007 - 01:32am PT
great to hear from you Meg. We all find ourselves in those situations, sometimes sh#t happens... I'm so happy you are here to tell us about it.

Wishing you the best in your recovery.

Dec 14, 2007 - 01:54am PT
Thanks for that effort, Meg. You really captured the sequence of decisions--much more of a service than a dry, factual account by someone else. Best of luck for complete healing.
DR sure walks the walk.
nick d

Trad climber
Dec 14, 2007 - 01:55am PT
I am very happy you are able to tell your story so lucidly! Perhaps the occasion will arrive for me to tell you my rappelling to my death story. Here's to happy landings for all those of us briefly lost to the void. May we all land safe, or some reasonable facismile thereof.
Jay Wood

Trad climber
Fairfax, CA
Dec 14, 2007 - 02:10am PT

Thanks for the details. The clear picture will help me, and I'm sure others, to be safe.

Hope your recovery continues to be rapid and complete.

Gym climber
berkeley, ca
Dec 14, 2007 - 02:39am PT all of it. Heal fast, and enjoy your time at Doug's. I've only met him once but from the tails of my own mentor in the beginning who learned from him, you must be in good hands. I hope your dream trip happens as you planned it eventually.

Trad climber
Mountain View, CA
Dec 14, 2007 - 02:45am PT
First off, Meg, I hope you heal quickly and thanks for sharing your story. There is a ton of useful information there that we can all learn from.

Secondly, I have never met Ed H., but in reading his posts I think he appears to be a good guy, but I just cannot agree with his assessment that "sh*t happens".

In climbing, when "sh*t happens" people can get either very seriously hurt or they can die. We, as climbers, cannot have a relaxed attitude about the risks and dangers in climbing. A relaxed attitude is one huge contributing factor to the fact that an alarming number of climbers have been seriously injured or killed by having their partner lower them off the end of the rope(I realize that is not what happened in Meg's case).

Climbers, please, please be careful out there. I am constantly reminded of the great Sheridan Anderson cartoon depciting a sign at the entrance to the Valley, "Entering Yosemite Valley, Laws of Gravity Strictly Enforced"

Soap Box Mode off,


ps - if you ever saw the "Jack Osborne Climbs El Cap" one of the guides makes a similar statement "It was an honest mistake" when the second guide finds Jack sitting on a small ledge, halfway up El Cap, not tied in. The response by the second guide to the first giude about her statement was classic.

Barcelona, Spain
Dec 14, 2007 - 03:27am PT
Thanks for telling the story. It's funny how people are often reluctant to explain their mistakes. It seems you learned a lot, and your clear explanation can help other people to learn too. I especially like the way you explain how the brain starts fooling itself, thinking that things are under control. It makes it easy to realize how we all do this at times. Merry Christmas!

Trad climber
the south
Dec 14, 2007 - 04:27am PT
Nice story.

Bet you never do THAT again!

I lived though a really stupid climbing thing once, learned a lot from mine, too.

Thanks for all the reminders, what you wrote will probably save someone.
Karl Baba

Trad climber
Yosemite, Ca
Dec 14, 2007 - 04:40am PT
Hi Meg

Thanks for the report and glad it's working out in many ways.

All the best



Trad climber
LA LA Land
Dec 14, 2007 - 09:24am PT
Your detailed description and frank analysis of your accident will be useful to all who read it, and is commendable. Best wishes for a full and speedy recovery.

Big Wall climber
arlington, va
Dec 14, 2007 - 09:53am PT
Thanks for the report...I was sweating by the end of it!

Many of us have had frighteningly similar episodes. So glad you're ok.

MegAK? Kennicott? Does that mean you're from McCarthy?
I'm from Eagle River and I was married at Kennicott lodge! I have taken my kids there on an annual trip since the early 90's.
Do you know Andy and Cynthia Shidner? I worked with Andy for years. Good to find an Alaskan in here if I'm supposin' correctly.
Bhilden, how does one "lower" ones partner off the end of a rope? Doesn't "lowering" imply being tied to the partner above?

Social climber
Charlevoix, MI
Dec 14, 2007 - 10:27am PT
Glad you're here to tell the story.


Penn's Woods
Dec 14, 2007 - 10:37am PT
"and we all know how slippery the rappel gets at that point."

Wow, thanks for the instant heart-rate boost, right there!

Glad you made it, get well quick.
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