Mideast Crisis A2 5.7

  • Currently 3.0/5

Washington Column

Yosemite Valley, California USA

Trip Report
Crisis in Yosemite - My fall of a lifetime
Monday November 14, 2011 12:34pm
In late September, 2011 I took a 170-footer off of the Washington Column in Yosemite. This is my account of the experience that went terribly wrong.

Fall climbing season was just getting underway. As I approached the base of the Washington Column I felt confident and committed but at the same time apprehensive. It had been a big year. Eleven big walls in six months. Hundreds of pitches, thousands of placements, untold paychecks spent at the Mountain shop. But this, I felt, would be my last wall. I would take off Rocktober and catch up with all the things climbing tends to take away from. Music, friends, reading, yoga, etc. One more...

I met Taylor at the base - a friend of mine but we had never climbed together. With his Beatles sunglasses and abundance of oval carabiners he reminded of a young Royal Robbins - I was stoked to climb with him. Our plan was to climb Mideast Crisis on the East Face of the Column. The line is rated V 5.8/C3/A2, has 13 pitches and sees relatively few ascents each year compared to more popular lines on the wall. I had fixed the first four pitches solo a few days prior. My original intention was to solo the wall - but after four dirty pitches with occasional rotten rock, non-obvious placements, and a solo 30-foot whipper when a cam hook blew, my psych-level for soloing was quickly diminished. I approached Taylor about it, he agreed, and the next morning we blasted.

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Looking at my fixed lines
Looking at my fixed lines
Credit: TBair
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It was a beautiful morning, not a cloud in the sky. Taylor lit some incense and said a prayer at the base. The incense were to bless us on the climb, to protect us from harm. I think it worked, but more on that later.

It was my plan to split the climb into two blocks of four pitches. Taylor had never climbed in blocks before, but it's my preferred method. I would take the first four pitches and Taylor would take the last four. We jugged to my previous high point and I began leading immediately - it was around 7:15Am. The fifth pitch was rotten, un-obvious C2 that took me longer than expected. I ended up using sketchy clean beak and hook placements, as well as moving through some loose/expanding flakes. "Hopefully the rest of the climbing won't be like this", I thought to myself. After some suffering I clipped the bolts at the anchor and we were underway.

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Leading the fifth pitch
Leading the fifth pitch
Credit: TBair
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I shortfixed the next two pitches; steep, easy, obvious C1 through beautiful overhanging roofs. The route was getting into splitter cracks that previous trip reports had promised. The placements were obvious and the granite was immaculate, just big cam after big cam in spectacular golden rock. Everything was going smooth. After a last tricky bit of C2 I arrived at the Hotel California Ledge, enjoying a sunny afternoon view of Half Dome. We took a short break, enjoying the chance to stretch our legs after being on the overhangs all morning. I only had one more pitch in my block, a rotten, grassy, head's up free pitch that goes at 5.8R/X. I took a few cams and set off - moving fast through the grassy placements and loose holds, wanting to be off lead. Clipping the anchor I was stoked; my hard work for the day was finished - or so I thought. Taylor jugged to my position just below an impressive though daunting overhanging roof system. I took a seat and began belaying while he set off climbing into a C2 seam. It was around 2PM.

The roof system on this route is crazy! Definitely some of the steepest terrain Iíve ever encountered. Taylor dawned on our massive rack - 30+ cams mainly in the #1-#4 BD size (you need so much gear so that the leader wonít have to back clean the roofs). He cruised his first pitch as I took a much needed rest. Once you get comfortable with the exposure, thereís no better place to contemplate your existence than free hanging on the side of a cliff. The ground and help are so far away. Why do we do this? Sometimes wall climbing ceases to be fun. Instead, the joy of climbing is replaced by the need to get yourself out of the ridiculous situation that youíve gotten yourself into. And no one can help you but yourself.

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Taylor leading into the roof
Taylor leading into the roof
Credit: TBair
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Taylor reached his first anchor and began short fixing as I cleaned the pitch. In case you've never cleaned an overhanging/traversing aid pitch, Its strenuous and exhausting work. After several lower routes and other tricky maneuvers I arrived at the anchor and breathed a sigh of relief, only 3 pitches left to go. Taylor continued to lead as I got him on belay, once again cruising through the big cracks on the overhang. This pitch was both drastically traversing and overhanging, a very unique feature. He was moving quick and arrived at the anchor sooner than I expected him too. "Off belay" he shouted. I clipped my jumars onto the rope, and started cleaning. For the record I have never used a back-up system in my ascending - I'm mainly a self-taught wall climber and this made sense to me. Foolish. From now on I will ALWAYS back up my ascending. Always. Cleaning was highly traversing and tricky, it took me much longer than usual. Looking to the horizon I could see Half Dome beginning to glow gold; our daylight was fading. After more suffering I found myself just below a wild country #4 cam about 3 feet left and 5 five feet down from the anchor.

"Almost there" I thought. Just a routine move around the piece and then I could relax at the anchor. Taylor had short-fixed about 20 feet above the anchor, and I could see him watching me try to clear the cam. Iíve re-lived this moment thousands of time in my head, and Iím sure Iíll continue to re-live it the rest of my life. I reached for my top jumar - grabbed the trigger - and started falling. And then fell further, and further, and further. Immediately I knew something was terribly wrong. At first I thought maybe the #4 blew, but that would cause me to pendulum a little out, not start a free fall. Or maybe the anchor blew. Or maybe...

And then maybe didn't matter. I was in free fall. I started screaming. I've been told I have a high-pitch to my voice when I fall. The "I'm gonna Die!! I'm gonna Die!" must have sounded strangely boyish, but I wouldn't know - you'd have to ask Taylor. After a few moments I hit something - a roof that just barely jutted out beneath my free fall. It ricocheted me forward into the oblivion. My feet absorbed most of the impact. It felt like someone had put dynamite in my left boot. My shoes - new Sportiva hightops - were ejected from my feet like in a high speed car crash. They were later found at the base - still tied. The impact had no time to register; I was immediately in free fall again. Iíve taken my fair share of falls before, but nothing, not even skydiving was remotely comparable to this. To fall so far with no warning was utterly terrifying. Why was I falling? How the f*#k was I STILL falling? The slabs were getting closer. And closer. And closer. The "I'm going to die" turned into "I'm going to..die". There was a strange acceptance. I guess this is it, I always knew it would come, just not at 24...

And then I started slowing down. It was sudden, like bouncing down in a trampoline. Looking up - the lead rope held me. I had fallen 170+ feet to my tie-in point at the other end of the line. (For the record I was in free fall for somewhere between 3.5-5 seconds, depending on how much the roof slowed me down). Dangling in space I was wondering when the line was going to snap. Certainly I had survived by some fluke and death was merely toying with me. But it never came. Despite the rope having ascertained 5 core shots and 20-30 feet of a burnt sheath, it was holding. Thanks to the dramatic steepness of the route, the fall was almost completely clean. That moment was like a horrific rebirth - with screaming, tears, and a profound sense of joy and luck. The pain and adrenaline combined like a surreal drug cocktail. I wasn't dead! But I was badly injured and might need to be rescued.

I wonít get into details about what happened over the next 15-20 minutes, except there were panicked phone calls and confusion. My first thought was that I needed rescue from the cliff. After a panicked 911 call I managed to gather myself into coherency. I talked to Search and Rescue (SAR), talked to several of my monkey friends (aka serious climbers) around the valley, even talked to myself a bit. In the end there was only one thing was clear - help wasn't going to come on the wall - we had to get to the top. That meant I was going to have to climb my way out. I took a survey of my injuries. My left ankle was the size of a softball, throbbing severely, definitely broken, and utterly useless. My right ankle was sprained but still had movement and flexibility, it would be painful, but I could use it. The majority of my fingertips had 2nd degree burn blisters from trying to grab the rope when I started falling, and one had started bleeding. Luckily, however, I was wearing gloves so my hands were spared, just my tips were annihilated. In addition, I was virtually out of water, the light was dissipating, and I had nothing on my feet but socks. "Okay" I said out loud to myself, "this is going to be the hardest thing I've ever done".

I started to take long, deep breaths. The anchor was a long, long way away...and...somehow I had to get there. Looking up the rope my jumars were still attached (with distinct core-shots in the rope to prove it)- I don't know how. If they had come disengaged, then how were they still be on the rope? Wouldnít the teeth have caught at some point? How did they fail in the first place? There's lots of possible explanations - the simplest being that I should have had my system backed up.

During this time Taylor and I had been in brief communication. Yelling to someone 200 feet away when you're almost passing out isn't exactly easy. I needed to let him know what I was going to do, so I yelled to him.
"You okay? What's up?!"
"My ankle is broken, my fingertips are burned, I think I'm gonna jug up to you!"
"...Okay man, just be safe..."

So I did. I grabbed up for my jumars, put my good foot into an aider attached to the lower one, and started ascending. A few painful, horrific feet at a time. Stopping every few feet to catch my breath or pick up a phone call, or laugh manically or cry hysterically. It was surreal and extraordinarily difficult. My fingertips and left foot were throbbing. I stopped wondering about what had gone wrong or why something like this had happened, all that was left was the moment. I just had to endure, what other choice was there? After an eternity I made it to the belay. I remember almost blacking out as I put Taylor on belay. I don't remember the interaction we had as he started leading the next pitch, except that he was concerned. If I were to pass out with him on belay, we could really be in trouble. While he led I was in contact with several friends around the valley. SAR was busy and couldn't help until the morning. Some guy on the Nose had lost a finger and there was another rescue underway at the base of the Higher Spire. Bummer. If help was going to come it would have to be from friends. Luckily, however, I have some incredible friends who agreed to grovel up the North Dome gully (a steep, loose, and strenuous hike that takes about 2 hours) that night to meet us with food, water, and pain killers. I owe these friends a debt I doubt I can ever repay.

Taylor climbed quick but safe. When he made it to the anchor he rappelled the tag line back to the lower anchor. That way he could lower me out into space, I could do a free hanging ascent of the tag line, and he would clean the pitch. He put a hand on my back as I switched from a fit of hysteric laughter to hysteric crying. "It's okay" he said, handing me the last few sips of his water. I clipped the Nalgene onto my harness, wanting to save the sips for the next pitch. I surprised myself by how fast I jugged to the next belay. It wasn't until I clipped into the next anchor that the pain and exhaustion came back.

At the belay I could only hang miserably limp in my harness. Taylor arrived at the anchor several minutes after me, looking thoroughly exhausted. I think the stress and the added time spent hanging in a harness had taken its toll. With the pace Taylor was setting before I fell, it appeared we would be top out around 7 PM. Because of my fall we ended up topping out at around midnight. That meant 5 more hours of dehydration and mental and physical exhaustion.

Looking at the last few sips of Taylorís water, I handed him back the bottle. He was the one who was going on the sharp end, he would need the water more than me. The roof system had ended and now the route was almost over, just one more aid pitch and then some fourth class. Taylor took a break before starting to lead - there was no need to rush now. In the distance below I could see headlamps starting up the North dome gully - our makeshift rescue crew. Responding to their shouts and headlamp flashes brought a tremendous wave of relief. We just had to get to the top...

Taylor started to lead. To go right was supposedly an obscure A2 seam, or go left onto the last pitch of Astroman, which goes at C3/R. This was the way Taylor decided to go. A fall would have been devastating and was out of the question, so he didn't. It took him understandably longer than usual, and the lights of our rescue crew had disappeared. They would be at the top soon. After dangling in my harness pathetically for an surreal-dreamlike time, Taylor shouted to me that he was off belay. The original plan was that he would rappel back to the anchor and clean the pitch, but he yelled down to me that he was too exhausted, he simply couldn't rap down and then ascend the line. I certainly couldn't clean the pitch, having to pass pieces and potentially lower out was too painful to even think about, so I told him to fix the tag line and I would jug to him. F*#k the gear, I was willing to leave every piece of climbing gear I owned to just get off that wall.

Jugging a slabby pitch requires the use of both feet. I was forced to drag my severely broken ankle up 120 feet of slabby granite. Each time it banged against the rock was like breaking it all over again. I wouldn't wish that on anyone. It was desperate. It was excruciating. It took everything I had.

Finally, somehow, I made it to the top of the last aid pitch. Taylor was there, lying down and looking exhausted. In addition one of the rescuers, Isaac, a friend and co-worker had down climbed the fourth class to bring us some water. A sip of water when you're dehydrated is like drinking Ambrosia with a group of Graecen Gods. Its inexplicable. Isaac took the tag line and fixed it to the top of the climb. We were so, so close. Taylor dragged himself up the fourth class first. As I started climbing each step felt like a mile and the top never seemed to get closer. I was forced again to use my broken ankle as I literally crawled my way to the top. It was a nightmare. As I got near the top another friend, Mike, brought me down some water and encouragement. Just a few more feet. It took a long time, there was ample cursing and screaming, but I made it. As my friends dragged me over the edge I screamed in triumph. To add a comic twist, my pants, which were lacking a top button, had begun falling down as I crawled up the last slab. I topped out with my bare ass scraped and bruised hanging out of my harness. But hey, we topped out in less than 24 hours and both made it to the top under our own power, thatís a send!

Once on top things started making more sense. The two other rescuers, Moose (Thomas, a long-time friend of mine since middle school) and Marty (a friend from Yosemite), helped make me comfortable and built a fire. They pulled the sock from my broken ankle to reveal a purple, yellow glob of flesh that had more resemblance to a grapefruit than an ankle. Everyone agreed, it was f*#ked. Marty and Isaac both had some EMT training and quickly decided that there was no way of possibly hiking me out without risking further injury. Marty called SAR, and they agreed to pick me off the top with a helicopter the next morning.

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Me managing a delirious smile on top
Me managing a delirious smile on top
Credit: TBair
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That night was strange. The pain killers helped but I couldnít sleep. I was hallucinating, talking to myself, seeing ephemeral figures dance like aboriginals around the outskirts of our fire. The night was clear and beautiful. It never seemed to end.

Dawn came. I was short-hauled by the SAR chopper and taken to the Yosemite clinic. I gotta say, dangling in space below a helicopter is a great way to see the valley. For the record the helicopter ride was free(thank you uncle-Sam!). I was released later that day with a broken and dislocated left talus bone and some bandaged fingers, but otherwise totally fine. I consider myself extremely lucky. That fall was no joke, in a thousand different realities it would have killed me. Had I fallen slightly more into the wall or slightly more out- well- who knows. This is the only reality we have.

It's been 30+ days since the accident and 23+ since surgery. I thought my suffering was over when I finished the climb, but it was just beginning. I spend most of my time lying down, as the throbbing/aching of my ankle is still unbearable if it gets below my heart. I'm on pain killers and won't be walking without crutches for 10 more weeks. After that I will probably have 3 more months getting the leg/ankle back to full strength. But I'm still here. For the past year I've been drawn to big walls for the beauty and the struggle of the process. On a wall you find a certain transparency within yourself - an innate understanding of your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual boundaries. To climb a big wall is to suffer, and suffering is meditation. I think that's why I climb. You can find me back in Yosemite Valley next season, hopefully a safer and stronger climber than ever before.

Thanks for reading, much love, and Namaste,
Tommy Hardman Bairstow

  Trip Report Views: 22,111
About the Author
Tommy is a big wall climber from Yosemite, Ca.


  Nov 14, 2011 - 12:45pm PT
TBair -- " ... suffering is meditation ..."

Meditation means coming out of suffering.

Thus you are still suffering .... :-)

  Nov 14, 2011 - 12:47pm PT
Well told. Thanks for posting! Hope you start to feel better soon!!

Social climber
Choss Creek, ID
  Nov 14, 2011 - 12:48pm PT
WOW! Glad you are still with us!

Your write-up of this epic is "the bomb!"

Great self-rescue, and a real gutty job by everyone involved.

Anymore thoughts on why the jumars failed?

Trad climber
Yosemite, CA
  Nov 14, 2011 - 01:07pm PT
Tommy you are one lucky man! Thanks for writing this up it was good to hear it from your point of view. See you in Yosemite next year.
-Cory Goehring
Mike Bolte

Trad climber
Planet Earth
  Nov 14, 2011 - 01:07pm PT
thanks for the write up. What an incredible experience and effort.

Wade Icey

Trad climber
  Nov 14, 2011 - 01:52pm PT
if you were almost to the anchor and you fell to the end of the rope and your jumars were within reach then the jugs slid all the way down the rope as you fell. Possible you were hanging on to each one with the cam open as you fell.core shots when you let go on impact of stopping. wow.


were you daisied/attatched to your jumars? if so you probably dragged them down the cord =ing multiple core shots...wow

were you transitioning between clip cleaning and the jumars? this would be normal for traversing overhanging. especially important to be tied in short when standing on gear.

Gym climber
  Nov 14, 2011 - 01:21pm PT
Very interesting account of a crazy situation.
Thanks for sharing and good luck on your recovery.

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
  Nov 14, 2011 - 01:22pm PT
Weirdest thing I've ever heard. But it's ok to be weird as long as you're also lucky.
Heal up!

Trad climber
Valles Marineris
  Nov 14, 2011 - 01:35pm PT
Holt sh1t! Crazy stuff and well written. Get better soon.
Wade Icey

Trad climber
  Nov 14, 2011 - 01:40pm PT
Tommy was backed up to the end of the rope. That was a good move.

East Bay, CA
  Nov 14, 2011 - 01:42pm PT
Also interested in knowing what the cause of the fall was.
Way to grunt it out and get to the top.
Glad you're okay and thanks for sharing the story.

Trad climber
  Nov 14, 2011 - 03:09pm PT
Thanks for the exciting read. Great going on the self rescue.

Sport climber
Boulder, Colorado!
  Nov 14, 2011 - 01:54pm PT
Intense TR. Glad you are not more greatly injured. I can only imagine what your belayer thought as you continued to fall and fall and fall. Get well soon!

Santa Cruz
  Nov 14, 2011 - 01:57pm PT
It's good to be alive and to have such great friends.

Springdale, Utah
  Nov 14, 2011 - 02:04pm PT

What type of ascenders were you using? how old/worn were they?

Released into general population, Idaho
  Nov 14, 2011 - 02:14pm PT
"this is going to be the hardest thing I've ever done"

Dos XX

Trad climber
Los Angeles, CA
  Nov 14, 2011 - 02:20pm PT
It's almost superfluous to say: Holy sh*t!

You are fortunate beyond measure. And lucky to have a treasure in such great friends. Your story was told with humility and grace. May you heal quickly, and completely.

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
  Nov 14, 2011 - 02:28pm PT
Yikes! Good learning lesson, that fall more than equals the sum total of all of my falls over the last 46 years.

Big Wall climber
santa cruz, ca
  Nov 14, 2011 - 02:39pm PT
Wow.... Great write up. I felt like I was there falling with you. Gnarly stuff. Heal up and....... Back up!

Trad climber
  Nov 14, 2011 - 02:39pm PT
TFPU -- well written.
Best of luck healing.

30 mins. from suicide USA
  Nov 14, 2011 - 02:42pm PT
Damn !!!! heal up yur very lucky...i guess grigri's have there place.
Paul Martzen

Trad climber
  Nov 14, 2011 - 02:58pm PT
Good story. Glad you are here to post it. Keep us updated on your progress.

Big Wall climber
Crestline CA
  Nov 14, 2011 - 03:02pm PT
Interesting and compelling report. I was always scared jugging so I tied back up knots every few feet!! I never had to use them but it felt so good to have them!
Best wishes for as speedy a recovery as possible.
Russ Walling

Social climber
from Poofters Froth, Wyoming
  Nov 14, 2011 - 03:04pm PT
Good stuff!!!

Why did the Jug or Jugs pop off??? Any ideas?

Oakland, CA
  Nov 14, 2011 - 03:09pm PT
My shoes - new Sportiva hightops - were ejected from my feet like in a high speed car crash. They were later found at the base - still tied.

Brings to mind a story of a person in my home town who was hit by a train - same bizarre thing, shoes clean off, laces still tied.

Glad you survived the train, TBlair.

Trad climber
Nothing creative to say
  Nov 14, 2011 - 03:20pm PT

  Nov 14, 2011 - 03:26pm PT
Woah! Glad you are alive.
Well written, Thanks.
'Pass the Pitons' Pete

Big Wall climber
like Ontario, Canada, eh?
  Nov 14, 2011 - 06:16pm PT
Wow - that was in-fukking-credible! You're darn lucky to be alive. Amazing how your shoes blew off - damn.

Now, wtf happened?? Do you know? This really needs to be made clear so we can all understand what happened and how, so we can all avoid the mistake in the future.

First of all - what stopped you? Were you tied into the end of the rope, and that stopped you? Or did your jugs actually stop you? If your jugs actually stopped you on a 170' fall without cutting the rope, you really do have horseshoes up your a*#.

Are you saying that both jugs were attached to the rope when you stopped? If so, how far were you from the end of the rope? Was there any slack between you and where you were [presumably] tied into the end of the rope?

I am inclined to agree with buddy above, wondering if you had the jug in some sort of death grip that kept the cam held open for the duration of the fall? To the person who suggested a prusik backup, this is a common problem of prusik backups - not having the presence of mind to let go of the thing, and to hold it in a death grip as you fall, thus not allowing it to grab.

But what of the second ascender? You couldn't possible hold two cams open as you fell, could you? Yet you say you came to a stop with two jugs attached to the rope? Explain.

Also, the question above regarding the type of ascenders you were using, and the condition of the cams - new or worn - is something we need to know too.

Where were the core shots positioned along the rope? Any burns in the rope? Other abrasions? These may offer clues.

Also, one assumes your jugging anchor above you did not fail - true?

Upon further thought, I am amazed that with your considerable wall experience, you didn't know any better. I am not as angered as Silver is above, because everyone F's up from time to time, and this time is was your turn. Better still to tell us all about it, so hopefully we don't get our turn.

But I want you to talk a little bit about the Sin of Pride. This is basically the notion that you are bitchin'er than you really think you are. I am wondering if you were too cavalier in your approach? This Sin of Pride idea was discussed very well by Mark and John in their Shield trip report, down near the bottom when I called them out on it. Have a look in the comments near the bottom, and tell us how much if at all this factored into your accident? You will notice a rant of similar length.


For the record - you must never EVER be attached to the rope with but a single jug! Before you unclip a jug - ever - clip something else in first. Tie a backup knot, have a backup device, or clip in with a daisy.

If you are cleaning a pitch without a backup device [which I sometimes do - see below] then you should tie a backup knot when crossing the gear.

Cavers regularly ascend free hanging fixed ropes with nothing more than two jugs on it. There is nothing wrong with this, if the rope is hanging straight and there are two legit points of chest or sit harness attachment. On the rare occasions when I might clean a plumb pitch, I will do so using nothing more than two jugs, not even tied into the end of the rope which I leave dangling so I don't have to lift its weight. A Grigri doesn't work well as a backup in this situation. However what works really well as a backup is a Mini-Traxion or Gibbs ascender, and this is definitely the Better Way.

However as soon as you introduce pieces of gear into the pitch which bend the rope, meaning they are under tension and not easily removed - therefore the rope is not plumb - you have to be very very careful when jugging and cleaning. This is especially critical when you have to jug a diagonalled rope under tension - the most dangerous situation in which to jug.

Not one but two people have died cleaning the fifth pitch of Tangerine Trip on El Cap, where the cleaner has to clean a diagonal rope that comes under tension. In the fall you describe above, your jug or jugs almost certainly became detached from the rope [or partially detached - pls clarify] when the rope you were jugging was diagonalled and under tension as you attempted to clean the piece.

Jugs magically pop off the rope ALL THE TIME when the rope is diagonalled and under tension! It's really easy.

Climbers are far far far too cavalier about jugging. They invest all their time and effort into learning how to climbing, dismissing jugging as being "easy" or "unimportant". Do you feel that maybe you were this way? Give us your thoughts on jugging and cleaning, "before" and "after". You touch on this in your excellent story above, but it bears repeating.

Cavers - strange anemic offspring from another world - have nothing better to do with their time than perfect their jugging systems. If you want to know how to ascend a rope, as a caver, not a climber. Every caver knows not to trust his jugs when the rope is diagonal, and every climber should know this, too. However there will always be times when you simply must climb a diagonalled rope under tension, because aid routes by their very nature are traversing and overhanging, forcing this situation quite frequently.

What do you do?

1) Tie a backup knot every now and then. When I do this, I have a dedicated wide-gate autolocker on my harness, and tie a quick overhand knot every twenty or thirty feet. This also helps keep the rope from blowing around and catching on things.

It sounds like you had a 170' loop of slack hanging beneath you, meaning the 85' away from you was a loop of slack. What would you do in a heavy wind if that loop of slack blew horizontally, and hung up irretrievably on a flake 85' horizontally to one side of you? Ask Matt Maddlioni - this happened to him soloing on Shipton Spire, and he had to spend an entire day bolting a hundred feet horizontally to retrive his stuck rope!

Tying a backup knot on a dedicated wide-gate autolocker on your harness every twenty feet or so leaves only ten-foot loops hanging beneath you, not an 85-foot loop. It also makes stacking the rope in the bag a lot quicker, too.

2) Run a Grigri on the rope, either in addition to your two ascenders, or actually using it as an ascender. Using a Grigri as one of your ascenders on steep diagonalling terrain is actually a hella lot easier than using a pair of jugs. Lift your upper jug around the piece you're about to clean - your Grigri is a continuous backup - re-attach it to the rope above the piece, crank down on your upper jug with either an adjustable fifi hook or more commonly an adjustable daisy - and then with the upper jug thusly weighted, simply open the handle on your Grigri. Voila! The rope through the piece becomes unweighted magically and without struggle, you have never become unsafely detached to the rope, you didn't have to tie a backup knot, and you most significantly you didn't have to fight the lower still-weighted ascender.

3) A Mini-Trax or even Pro-Trax will work fine as a running backup. Various other devices - with which I am not familiar - can also work. Petzl Shunt, Gibbs ascender, Trango Cinch, etc etc.

4) When the rope is diagonalled and under tension, put a carabiner through the hole on top of your ascender - ever notice that hole??? This secures the rope through the proper part of the toothed cam in the ascender. If your ascender has a handle, you might be able to put a second carabiner around the handle to help run the rope "straighter" through the entire longitudinal axis of the ascender.

The problem with doing this when cleaning is that it is a pain in the ass to remove the carabiner each time you have to pass the upper ascender around the weighted piece you are about to clean, but if you are sufficiently scared - which you should be when you are jugging diagonalled ropes under tension - you don't mind doing it.

5) EXPECT your ascenders to want to pop off the damn rope when it is diagonalled and under tension! EXPECT one of your jugs to pop off any time! So look at your backup system, and always consider "what happens if my jug pops off right now?!"

6) There is no sixth thing.

7) Treat jugging and cleaning with the respect it deserves. Be smart and be scared, exactly like Tom Evans suggests! We all know that rappelling is statistically among the most dangerous parts of climbing, and why. In Yosemite, you seem to hear about things like this happening quite frequently, because of the nature of aid climbs and the typical unfamiliarity of climbers with jugging and cleaning.

Understand and learn. D.F.U. - Don't Blow It.

Thanks for sharing this with us. Definitely look forward to figuring out what happened, because it isn't at all clear.

I too am a former Frankenankle, having made a similarly dumbass mistake and also living to tell the tale. When I busted my ankle on the Ranch, the Sin of Pride factored in highly! But here I am, still walking, running and climbing, thankfully.

Leo Houlding busted his talus bone in Patagonia, and it slowed him down for a season or so, but you saw him come back to complete his project The Prophet on El Cap. Leo came back, and you will, too.

Glad you're still with us.

Pete aka Dr. Piton

P.S. Dude - I am dying to know what if anything you screamed as you fell! You must have had a lot of time to react. Did you fall in stoic silence like Leo Houlding when he took his two-hundred-foot Factor One falls off the porch swing, or did you scream and swear bloody murder like I always do?!

Trad climber
Lake Tahoe
  Nov 14, 2011 - 04:32pm PT

How'd it happen? Crag spirits, maybe. Despite appeasing them with incense, they can STILL get upset when climbers don't tie in every so often.

Congratulations on being so lucky and congrats on the TR of the month!

Healthy climbing ahead!

  Nov 14, 2011 - 04:09pm PT
Yikes! Way to hang in there!

Trad climber
The pitch of Bagalaar above you
  Nov 14, 2011 - 04:12pm PT

Man, you would have thought after a 10 wall season, some good jugging technique would have been absorbed.

Glad your ok.

WTF did you guys lead to the top with? A rope with 6 coreshots and a glazeing is hardly sufficient????? Extra rope? Led in pitches of 100 feet?

Double D

  Nov 14, 2011 - 04:14pm PT
Now that's an epic! Well told and glad you're on the mend. I'd say you dodged a bigger bullet.
Gorgeous George

Trad climber
Los Angeles, California
  Nov 14, 2011 - 05:24pm PT
Sounds like a harrowing, and painful experience. Hurt and swollen ankles have a distinct flair for reducing men to whimpering babies, this I know only too well. Good luck on your recovery and thanks for your story. Many lessons to be taken from it, not just the mistake of not tying in.

Reminds me of a climb in the late eighties on the Nutcracker, where just as it was getting dark we were about to top out when we encountered a climber who fell on the last moves and broke his ankle. His partner was totally lost about what to do. My partner got him to the top and they descended by the normal route. I lowered the injured climber through the slabs to the west of the main route, and he was suffering excruciating pain on the way down. it wasn't that difficult for me, but I really felt bad for him. Glad he got down safe too.

from SoCal
  Nov 14, 2011 - 04:25pm PT
First, congratulations for surviving a horrendous ordeal and best wishes for a full recovery. Your story is one of human spirit overcoming huge challenges to survive.

Your experience reminds me of a similar accident that occured back in the late 70's on El Cap, however your story has a much happier ending.

As I remember, a climber was cleaning a pitch near the top of the climb. The climber apparently did not tie into the bottom of the rope, but did tie a large knot in the bottom. Attached only to his jumars, the climber was cleaning at the top of the pitch when his jumars managed to become disengaged. He slid down the entire length of rope ( 150ft ropes in those days ) until his jumars hit the knot, where they apparently engaged. The accident analysis concluded the force of the fall, combined with the jumar pinching the rope, caused the rope to fail.

I don't know if anyone determined how he unlocked both jumars, or if only one was on the rope and became unlocked. If he had a backup line on the rope and had tied to the bottom, his story may have been much happier.

Does anyone else remember this incident?

Again, best wishes!

Vitaliy M.

Mountain climber
San Francisco
  Nov 14, 2011 - 05:19pm PT
Thank you for the write up, glad you are ok. Can't wait to hear what was the real cause...

  Nov 14, 2011 - 05:34pm PT
GNAR story!

  Nov 14, 2011 - 06:38pm PT
Sounds like due to the length of fall you had enough time to scream long and loud, sh#t your pants, change them, catch your breath and start screaming again. Christ. Congrats on surviving it.

Trad climber
Broomfield, CO
  Nov 14, 2011 - 07:27pm PT
Welcome back to the land of the living whence you nearly departed.
Big Mike

Trad climber
  Nov 14, 2011 - 07:33pm PT
Wow crazy fall.

What's wrong with running a loose prussik above your jugs attached to your end of the rope or a proper PAS? (not daisy! or dyneema sling) If it's above the jugs it'll be self-minding and would be nearly impossible to mistakenly grab in a fall.
Mark Hudon

Trad climber
On the road.
  Nov 14, 2011 - 07:42pm PT

Both jugs held open but on the rope? Petzl jugs could be clipped open and might stay on the rope.

Dang, you're one lucky man!

Oakland, CA
  Nov 14, 2011 - 07:49pm PT
I was also wondering about Mucci's question:

WTF did you guys lead to the top with? A rope with 6 coreshots and a glazeing is hardly sufficient????? Extra rope? Led in pitches of 100 feet?

Big respect to your partner. Hope he didn't have to lead sketchy C3 on that widowmaker rope to get you guys out???

Trad climber
  Nov 14, 2011 - 07:54pm PT
wow, glad your ok. pete has some good advise about jumaring there. i know theres alot of climbers reading this that will hopefully learn some things, so i'm going to put in my 2 cents of advise. if your ready to start jumaring a pitch, usually there will be a fair bit of slack to the end of the rope, from where your tied in take 20' loop and tie figure 8 and clip in with auto locker (do this till slack is gone) and the rope is contained within 20' loops of you (always)there may be a few loops if you have say 70' or rope (extra) at the belay. i run 3 autolockers on the front loadbearing part of my harness (where i tie in). one for the slack right off the belay, and the other two as i go up fill with 20' loops. then at the next anchor i'm all set up to take the lockers off (the harness)and clip them to the belay (out of the way). then the rope is fully contained at the anchor and not blowing around doing something bad (as pete was saying this will get you sooner or latter and could be a very serious (even deadly)problem in itself.
just a couple accidents that i can remember, that i feel folks should here about, to make them tie in more often. the gal that was solo on tangerine and had been warned previous by other parties about her unsafe jumaring practices, not only didnt tie off short but also didnt tie into end of rope. straight to the base from pitch 4. also the guy that fell at great roof traverse on nose and went around a 100' and bled out at the end of his rope. this red streak was visible on the nose route for months from the meadows below
please tie in short, your worth it!

Trad climber
Northern California
  Nov 14, 2011 - 08:02pm PT
You are insanely lucky that the jugs did not somehow engage further down and cut your lead. It sounds like you thumbed open both of your triggers and somehow held them open. And somehow you had the fortune to not let go when you were going too fast. That those core shots somehow did not become a full cut is amazing.

This reminds me of the fatality in Zion where a guy on the haul line (bag below) dropped only 15 feet and the line cut.

Enjoy your new lease on life.

Sport climber
The Big Wide Open Face
  Nov 14, 2011 - 08:09pm PT
Man, that's a whopper. Glad you're still with us!


Big Wall climber
  Nov 14, 2011 - 08:25pm PT
Holy Shite!

Your Jumars managed to choose one of the few spots on that wall without a clean fall. I remember our haul bag lowered out and just bumped into that slanting roof you bounced off. It is a good ~50' below the P11(?) anchor.

Backup knots and a grigri for sure...

For the record, the original finish to the right is pretty modest. Once the dirty but solid crack peters out, you are forced left, but the obscure C2 is just a couple moves until you are back onto easy terrain.


Our bags here are hanging where you fell, so you bounced off the stuff right below them:

Mountain climber
The Ocean
  Nov 14, 2011 - 08:29pm PT
WOW I feel like I'm having flashbacks to something that never actually happened to me.... but could have...

Way to convey the terror.

Heal well and strong.


Social climber
  Nov 14, 2011 - 08:53pm PT
hey there say, tommy ... very VERY glad to hear you lived to tell about this... :O

i don't understand all the tech stuff, but ptpp, sure had a lot to share... helped me think on a lot more, than just your awful fall, to understand how this all hit you...

as to lessons... yes let's hope this is something that you can be more prepared against, in the future...

thanks for sharing this, humbly with all, that all my think on it...

god bless, as you heal, and may you feel well soon...
whewwwwwwww :O

  Nov 14, 2011 - 09:04pm PT
PTPP -- "For the record - you must never EVER be attached to the rope with but a single jug!"

Oh Bullsh'it! I've done it hundreds of times.

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
  Nov 14, 2011 - 09:42pm PT
It sounds like this happened just as you were cleaning/passing the last piece. Could one or both of the jugs been on upside down after that?

Glad you're alive!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Trad climber
Station Wagon, USA
  Nov 14, 2011 - 09:56pm PT
I can't believe you jugged 170' back up that core shot rope. You are one very bold man, good sir. What brand and mm rope did you use? Talk about one hell of an endorsement.

Incredible read, Tommy. Glad you are alive to tell it yourself.

Trad climber
  Nov 14, 2011 - 09:59pm PT
just remembered another accident where the climber was following the nipple on the zodiac, got most of the way across and popped, went 80 some feet, holding onto rope the whole way (overhanging). this i think was the first person we had live through the ordeal, which made john dill happy because he could ask some good questions and post them in the accidents of north america articles. anyway when i got down to him below the mark of zorro his hands were pretty bad but after bandaging him, he luckily was able to jumar out. i remember feeling pretty bad for the guy so instead of leaving the bags, which was standard procedure then, after the guys jumared out and it was my turn i tied the bags on the second line so the guys would have one less epic and we hauled them to the top

Trad climber
going big air to fakie
  Nov 14, 2011 - 10:05pm PT
wow I'm glad you are here to tell the tale-very intense! Hope you mend well and quickly. YIKES!

Big Wall climber
Terrapin Station
  Nov 14, 2011 - 10:07pm PT

Glad you're here with us.


Trad climber
Santa Cruz
  Nov 14, 2011 - 10:12pm PT
Difficult to read but couldn't put it down.


Lynne Leichtfuss

Trad climber
Will know soon
  Nov 14, 2011 - 10:31pm PT
So glad your TR turned out ok in the end. One thing about lynnie .... I do not like epics, epics of any kind. Glad you got thru yours righteously. So Cheers to Yo...lynnie

Trad climber
Fresno/Clovis, ca
  Nov 14, 2011 - 10:36pm PT
I'm glad to hear your epic ended well my friend. I don't believe in luck so I won't say you're lucky......but whoah.......

May the rest of your days on earth be lived in gratitude for the day you lived when you migh have died up there on the high lonesome. Thanks for posting up.

Trad climber
CA Central Coast
  Nov 14, 2011 - 10:49pm PT
self-rescue is way GNAR

good healing,

Trad climber
Hustle City
  Nov 14, 2011 - 11:19pm PT
Wonderfully well written. Hell'of'an epic tale. Heal up and best wishes to you.

Boulder climber
I'm James Brown, Bi-atch!
  Nov 14, 2011 - 11:20pm PT
holy shit!

Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
  Nov 14, 2011 - 11:27pm PT
Thanks for sharing.
Glad you are still with us.
Way to Man up on the way out!
Heal well!!!!!

Trad climber
  Nov 14, 2011 - 11:59pm PT
Wow. What a tale.

I'm glad you've come out alive. All the best with the convalescence.

Don't be impatient about your recovery. You're alive and that's what matters.

I had a serious climbing accident four years ago and everyone cheerfully told me I'd be leaping merrily on the rocks within months. I appreciate their kind thoughts but it was three years before I felt fully recovered.

Of course, it was more serious than your accident; I had a broken neck and back and I'm more than 30 years older than you. But the point is the recovery takes time, regardless of age or injury.

Surgeons tend to take a conservative view, dealing as they do with worst-case scenarios all the time, so they'll usually advise a really go-slow approach. I'd suggest finding a good physiotherapist. They're often more realistic, and optimistic, about what can be done when.

The mental and emotional recovery back from being smashed up is another tale. Oliver Sacks wrote a fascinating book about his own convalescence after a mountaineering accident. I recommend it:
[url=" http://www.oliversacks.com/books/leg-to-stand-on/"] http://www.oliversacks.com/books/leg-to-stand-on/[/url]

All the best.

Boulder climber
Andy Cairns
  Nov 15, 2011 - 12:02am PT

I didn't want to read it but I'm glad I did. Hope you make a good recovery.

Trad climber
  Nov 15, 2011 - 10:45am PT
Werner has a different kind of Karma than us mere mortals. Hell, he doesn't even need a rope.

Tommy, glad your alive. Now go read a few books on big wall technique. :)

Oh yea, and is your gear still up there on the last pitch?

Trad climber
Los Gatos, CA
  Nov 15, 2011 - 11:14am PT
Wow great story and very well written. I felt your pain by reading your words. It brought back some of my past close calls but-- you win.


Social climber
wherever you go, there you are
  Nov 15, 2011 - 11:19am PT
Oh geez, I don't know which is scarier, your trip report or all of the monkeys chiming in with worse stories. This is giving me the heeebie jeebies, I think I'll take up bowling now.

Thanks for sharing your report and lessons, and may you heal up well.
'Pass the Pitons' Pete

Big Wall climber
like Ontario, Canada, eh?
  Nov 15, 2011 - 11:24am PT
I think Werner was kidding.

Either that, or he is trying to drum up more business.
the Fet

  Nov 15, 2011 - 11:35am PT
Anyone who free solos Reed's with a boombox and climbs Astroman on a static rope isn't subject to the same rules as the rest of us.

Trad climber
Lake Tahoe
  Nov 15, 2011 - 11:43am PT
Another that comes to mind, as you tie in, don't accidentally tie in to your gear loop instead of your harness biner. It can happen, I've seen it.

EDIT Unless of course it's one of these new-age, 21st century sit harnesses with full-strength gear loops that could've should've come out a long time ago. Yeah, I want one.

Trad climber
  Nov 15, 2011 - 12:12pm PT
Epic story! but then you know that. TFPU! :)
'Pass the Pitons' Pete

Big Wall climber
like Ontario, Canada, eh?
  Nov 15, 2011 - 12:41pm PT
"It was standard practice to pass a piece with one jug on the rope for a moment"

Yup, standard practice amongst Young Bulls, who may have issues with Pride. I used to do it, too - when I was young, dumb and full of cum.

Now you Young Bulls can read all about what happens when you blow it.

Note: The Journey from Young Bull to Old Bull is just that - a journey, and not a destination. There will be setbacks from time to time.
Vitaliy M.

Mountain climber
San Francisco
  Nov 15, 2011 - 02:57pm PT
THANK YOU "PASS THE PITONS PETE" for writing all the options about how to back yourself up while you jug, to avoid 170 footers. Very helpful stuff! Not too many people take their time to give so much information, thank you!

Making climbing related decisions (thanks Warbler) at times is VERY complicated. Beginners (like me) do not usually have a proper learning curve. Usually I learn on mistakes, or mistakes of other people. When you are a beginner it is hard to walk a line between being safe, and attempting to push yourself to do things you think you could do (you don't want to push yourself less than others are doing!), or should do (check out the other TR with a guy doing a 30ft swing on a traversing pitch because he simply didn't know any other way. That's what a lot of us would do in his situation too! Was their first wall!). And at times you do things that should never be done, and get away with it. When you begin doing aid and learning things such as jugging (easy peasy) from others non experts as yourself (talking about myself here) you mostly see people staying on one jumar for some short time and accept it as normal, or feel like a pussy if you do it differently. I guess it is good for all of us 'Young Bulls' to suck up our pride a bit and be safer.
Vitaliy M.

Mountain climber
San Francisco
  Nov 15, 2011 - 02:56pm PT
Warbler, "keep it simple stupid" is my favorite quote. Climbing itself is simple if you keep it that way, but making some decisions can be complicated.

Trad climber
Fresno CA
  Nov 15, 2011 - 04:12pm PT
Wow! Great TR. I have a hard time sharing what happened when others can criticize me, so I admire not only your fortitude (and that of your partner) on this route, but your courage in writing about it.

I've never seen the utility in giving advice when you've already figured out what would prevent this next time. As we often say, good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from poor judgment. I'm just grateful that you survived your experience, and I hope you enjoy a long and accident-free climbing life.


Mountain climber
  Nov 15, 2011 - 04:57pm PT
May the rest of your days on earth be lived in gratitude for the day you lived when you might have died up there on the high lonesome. Thanks for posting up.
I second what Micronut said above. Unbelievable good luck to end up with only a busted ankle and some burned fingertips. Your friends and family must be so amazed they still have you. Be good to them.

Big Wall climber
Yosemite, Ca
Author's Reply  Nov 15, 2011 - 07:17pm PT
Thanks for the responses everybody! I actually got a little nervous before posting this - it really opens you up to criticism, but its refreshing to see such an outpouring of positivity.

Obviously I should have been using a backup of some sort. Lesson learned. It was careless (and prideful), but hopefully someone will read this and not make the same mistake.

To answer some questions:
(I'm going to go ahead and apologize because this is really difficult to describe using text)

First, I was using 2010 Petzl ascenders (pretty much new - 1 season of use). The line was coming straight down beneath the last piece(a #4 cam), with the anchor about 5 feet up and 3 feet to the right of that piece. I was not touching the wall at all, it was completely overhanging. My jugging set up was a daisy attached to the top ascender, while to the bottom I had attached a daisy and both aiders (stepping in the aiders, pushing up the top jumar, resting, moving bottom jumar, repeat, pretty simple overhanging jugging technique). No back up (I know, I'm an idiot). I remember jugging beneath the cam, setting myself up for a routine maneuver around the piece. This is when things get a little blurry. I was trying to move fast to finish with daylight (possibly generating a bouncing motion?). At this point I weighted my aiders, thus engaging the lower jumar, and grabbed the trigger on the top jumar. Then I began falling...

Keep in mind, this all happened VERY quickly. I think its possible that because I was trying to move fast and potentially generating a bouncing rhythm, that I engaged the lower jumar at almost the same instance as I grabbed the trigger on the top jumar (I'm pretty positive there is no way I could have also grabbed the trigger of the lower one). In this scenario it's possible for the lower jumar to fail at the same moment I disengaged the top one. There are a few explanations for the lower jumar failing, perhaps the most obvious would be a twist in the rope directly below it(ideas anybody?).

However, for the top jumar to be disengaged in the first place then the lower one must have been engaged, right? So therefore the lower one would have to be engaged just long enough for the top one to disengage - and then fail. Seems unlikely, but that's all I got. It's important to note that from what I remember the ascenders were still ATTACHED to the rope when I stopped (there are core shots to prove it).

This is my hypothesis. It's a little weak but maybe it's enough for someone who knows a bit more to take a gander. Shoot me any more questions you may have, it'd be great to come to some sort of a conclusion.

For the other questions, the bolted anchor held and even the #4 held. The rope was a bit of a mess. There was about 20-30 feet of burned sheath (I mean totally blackened) beginning from where I started to fall. Also, there is some melted plastic on the grip of one ascender (the lower I believe). The core shots were all contained within the final 20 or so feet of rope (where I was tied in). There were 3 major abrasions where the sheath is totally gone from the rope(with some surrounding minor ones). The first one appeared to be from my tie in point, with the next two being about 6 and 9 feet away, respectively. These, I believe, were caused by my jumars re-engaging when I finally came to a stop. I remember looking up at the rope after the fall and being confused as to how they were still attached. Also, I think that Grampa is right in that had they engaged sooner, the rope probably would have failed/cut.

I can't stress how much of a badass Taylor was to lead on that rope (Metolious 10.2mm by the way). The core-shots were all contained to my belay end, and the pitches weren't especially long (120 feet), but still - who wants to lead on THAT? Neither of us realized just how bad the line was until AFTER he had lead a pitch on it, and then had to clean that same pitch and saw the burnt sheath. One of those "please don't fall!" moments. We had a static line as well, but the lead line seemed like a better option (C3 static fall or burnt to hell dynamic line? both pretty grim options).

Rockermike - My gear was recovered from the last pitch, but we ended up leaving at least a few cams (I cut the webbing on the #4, and Taylor cut the webbing on a #3 and something else I think- weak, I know, but we were exhausted). So there's booty up there for someone!

Moof - That feature below your bags juts out a little, and that's what I hit, thanks for the photo!

Oh, and Pete, I wasn't very creative with my screaming. I repeated "I'm gonna Die! I'm gonna Die!". I guess I'd hoped that when faced with my potential coeur de grace I could have come up with something a bit more profound.

I hope this info helps a bit. Thanks again for all the support and wisdom(and criticism - its all beneficial). Healing is going well, hopefully walking without crutches in 8 weeks!


Mountain climber
The Ocean
  Nov 16, 2011 - 01:45am PT
Best guess. Top Ascender completly disengaged but stayed on rope the full way due to being pulled slightly off axis of the rope. reengaged at end of fall due to g-forces dropping the trigger.

Bottom ascender was not fully engaged at the moment the top ascender disengaged due to bounce and speed of motion. Probably due to a slight or bump of thumb nuckle on trigger. Bounce ascending when in a hurry causes weird things.. It's a tempting thing to do ..I did it a little early on but cured myself fast as it seemed clearly hazardous for several reasons.

As you began to fall you probably overgripped causing just enough pressure from thumb knuckle contact on the trigger to keep the cam from fully engaging .. this might allow rope burn without lockdown.

at the end of the fall whiplash and vibration probably allowed either ascender to momentarily engage and disengage causing core shots..

eventually coming to rest with both ascenders attached.


Reality is this Scares the sh#t out of me just thinking this COULD happen. My analysis could be just so much crap blowing in the wind.. but incidents like this seem to trigger my mind into a serious desire to understand and think about possibilities. You must have thought over all this stuff a bazzillion more times having gone through it.


Again just really glad you are still here even though I don't know you personally. We climbers are all brothers in spirit.

Heal well and strong


Trad climber
  Nov 16, 2011 - 11:35am PT

Glad to read your words.

Seems to me that I have had a daisy catch the thumb release on occasion, causing a short heart attack. Could something like this have happened to the lower unit when you shifted to remove the upper Jumar?

Wade Icey

Trad climber
  Nov 16, 2011 - 11:50am PT
since you self rescued I presume no SAR analysis...and hey , it's a beautiful day to be breathing.

Trad climber
Starlite, California
  Nov 16, 2011 - 12:29pm PT
Once, I was on a Wall in Zion; my partner is a Guide with YMS. I forget how it came up, but he remarked that he Never tied in short when cleaning.

Well, each to his own, I guess.

I tie into a locking D, at intervals based on how far I'm comfortable falling, on my harness with an overhand - a figure 8 when diagonalling or going over a roof. When my locker is filled with 3 or 4 knots, I transfer the lot over to the first gear loop - after adding a fresh tie - in, of course.

On terrain which is vertical or less, it's possible to have the rope snag on a flake, fixed gear - even a rivet, when you go to take up the slack of the very long loop formed by the rope if you haven't tied in short. And, if you can't free the jam, you get to spend however long it takes to rig a rap, descend and free up the rope, and reascend.

Please take all the time in the world to heal, because, when you are injured, you keep on getting injured, it seems. As if your body knows it's out of balance.

Social climber
CHC, en zed
  Nov 16, 2011 - 12:27pm PT
Holy Crap!!!!

I've read this thing a couple of times now over several days and each time, I'm shaking at the end. Thanks for posting up.

I hope to learn from your epic. How did you manage a smile after all that?

Much respect for sucking it up and pulling yourself to the top of the climb.

Trad climber
  Nov 16, 2011 - 12:40pm PT
This is so gnarly! Glad you're still with us!

Oakland, CA
  Nov 16, 2011 - 12:53pm PT
Just mind-blowing. OP I'm impressed with your clear recollection - thanks for posting it here.

Any chance we could get your partner to give his description of events? I know he wasn't at the anchor, was short-fixing above, but sounds like he maybe saw the fall?

Do you remember if both of your hands were still on the jugs when you started the long, dynamic stretch at the bottom of the ride? Or do you think it's likely that both hands dropped the jugs when you cracked your ankle on the slab?

Final question, just curious: how did you get the fig 8 tie-in off of your harness once you topped out? Cut it, or were your friends able to untie it?

Did you keep the rope? Cuz that mf'er is the best inanimate friend you're ever going to have in this life.

  Nov 16, 2011 - 12:58pm PT
Nine times out of ten I never had a backup knot.

Only on scary traverses.

When you're speed climbing backup knots slow you down.

Do you think all those speed climbers that are smoking up the walls are backing up knots every 10 to 20 feet?

You just have to be ultra careful when not backing up.

I don't recommend not backing up it but it's a personal choice.

I probably got away with murder .......

PSP also PP

Trad climber
  Nov 16, 2011 - 01:06pm PT
Wow! I used to be a gymnast and knew when I started climbing that if you land on your head from only a few feet it can kill you. Some climbers make climbing unnecessarily dangerous. Glad you are alive. sounds like you should take a rescue class or something to undo the bad habits you have learned teaching yourself to climb. If you continue to jumar static lines stuck on tattered webbing you will be dead soon.

Straight outta Squampton
  Nov 16, 2011 - 01:55pm PT
Thanks for laying it all out there for us. I'm grateful to you for giving this near-worst-case scenario to learn by. I am guilty of not always tying in short, or using an alternative backup. This incident will change that.


Big Wall climber
  Nov 16, 2011 - 04:24pm PT
Now I'm extra glad that anchor got an upgrade...
'Pass the Pitons' Pete

Big Wall climber
like Ontario, Canada, eh?
  Nov 16, 2011 - 09:03pm PT
Wow - a genuine mystery. I'm stumped, for sure.

Anyway, thanks for sharing. And don't beat yourself up, eh? Sh|t happens -- live and learn. {shrug}

After all, you did live.


Mountain climber
Colorado & Nepal
  Nov 16, 2011 - 10:32pm PT
I am sure that I will never find myself needing to use jumars but I really enjoyed reading your stunning account and also the analysis of what might have gone wrong. Arm chair climbing at its best!

I haven't heard such a gripping account since Tom Geroughty told me the story of his 100' plus fall from clipping in a jumar wrong on El Cap. It was at the end of a very successful season for him too, and due to over confidence. He gripped the rope in his hands all the way to the end knot and they were so badly burned he had to have surgery to remove the scar tissue.

Meanwhile, this thread is a real service to a lot of people.
Please heal quickly and climb safely in the future !!

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
  Nov 16, 2011 - 11:41pm PT

right on Pete: "don't beat yourself up"

Werner: "Nine times out of ten I never had a backup knot. Only on scary traverses." and this was one of those from your description.

Darwin: upside down ascenders, not too hard on a traverse, don't catch.

But, again I'm so f*#king glad you made it, and THANKS for describing it so well 'cause hopefully we'll all benefit.
Karl Baba

Trad climber
Yosemite, Ca
  Nov 17, 2011 - 04:09am PT
Amazing story!

I've given the whole scenario a scientific analysis and, given that your shoe came off and remained tied, and that you were passing a jumar past a piece which didn't blow, and both Jumars were still on the rope when you survived, this certainly can only mean that

This was the work of Disembodied Wall Demons!!!

Or elsewise, you've misremembered some aspect of the story, or were in a parallel flukey universe.

Probably all three. I don't know how the "safeties" on those ascenders work but it hardly matters. This sort of thing is solidly in the realm of karma and destiny.

Were you lucky or unlucky? Neither I say. One could say unlucky for having the painful disaster or lucky to be alive. I say it happened just as it did and at least you can be proud that any scars will point to a sexy story and you don't have to tell anyone you tripped over an elderly woman in a wheelchair or tripped while drunk in the bathroom.

I've had some weird karmic accidents on walls the past few years. Sadly, you'll be amazed how weak, twiggy and lame your leg gets after being unused for a few months. Here's my opps reports



Looking back, I can see how my time out led to me having experiences that I needed and wouldn't have otherwise had. Be aware and make best use of your downtime from climbing.

Jumars are funny. I was hanging with John Bachar in Josh and we tried to set up a rig to photograph him soloing left Ski Track. At his suggestion, I down jumared a rope fixed from the top of Intersection rock to his bumper in the parking lot, a freehanging tight angled down jumar. No real way to back this up. While I was trying tol manage this strange maneuver, one jug popped off the rope even with it's safety engaged. WTF! I was hanging on one jug in space and trying to keep cool cause, after all, Bachar was there watching. Fortunately I got the jug back in time and got a few shots but never again!

Glad you're OK



Trad climber
Guernsey, British Channel Islands
  Nov 17, 2011 - 07:39am PT
" I think its possible that because I was trying to move fast and potentially generating a bouncing rhythm, that I engaged the lower jumar at almost the same instance as I grabbed the trigger on the top jumar (I'm pretty positive there is no way I could have also grabbed the trigger of the lower one). In this scenario it's possible for the lower jumar to fail at the same moment I disengaged the top one. There are a few explanations for the lower jumar failing, perhaps the most obvious would be a twist in the rope directly below it(ideas anybody?)."

My theory is that your lower jumar's cam didn't engage, but that the jumar somehow hung up on something else allowing you to take the weight off the upper one - maybe the rope somehow twisted round it? maybe a bit of gear on your harness wedged itself between the rope and the jumar? To glaze the rope badly you need to put a lot of force on it - have a look at the belay device bit at the bottom here:-
How fast did you fall at the start where the rope was glazed?


Trad climber
  Nov 17, 2011 - 04:47pm PT
Hey Karl,

When I have juggeg fixed tensioned diagional lines I clip my dasies to the cam/ safety biner side of the jumar, then clip another biner through the bottom of the jumar, to the rope. This keeps the unit from torquing in weird ways. Did you do this?

Roger Pitman

Sport climber
Boston, MA
  Nov 25, 2011 - 05:16pm PT
Congratulations on your survival and brave self-rescue.

I think the moral of the story is that incense is no substitute for redundancy.
beef supreme

the west
  Nov 25, 2011 - 06:42pm PT
Thanks for sharing your story, made my palms sweat for sure. I'm wondering if something came between the lower ascender's teeth and the rope as you were moving up- like a jacket or shirt or something synthetic? Seems odd that you'd have 30' or so of burnt rope at the top where you started the fall. Perhaps something got caught in there and 'burnt' up on the way down. F*#king intense for sure, glad that you're ok.
Crutches suck! You'll be back on your feet in no time though, good time to get caught up on 'stationary activities'.
safe climbing everybody

Big Wall climber
Typewriters and Ledges
  Sep 18, 2014 - 04:19pm PT

Trad climber
Washington DC
  Sep 18, 2014 - 06:18pm PT
I too would have just one jug on the rope while passing pieces etc. all the time. However I was alway diligent with the backup knots. They were a hassle but every 20' or so I would tie one and clip it to a binner on my harness somewhere.

Trad climber
Santa Cruz, California
  Sep 18, 2014 - 05:58pm PT

Social climber
  Sep 18, 2014 - 06:10pm PT
hey there say, j-tree, wow, what a 'bump'

... say, is TBair, still posting here? HOW is your ankle, these days, if so?

hope you are doing well...

  Sep 18, 2014 - 08:23pm PT
missed this first time around...

crazy, crazy, stuff..

thanks for bumping it j-tree...

Trad climber
Nothing creative to say
  Sep 18, 2014 - 10:53pm PT
Great thread bump
Bad Climber

Trad climber
The Lawless Border Regions
  Sep 19, 2014 - 06:22am PT
Missed this the first time around.

Holy effin' crap.

I only did one short lower out on jugs without backup. Don't know why. I wasn't too far from the end of the rope, but still... Always had a shorter tie-in after that. Such a fall as TBair's seems impossible, but there it is. So glad you survived.

Holy effin' crap.

Karl Baba

Trad climber
Yosemite, Ca
  Sep 19, 2014 - 08:01am PT
Great sharing. Wishing you Godspeed in getting better



Gym climber
Small Town with a Big Back Yard
  Sep 19, 2014 - 08:15am PT
Gripping read - thanks for the bump, j-tree!

Big Wall climber
Terrapin Station
  Sep 19, 2014 - 08:22am PT
Werner doesn't even need a rope?

Sheeeit, that stoopid American don't even take water on Astroman!

Trad climber
  Sep 19, 2014 - 08:54am PT
My theory is that your lower jumar's cam didn't engage, but that the jumar somehow hung up on something else allowing you to take the weight off the upper one - maybe the rope somehow twisted round it?

His seems like a reasonable hypothesis that would also explain the melted ascender handle.

Gnarly experience, heck of a memorable way to learn a lesson!
KP Ariza

  Sep 19, 2014 - 10:52am PT
Glad you're okay.
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
  Sep 19, 2014 - 06:19pm PT
Ouch - glad you survived.

The Petzl Ascension are junk in my opinion.
I have used them and had the upper ascender slip on the rope
when the rope is not vertical and pushes the cam back. Very scary.

I use original gray Jumars (actually second model, but before the yellow Jumars which are heavier).
They don't slip on the rope.
It seems like such a basic requirement that I wonder why people use the Petzls.
The older model Petzl were much worse, as the cam could be pushed much further off the rope.
There is a biner hole where you can clip a biner to avoid this problem,
but doing that would drastically slow down cleaning a pitch.

I don't use a backup (besides tying into the end) except sometimes when I am going to take one ascender off the rope.
And even then I usually just think about it and take extra care and do not tie in a backup.

P.S. A few years ago (3/13/2004), I watched my partner Tim almost die when his Petzls slid down the rope.
He was not tied into the end! But ascenders are only supposed to to up.
(Prior to this, we had been ascending fixed ropes which were tied in at stations, which prevented such a backup).
But he managed to land on a 6x8 ledge at the edge of an 800' drop.
After this he bought my backup pair of yellow Jumars.
I believe his adjustable daisies got in between the cam teeth and the rope, because they were burned by contact.

Social climber
  Sep 19, 2014 - 06:32pm PT
Holy sh#t.

I would've camped out on that ledge rather than lead on a core shot rope. F*#k that. We huddle the night away! You are a real bad ass for almost ruining your foot in the process, glad you are OK hopefully you can still walk...

Quick question, the FIRST thing I would think to do as the leader is to get the tag line down to you - lowering it with some weight and clipping it to the lead line - or did you two not think it was damaged at that point?


Social climber
Moorpark, CA.
  Sep 19, 2014 - 06:35pm PT
Holly crap... what a story, you will have to tell your grandchildren.

Way to self rescue, good job.

Ŗ ő ō T « H

Boulder climber
  Sep 19, 2014 - 08:51pm PT
Crisis in Yosemite
Crybaby in Yosemite

Trad climber
The Illuminati -- S.P.E.C.T.R.E. Division
  Jun 10, 2015 - 11:26pm PT
For the record I have never used a back-up system in my ascending - I'm mainly a self-taught wall climber and this made sense to me. Foolish. From now on I will ALWAYS back up my ascending. Always.

And so will I!
Mike Z

Trad climber
  Jun 11, 2015 - 12:59pm PT
In 1985, Brad, a guy in the party behind us on Triple Direct was following a traverse. He had moved one Jumar over past a piece, but didn't check the safety catch. While his second jumar was off the line, the first one popped. He was not tied off short but somehow managed to stop the fall by grabbing the rope, which left him with severe burns on his palms and fingers. He was tied into the end, but did not fall that far. His partner led the rest of the route and he was able to follow on Jumars despite his injuries. The point learned is, pay attention to what you are doing at all times, and tie in short periodically.

Trad climber
Sumner Washington
  Jun 11, 2015 - 01:48pm PT
Man, and I thought I was the man climbing off the Arches route with a good sprain. Thanks for the share, I followed a few traverses, roofs without a backup, glad I am here.

  Mar 7, 2016 - 09:18am PT
bump for a great story
'Pass the Pitons' Pete

Big Wall climber
like Ontario, Canada, eh?
  Mar 7, 2016 - 09:51am PT
That is definitely worthwhile for every wall climber to re-read.

It is still unclear exactly what happened! Any guesses from anyone??

Trad climber
  Mar 7, 2016 - 02:07pm PT
Thanks so much for the bump because it was my first time seeing this report. Thought I'd read it when I ate my lunch, but I was so absorbed that I completely stopped eating once I started reading.

I'm about to venture out into the realm of some aid climbing, and have so far felt good about my progress on the little practice I have had in jumaring. This report served as a blunt wake up call how things can go dramatically wrong for no apparent reason.

Judging by the lack of more posts from the OP, it looks like Tommy is not visiting the forum. Still, I want to thank him for taking the time to write up this report with the sole intention to share and to educate. It was so beautifully written full of positive energy on an extremely unfortunate event it almost made me choked up.

The Good Places
  Mar 7, 2016 - 02:19pm PT

Social climber
Wolf City, Wyoming
  Mar 7, 2016 - 03:31pm PT
I missed this one til now. I was in the valley when this happened and aware of the whole crazy thing

Glad to finally read the account! cheers and thanks, Tommy!

Trad climber
Red Rock
  Mar 7, 2016 - 03:38pm PT
Holy shiiit!
the Fet

  Mar 7, 2016 - 04:11pm PT
For the record I back up jugging with a similar philosophy to placing pro when leading. It's not every x feet, it's 1 what is the likelihood of a fall and 2 what are the consequences of a fall.

So for 1 at the start of a traverse I tie a backup knot. I trust a knot more than a gri gri which I've seen fail to lock up in some falls. Or if it's a challenging piece to clean I put in a backup knot. Etc.

For 2 if I climb above a ledge I put in a knot or two at like 10 ad 20 feet to prevent hitting the ledge. Of if I've gone 50 feet or so I'll usually put in a knot.

As mentioned knots slow you down. Not just putting them in but it makes the rope not feed well for about 15 feet, so I've climbed a free hanging full rope length with no backups, but I'm not likely to blow the jugs off the rope and I wouldn't hit anything so that's acceptable to me. YMMV.

Social climber
  Mar 7, 2016 - 04:43pm PT
Love this bump. Great TR. one of my fave on the taco.

Gym climber
Minkler, CA
  Mar 7, 2016 - 04:57pm PT
Thanks for the bump, first time I've seen this as well.
Jeff Gorris

Not from Portlandia
  Mar 7, 2016 - 06:49pm PT
Thanks for posting-- glad you are here to tell the tale.

... and thanks Doc "PTPP" Piton for the wall of text to keep alive by.


Trad climber
  Mar 9, 2016 - 05:55pm PT
Im not farmiliar with Petzels,,as Clogs seemed great,,keep it simple,,but going sidways ,complicates things,,basic fear and common sense says have some back up,,gagits always have a weak link,,way to survive the curve,,dont belive anything Werner says,,,good for business who said that ???

Big Wall climber
Denver, CO
  Mar 9, 2016 - 08:10pm PT
I've used the Petzls forever. No ascender is without its personal quirks, so you learn 'em and pay attention. The point I take from this amazing tale is "pay attention." As Werner says, you can get away with a lot... if you pay attention. Rushing and with other priorities in mind is a recipe for disaster, regardless of your "setup." That said, you certainly can up your odds with a better "setup."

I've always run a trailing Gibbs on a short sling. On pitches where I have the slightest worry about the rope cutting (it's been close on two occasions, neither of which I would have imagined could be a problem), I run the Gibbs on a second line and also occasionally tie into the lead rope. It's not difficult to create multiple points of contact at all times.

High-end speed climbing is a different game, of course, but, lol, I wouldn't know ANYTHING about that!

I highly recommend a trailing Gibbs, or, if you don't mind pushing it up with each stroke, put it above your upper jug. Trailing is more convenient, and with a short sling you're not going to pinch off any modern rope if you (God forbid!) end up on it.

It's been years since the OP. Tommy, how did your ankle ultimately fare? Any lingering effects?

Mountain climber
  Mar 9, 2016 - 09:35pm PT
From the AAC's, Accidents in North American Mountaineering: 2012, Volume 10, Issue 65



Tommy said, ďI have never used a back-up system in my ascending. Iím mainly a self-taught wall climber, and this made sense to me. Foolish. From now on I will ALWAYS back up my ascending.Ē He also indicated that none of his partners had ever stressed to him how crucial it was to back up his ascenders. After watching Tommy clean Pitch 9, Taylor did suggest that he clip a Ďbiner through the hole in the top of his ascenders and asked, ďDo you do any backups?Ē But Taylor is a polite fellow and didnít push the issue or suggest tying in short to the rope.

Trad climber
  Mar 23, 2016 - 06:32pm PT
Glad you made it. Many years ago i followed a friend (Eric Brand)up Rixon's pinnacle, On a roof traverse he told me to clip a biner to the bottom of my jumars, I thought to myself " He doesn't know everything" and I didn't clip them in. A few minutes later I was flying down the face.I only fell about 80 feet. He yelled at me for awhile then took my picture and said to "smile".


Trad climber
Wolfeboro, NH
  Mar 24, 2016 - 05:07am PT
My 1st time reading this. Glad the guy survived, and got up the climb under his own power.

Reminds me of my long fall on the Prow back in 1971, when I soloed it:
Michael Nicholson

Big Wall climber
Thousand Oaks
  Mar 24, 2016 - 02:12pm PT
Great TR. Thanks for sharing and reminding me to always tie a back up knot. GL with your recovery.

  Mar 24, 2016 - 02:17pm PT
Wow! Makes my whipper stories seem like a joke!

Trad climber
Erik O. Auburn, CA
  Mar 24, 2016 - 03:06pm PT
How are you recovering?

Monterey, Ca
  May 5, 2019 - 09:39pm PT
Holy SH#T that was epic. BUMP
Washington Column - Mideast Crisis A2 5.7 - Yosemite Valley, California USA. Click to Enlarge
Photo: Chris McNamara
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Washington Column - South Face C1 5.8 - Yosemite Valley, California USA. Click for details.
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The South Face of Washington Column.
Washington Column - Astroman 5.11c - Yosemite Valley, California USA. Click for details.
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The line follows a series of small features.
Washington Column - Skull Queen C2 5.8 - Yosemite Valley, California USA. Click for details.
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A series of steep corners lead to an exposed face.
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