/ Stories of 'the fall'.
I happened to stumble over a short video that Montane has released of Simon Yearsley recalling the closest he has ever come to 'the edge', in this case Helen Rennard taking a massive gear ripping fall somewhere remote in the NW winter Highlands, the fall almost destroying the belay that Simon and Malcolm Bass were attached to as well. There's no footage of the climb, no photos, it's just Simon telling the story, but I thought completely gripping nevertheless. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_zVpUSyQ9Wk It looks like Montane have done a series like this, but this is the only one online so far.
I once had a slightly similar experience of my mate falling off steep ground before he had manage to get a runner in. My belay held but there was a few cm rip in the turf where my warthog had obviously taken the brunt of the impact. I remember a similar experience of yelling my friend's name into the void for what seemed like forever, probably actually just a few seconds, before hearing "I'm ok!" followed by a more relieved sounding "...and I've still got both my tools!" First route after Xmas, and they had been Olli's present!
I don't think you could tell a story about your most dangerous climbing experience if you had died in the fall.
Back in 1998, Alps in winter, climbed Swiss Route, Les Courtes. Descending NE slope, glissading, tripped!
Cartwheeling, bouncing, down lower 300m odd, airborne, cleared bergschrund (just)! Lost ice screw, belay plate, broke my Swatch, ice axe in chin, tore my posterior cruciate ligament. Stood up, shouted 'I'm ok!'
Worse for him, I had the rope, he had to jump the bergschrund.....
Maybe you’re not getting my point?! The AAC link ties in to stories that document genuinely serious issues. This thread ties in to an advert for a clothing manufacturer.
It's sponsored by Montane, their logo is there at the start and end, but I don't see how that makes it an advert, in anything but the loosest sense.
And it's not about grief and loss of friends like the AAC videos, it about getting to a 'line' that you don't want to cross. I guess where that line is, is different for all of us and also not really that clear to ourselves.
The AAC videos are very interesting and moving on the subject of grief, but that's not why I shared the original video. My post wasn't meant to start a game sadness Top Trumps, I thought Simon's story was both well told and thought provoking.
> ... I thought Simon's story was both well told and thought provoking.
And I didn’t. But the next time I have to apply an elastoplast in the mountains I’ll be sure to make a 10 minute video about it 🙄
Great vid and the kind that makes you think. This will no doubt start a few posts from members about close ones. More of this kind of stuff, thanks for posting.
> next time I have to apply an elastoplast in the mountains I’ll be sure to make a 10 minute video about it 🙄
It sounds like you're pretty keen to create an advert for Elastoplast.
> And I didn’t.
Which is an absolutely valid opinion to hold.
> But the next time I have to apply an elastoplast in the mountains I’ll be sure to make a 10 minute video about it 🙄
But then that just comes over as wanting another round of Top Tumps, except you've gone from the "Tragedies" pack to the "hardest climber" pack.
Many years ago a friend and I went to do a scramble on the east face of Tryfan. He had done a scrambling course at Plas y Brenin. We had a rope and slings. We got to one of the terraces and there was a short wall to the next easy bit. He decided we should use the rope. I put the 2m sling around a huge block - half a mini car - and belayed him. He struggled on the wall and jumped off onto the block.
The block began to move and ended up several thousand feet below- thank God nobody below. How did we survive? The block ran over the sling - and the rope - separating me from the block and the two of us as well. We survived and learnt. The rope remnants were used/abused after that!
> The block began to move and ended up several thousand feet below
Bloody hell! The Welsh have certainly kept that one under their hats. How far up Tryfan [3010ft, approx]
were you? Have you told the Tourist Board?
Above vaguely amusing/snarky observations notwithstanding - excellent tale!
Not a story of the fall, but after the fall.
At A & E the nurse asked if I wanted my dad to come with me to see the doctor.
My climbing partner, only a few years older than me, was raging when I told him. So I've told him a few times.
Montane has put another one of these out - this time from Malcolm Bass. Unlike Simons it focusses on the greater ranges, but is none the less a great little watch.
Interesting to hear about a completely different set of circumstances and a different set of risks. Can't think what would be worse; a few split-seconds of abject terror at a situation out of my control, or a measured, lengthy conversation about a decision that could mean the difference between misison success or life failure!
I fell from near the summit of Mont Blanc. It was a long time ago. I had soloed the normal way up. It was sunny and on the first part of the descent my crampon broke. The snow was soft and I decided to continue without my crampons. When the beaten track curved round to the shadows on the north facing slope I lost my footing on the ice.
Of course, the first thing that happened was I dropped my axe. I began to slide on my back, quite slowly down the slope. I scrabbled around and looking down I saw that my fall line would cross over the track made by the hundreds of climbers that morning. Some of them were watching my progress with horror.
I gathered speed and simply slid over the narrow trench of the track. As the track zig zagged down I saw I would cross it again and made a desperate attempt to stop myself. It was no use. I simply carried on sliding down the slope.
I noticed that the slope was becoming convex and was steepening. Below me, thousands of feet below, was the Grand Mulet hut. But I had one last chance.
There were three patches of soft snow lying on top of the wind scoured neve. I was heading straight towards them. I used my legs, my fingers, even my backside to try to slow down. The first snowpatch slowed me. The second snow patch slowed me further and the last brought me to a halt. I could hear my ice axe tinkling down to my left. An old Italian man, standing on the track, reached over and caught it. He brought it over to me. I was still lying spread eagled on the third soft snow patch.
He spoke Italian but I did not need any translation. 'Fool, idiot, you nearly killed yourself. Put your crampons on, take your ice axe, learn how to be an alpinist!'
I put my crampons on, picked up my ice axe and shuffled on down to the Vallot hut. I slowly learnt to become an alpinist.
I'm an impostor here and tend to come along for the fellrunning/ biking/ general outdoor posts but found this interesting. It got me thinking about continuous improvement and safety records and I realised I had no idea about how/ whether this happens in climbing.
Matthew Syed covers it in Bounce - in the airline industry any near miss is openly and honestly investigated for learnings about things to do differently in future. Results are widely available and incorporated into training, aircraft design and communications. In healthcare, errors and near misses are often put down to 'one of those things' and never reviewed for patterns of improvement so nobody learns from them.
Does any collective learning happen in climbing? Could anybody write up the circumstances of a near miss and expect an open and honest dissection of why it happened and what could have been done to reduce or avoid the risk? Should it, or are egos too big and everyone feels impervious?
The BMC have started:
The AAC have done this for quite a while:
Thanks for that! The US one looks good. The BMC one is clearly a work in progress.
As an example, in the incident below the lesson learned is that someone should do something about access, so the fall is kinda seen as 'just one of those things'. Is this just accepted or would it have been useful for someone to ask whether the young climber should have made a different decision about soloing on sandstone?
Date of Incident 16/05/2019
Area Harrison's Rocks (East Sussex)
Route Unclimbed wall
On Sunday 19th May 2019 one of the finishing holds on Unclimbed Wall at Harrison’s Rocks broke and a young talented climber was unfortunately injured when making a solo ascent of this route. The climber was very experienced and had climbed this route many times, but unfortunately he did not tie into a rope and decided to solo this route. Sandstone is unpredictable and the finishing hold broke, approx 8 metres high. Fortunately there were other climbers near by who were first aid trained, who did their best to keep the situation under control until the air ambulance arrived.
The access from the far side of Harrison's Rocks should be reviewed, as the ambulance crew had difficultly locating us from that end.
Give them a chance! The BMC system is in its infancy. I believe they are yet to decide quite what they will do with the data/how they will present it. It's is currently unedited user generated content.The AAC version has been around for a long time and been through quite a few iterations so is a lot more mature.
Reading Accidents in North American Climbing has made me more vigilant to the basics, checking knots when tying in, checking the belay plate is clipped correctly, checking my abseil set-up if working before clipping my tether, knotting the ends of ropes. The number of accidents leading to sticky ends from basic errors is heartbreaking.
Fair enough - thanks. It looked from the oldest reports that it had been around a while. Will be interesting to watch.
It was launched in April 2019. People have been putting in old incidents that pre-date the launch of the database.
Phew! My "line" is much further from the edge than that!
It would be interesting to know how good they thought the gear was prior to the fall - clearly actually only one piece in the whole system was good enough!
I’ve seen conversations about accidents before and it’s been so hush hush ‘be respectful’ that 50% of climbers have been, I believe, rightfully annoyed.
The aviation comparison often comes up in those debates.
I witnessed a multi pitch ground fall in which the climber was in a long term coma and subsequently paralysed from the chest down. His belayer couldnt see anything at that stage of the climb. When I spoke to the climber years later his last memory was weeks before the accident he had suffered amnesia.
I saw it all and was never at any point contacted by anyone from the police to mountain rescue to the bmc about what went wrong.
A year later someone suffered a fatal accident at the same drag and there was absolutely nothing published about it.
It’s my local crag and I have climbed both routes involved and yet none of us are ever privy to any investigations (if there ever is one) that could potentially help us and the dozens of other climbers in this area, out of apparent respect for their family members.
A definite gripe and I don’t really think the BMC feature hits the mark due to its unchecked self diagnosis system.
You have inspired me to affix a note to my Will that if I ever die in a climbing accident that all details are investigated and published to as wide of an audience as possible :-D
> A definite gripe and I don’t really think the BMC feature hits the mark due to its unchecked self diagnosis system.
What do you think should be done? The BMC database is currently, just that, a database. The self derived nature of the "lessons learned" won't necessarily be the only outcome, they have not decided how to present the data. At it's inception, I'd imagine they didn't even know whether people would input into the system.
If you, or anyone else, has ideas about what they WANT to see, post here and I'll point the relevant people at it.
First they need to publicise it more and make it more accessible. If you hadn't been told it was there you would never find it. Perhaps ask UKC if they could have a prominent link on this site!
They had a big push when it was launched but maybe they need it to be pushed regularly. I'll pass the message on.
I think it has the potential to make a difference but it still feels a bit like it makes it someone else's responsibility.
Could/ should it be part of the normal conversation to be humble enough to ask any witnesses what they saw and what could have been done differently after a problem, and then share it on this forum/ BMC? Is it a cultural change, more than a technology one?
> You have inspired me to affix a note to my Will that if I ever die in a climbing accident that all details are investigated and published to as wide of an audience as possible :-D
Well considering that all other accident investigation processes make whatever they’re investigating inherently safer then I hope you would be so kind as to do just that.
You’re right - the aviation comparison is interesting. But that is in a professional setting and even private pilots go through rigorous training and assessment and carry insurance. Where there is compensation there has to be blame.
The hush hush don’t say anything is deafening in clubs and climbing circles.
I doubt the BMC has the resources to act as an accident investigation body. The accident reporting database presents an opportunity to collect data without the uninformed speculation that inevitably accompanies any discussion about accidents on UKC.
Presumably this data will be analysed and some conclusions drawn from it. However my impression from looking at a random selection of reports is that there aren't many new lessons to be learned. Most of the incidents seem to arise because climbers keep on making the same old mistakes.
This isn't industry, where there may be a regulatory body to ensure that changes are rolled out, or where safety protocols can be enforced and where ongoing training can be made mandatory. Most climbers don't undergo regular training from a qualified instructor, and pick up knowledge from mates or the internet (both of which may be unreliable sources).
I think the BMC and UKC do quite a lot to highlight the risks, especially when something new does come to light (for example, the dangers of assembling quickdraws incorrectly following the death of Tito Traversa). The biggest difficulty is getting climbers to pay attention and alter their own behaviour. We are all guilty of complacency from time to time.
> Presumably this data will be analysed and some conclusions drawn from it. However my impression from looking at a random selection of reports is that there aren't many new lessons to be learned. Most of the incidents seem to arise because climbers keep on making the same old mistakes.
I believe the idea is to see what these "same old mistakes" are, what is most prevalent and then produce some material (press release/videos etc) to try to change those behaviours.
> This isn't industry, where there may be a regulatory body to ensure that changes are rolled out, or where safety protocols can be enforced and where ongoing training can be made mandatory. Most climbers don't undergo regular training from a qualified instructor, and pick up knowledge from mates or the internet (both of which may be unreliable sources).
That's the challenge. Climbing in the UK has always been about self sufficiency. The individuals are responsible for looking after themselves, ensuring they have the correct skills and equipment for the task ahead. So how do we get that information across?
> So how do we get that information across?
The usual route into climbing is now via indoor walls, so novice climbers are now more likely than my generation to undergo some instruction and supervision, and may then do a course when they start to climb outside. This is an opportunity to instill some basic safety routines, such as buddy checks. However there is still a danger that when they start climbing independently these will be poo-poohed by more experienced climbers, who still sometimes regard a buddy-check as showing a lack of confidence in their ability. Peer pressure can be powerful, and routines learned on courses can be quickly forgotten if no one else is using them.
Even the standard climbing calls are sometimes seen as being uncool and a mark of inexperience. It is only fairly recently that helmets have come back into fashion. We all see examples of sloppy belaying. We know we are taking part in a dangerous activity but we can be curiously reluctant to take proper steps to mitigate the risks, although we may kid ourselves we are doing so. Is it a reluctance to appear over-cautious, when climbing is meant to be about taking risks and controlling our fear?
Climbing doesn't have the sort of structured training programme that sports like diving have, and anyway I don't think that would be appropriate. However as a consequence we don't have enough of a consensus over what is considered to be good practice or a consistent culture of safety. It's not simply lack of knowledge - many of the risks are well-known, but people still make the same mistakes. Far too many accidents happen through complacency, and this affects even the best climbers: Lynn Hill not tying in properly, Alex Honnold failing to knot the end of the rope.
To offer my usual comment concerning the benefits (or lack thereof) of accident discussions:
The Austrian, German, Swiss, and South Tyrolean ACs run a structured accident reporting / analysis system since way back, and even have a joint regular publication called "Berg und Steigen" that is dedicated to nothing else but mountain and climbing safety.
Collecting accident info as comprehensively as possible, and combining it with lab tests has in quite a few cases led to changes in the "best practises" that are currently taught at climbing courses run by these ACs.
Much better than relying on anecdote, and clearly nothing to do with disaster voyeurism or safety advice willy waving, into which accident discussions on this and other forums, especially in the US, can unfortunately occasionally descend (not this thread, obviously).
I stumbled across the Yosemite annual accident report and read that top to bottom last year and I felt I learnt a lot, especially concerning correctly planning your abseils as a lot of people seem to mess these up and get stuck at the end of their ropes.
By the way, not having climbed for over a decade, I wonder if the basic trad climbing calls are still exactly the same as they always were. They remained the same for me, and everyone I ever climbed with, from 1967 to 2007:
Leader (once he/she has reached belay): I'm there [not essential, but can be helpful]
[Another one that can be helpful here, once leader has belayed]: On belay!
The second can now unclip from belay device and start to dismantle his/her belay.
L (once ready to take in rope): Taking in!
Second (once rope comes tight on his/her waist): That's me!
L (once belaying, e.g. having clipped ropes into a belay device): Climb when [you're] ready!
S [this call not essential but useful, means L can take in extra slack. Saves time.] (Once belay dismantled) Off belay! [While leader is taking in that remaining slack, second is stashing belay nuts, arranging rack, etc)
S (Once leader has taken in remaining slack): Climbing!
Indispensible ones are in bold.
> A definite gripe and I don’t really think the BMC feature hits the mark due to its unchecked self diagnosis system.
Good for you, if you don't think it hits the mark, volunteer to do something about it.
The BMC reporting system was set up, after wide consultation as to what form it should take, both here and at various BMC meetings. The work was done almost entirely by unpaid volunteers (I'm not one of them by the way.) and is planned to be reviewed once the system has been running for a year or so (again by volunteers).
The BMC is not a wealthy organisation and most of its work is done by volunteers. If you want the BMC to do something get involved and volunteer.
Yes that is a good one, you know the bad ones...
Gordon, how weird is that: I think they are all potentially dispensible and can be replaced by a very simple system of tugs on the rope(s)! On longer multi-pitch routes, a system of wails that get carried away in the wind can be very confusing, especially if there are other climbing parties around. All those "on" and "off" "belays" in various different orders (North Americans have different calls) can be very confusing, particularly when they come over faintly and distorted by the wind as "wore lay", "be aggh" etc!
Of course, the key point is that the leader and second should both be in total agreement about the system being used.
Tugs on the rope can be equally confusing or misinterpreted, especially on a wandering route. For me they are a last resort after other attempts to communicate have failed.
It doesn't matter so much what calls are used, provided the climbers are agreed on them and they follow a strict sequence. Then it doesn't matter if the words are unclear, as long as you know that the next unintelligible yelp means "climbing" (or whatever).
What I tend to hear from a lot of climbers now is a lot of unnecessary "OK"s and other redundant chat. Maybe not a problem at Stanage but it can lead to miscommunication when the climbers are further apart.
I now often carry walkie-talkies on longer routes but the don't always work well.
I once had my cry for "slack" mistaken for "safe" while I was on Blue Sky at Pembroke. Next I heard was "off belay" - not what you want to hear half-way up a pitch.
The rope-tugging method can be made very safe. The whole of the "I'm safe", "belayed", "I'm belaying you", "Climb when you are ready", can be collapsed into a series of very distinct, long slow hard tugs. This is nothing like the normal movements of the leader's ropes. If the leader wants more rope whilst still climbing or setting up belay, then rapid, short light tugs (which are nothing like the slow long heaves of "climb when you're ready") are unambiguous. One thing though, whilst the second strips down the belay to the minimum as the rope(s) are being taken in, he/she keeps the belay device on until the last split second when the ropes come really hard onto his/her waist. And then climbs straight off. Well, that system has suited me for a very long time, but it has to be said that I am very impatient on long multi-pitch or mountain routes, so I have always been dying to get climbing again.
Whatever works for you. My point is that you need an understood and consistent sequence so that whether you are using tugs or calls you know where in the sequence you are and from that what the message is. I overhear a lot of climbers whose communication lacks any structure, which is how misunderstandings arise.
I agree. It is essential that climbing partners understand their communication system completely.
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