Measuring up to the limestone climbing test?

Limestone, for those who first learned how to climb on Granite or Quartzite, can be rather challenging. I need to set the tone, “I learned to climb on limestone.” At that time I had people telling me things like, “You are not suppose to climb limestone, it is bad rock,” or “It is too loose, and broken . . .”

A picture of me making one of my very first technical adventures. After climbing up, we rappelled down; that is another story. I use this to lead into the “Avoiding Dangerous Resultants” section of Mechanical Advantages #3 Ropes, Pulleys, Rigging Systems, and Avoiding Dangerous Resultants.”

I can understand their feelings. Limestone weathers differently, and it is generally not for beginners. Although the acceptance of increased use of bolts has opened many routes beginners can climb. American Fork Canyon, Utah, is a good example of how bolts have open many new routes.

The following is a article that was published in Summit Magazine. I believe Bret and Stuart Ruckman make a comment about an accident I ended up witnessing; in their Climbing Guide to American Fork Canyon.

I knew the team of two, who were about to attempt Freefall, a I, 5.9 overhanging crack in AF Canyon. They had just finished climbing “Them Bones” a I, 5.7 dihedral.

The climb is named Freefall because on the first ascent attempt there was a rather dramatic fall from the overhang. His anchors were well placed, so other than experiencing a good pucker factor, all was well. After watching his fall, I was rather intimidated, but it was my turn to have a go at it. I must say, it kept my attention and I was glad when then angle changed from a positive one to a negative (maybe 80°). We ended up calling it Freefall.

I had experience on Freefall and I knew these two climbers, so I suggested that maybe they should not climb it. They decided to anyway, so we stayed to watch. At first they did not put in a bottom directional, (see my article called Mastering the “Art” of Protecting Yourself) so I sort-of pushed my thoughts on them, and asked if they would mind the help, they did not so I put one in.

Clean climbing was still kind-of new, and not too many people were teaching Trad Climbing Skills. I don’t believe it was even in the bible, yet. Over the years it has been a pretty good text, but no book can take the place of good instruction.

As the story goes, the resultant angles (vectors), caused his anchors to fail when he fell from the strenuous overhang. He was about 40 of 50 feet AGL, and I am guessing the failing anchors absorbed a fair amount of the force, but he still hit the ground with a sickening thud! I had never seen that happen before, and it was so dramatic, that I was sure I had just witnessed a, “right in front of my eyes-death!”

He was moaning with a weird low sound; and pretty much out of it. We did not have a backboard, nor did I have my BP cuff, or anything else but figured internal bleeding was a real possibility so we loaded him in the back of a hatchback car, and rushed him to ER at AF Hospital. He lived, but suffered some kidney problems, and a cracked ilium.

Here’s some food for thought. A few years later this team was climbing the Open Book on Lone Peak, but his partner, was on lead this time. He ended up taking a serious lead fall, and hit his head. Fortunately, he was wearing a helmet, but it was so serious, Life Flight was called, and they made a Helicopter Evacuation.

I knew both and had climbed with both, so I have some thoughts. Accidents in North American Mountaineering talks about what they consider the cause of various accidents. I recommend reading it cover to cover.

Here’s an example, in the 2010 edition, if I remember it correctly, this list has not changed much over the years, other than the numbers of.

It lists the Immediate cause of accidents as :

  • Fall or slip on rock (3589)
  • Slip on snow or ice (1023)
  • Falling rock, ice or object (626)
    • Note: anything that falls, be it a rock, a pack, a hammer, a carabiner, a chunk of ice, or whatever, THE WARNING IS: ROCK!!! (not Ice!, Hammer!, Pack!, or … it is not an identification, but rather a warning — ROCK!!!, ROCK!!! . . .)
    • Also, please note, good climbing means you knock over very few, if any rocks, and you don’t drop things, but it happens. Don’t be embarrassed, just make sure those below know something is falling. “Yelling it!!” repeatedly can be a very good idea. They are more apt to hear you and know what you are trying to communicate. Also the urgency and the tone of your voice tend to communicate the seriousness of it. But even a small rock or chunk of ice is very serious and can take out an eye, break teeth, and . . .
  • Exceeding one’s ability (550) I would like to suggest “almost” all of the above fit into this category. When we are learning we rarely know where the fine line is between our ability and . . . so be conservative, especially at first. It continues to list things like:
  • Illness
  • Stranded
  • Avalanche
  • Rappel failure
  • … and more

I just realize why I am so wordy in my articles, and why I struggle with keeping my writing short. I am trying to teach rather than write. Oh well, I am learning to be better at writing, I think? I hope you find the following information of value!