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jeb013

First experience with rock fall

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I have climbed at places with loose rock, it's just a part of climbing that you have to deal with in the PNW. I have even pulled a couple of loose pieces out and gotten rid of them to make it better for the next guy.

 

But on saturday I was climbing the east face of Pinnacle Peak up by MRNP when I went to make a step on the traverse and a block about the size of my thigh just came off. I had barely even touched it and it was gone. It didn't so much scare me as it made me realize how life altering something like that can be, if someone had been below me and got hit, at the least it would have broken bones.

 

So being a relatively new climber this was an eye opening experience, no one was hurt and all it did was make some noise and actually it was kind of cool to watch it bounce down to the snow field, but none the less it really got me thinking.

 

I don't so much have a question just kind of wanted to get that off my chest and was wondering what others thought of there first realization of how something so little could be so dangerous in this sport.

 

Thanks for listening,

 

Jeb

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Almost crushed my foot with a one ton chunk of talus this weekend. Very close call. My closest call ever came from a situation just as you describe: 2 huge blocks I 'hardly touched'.

 

My take away, for what its worth:

 

a) Assess a block's supports and avoid dubious ones. As you observed, it doesn't take much.

b) test others gingerly with a light tap

c) Climb to avoid leveraging on such terrain

d) Constantly evaluate rock quality as you go

e) Don't get cocky

f) Never forget where your buddies are

g) If its all shitty all the time: life is short, and good rock is plentiful.

 

 

Loose rock is an unavoidable fact of life

 

and superb entertainment if you happen to have the mountain to yourself.

Edited by tvashtarkatena

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and be careful with the rope. I got struck once on loose terrain by a partner above me who insisted on roping up on easy ground.

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I've been showered by partners not watching the rope before, but it was pebbles. Thinking about it though the rope could probably dislodge something quite exciting.

 

jeb

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yeah shit happens sometimes. Three weeks ago I was checking out a new crag with Tom O. when my rope dislodged a 50-60 lb block 10 ft above me. Just enough time to get my arms up to protect my head. The wounds on the left arm are almost healed and the right now has a 5" scar where they operated to set the bone and add a metal plate. Probably would have killed me if not for quick reactions. Another 3 weeks before I can get back to climbing, ho hum!

Be careful out there --------------dave

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the (very large) rock that chris' right hand is touching came flying off about 30 seconds after I took this shot.

304936_601861877038_904075758_n.jpg

I luckily had the foresight to belay off to the right, so I was fine. The rest of the season I was hypervigilant about where I belayed/was belayed from. A dead partner is fairly useless. Be smart out there guys

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The closest call I ever witnessed (without participating) was...

 

...any guesses?

 

The base of upper Castle Rock. Somebody pried off a 3' dia. Daisy Cutter on their belayer, who was happily and tightly tied to a tree in the gulley on the crag's climbers right. It slammed right in front of her, she rolled on her hip as far as her tree would allow her as The Gigantor scraped past her ass on its way down the gully.

 

Suddenly, a voice from far above yelled:

 

"Pretty fucking sobering!"

 

Advice from a volcanologist:

 

If you're caught out in the open, keep your eyes on the threat until its gone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My worst experiences have been with loose blocks underneath roofs. Not supported anywhere on the bottom surface. What I would call hair trigger blocks. You don't even want to touch them at all.

 

One was on Eisenhower tower while soloing the right hand variation. I was in the middle of a 5.6-5.7 section near the top and reached up and just barely touched a watermelon size block, it immediately came loose and fell. Luckily it was just off to the side of where I was standing.

 

The other case I was not so lucky. Soloing the West ridge of the West summit of Garfield and again just breathed on an overhanging block, probably 100-150 lbs. You think I would have learned. This time it was right above me. Again it was 5.6-5.7 ground and I was holding onto a lower ledge with my left hand with my thumb over the edge of the ledge.

 

I dislodged the rock with my right hand so couldn't let go with my left. It landed on my thumb and against my right hip. Luckily I was able to side step without being pushed off, but my thumb was pinched between the rock and crushed.

 

It took a few seconds to realize what had happened. Initially feeling lucky I was not thrown off the cliff, reality hit when I looked at my thumb. It was bloodied and crushed to about 1/2 of it's normal thickness right at the first joint. Luckily I was only a couple of moves above a ledge/notch.

 

Now keep in mind this was about 3000 ft up from the road past numerous 5.6 cliffs, 2 full pitches of 5.5-5.6 to gain the ridge, and about 700 ft along the intermittent 5.6 ridge from the spot where it was gained.

 

I kinda sorta freaked out. Pretty sure I went into shock because adrenaline kicked in and there really wasn't ever that much pain. About .5 nano-seconds after seeing my thumb the only thought was "going down now". My ethics are self rescue if possible and I tested my finger strength on the bad hand and it felt strong. You can climb pretty much without your thumb if you think about it. I tried my cell phone to notify my contacts and authorities what was happening and to look out for me coming down. Briefly got one bar but try as I might never could connect. I was on my own.

 

I had a 7.5 50m rope for raps but there was also a lot of mandatory downclimbing. Made it back to the car about 2:00pm and to a urgent care clinic in Issaquah some time later. They referred me to emergency in Bellevue. This is where my problems really started.

 

Them suckers had dollar signs in their eyes, even some of the nurses. The x-rays showed 3 non-displaced fractures at the joint. I was amazed thinking the bones would be near powdered. It was Sunday and they called in a specialist who said I needed emergency surgery. So I called my climbing partner EmKay and it turns out the guy had operated on his bicep tendon a couple years previous and EmKay had a good experience with him.

 

This is where the nurses and doctor sort of ganged up and convinced me to rush to surgery, like trying to scare saying you could get a bone infection. I've been injured plenty of times, some worse and have always assessed all the choices about care before committing. This time I sort of said yes without thinking everything through. Like the fact that Bellevue has higher overhead than just about anywhere else in the state, and I already have a trusted orthopedic office I go to in Renton.

 

Long story short, 4 pins, one down the center to stop bending which I think made it end up with less ROM. Doctor double billed the insurance even though there was only one operation. When I called him back to find out exactly what he found when operating, like other tissue damage, got no answer at all.

 

I think people are climbing differently now to avoid rockfall. Like the N face of Eiger gets climbed earlier and later season when temps stay below freezing. And the N Face of N Twin got climbed for the 3rd time in way earlier season than it had before. A party just before that tried it in August and predictably got hit with a broken arm resulting.

 

 

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yeah shit happens sometimes. Three weeks ago I was checking out a new crag with Tom O. when my rope dislodged a 50-60 lb block 10 ft above me. Just enough time to get my arms up to protect my head. The wounds on the left arm are almost healed and the right now has a 5" scar where they operated to set the bone and add a metal plate. Probably would have killed me if not for quick reactions. Another 3 weeks before I can get back to climbing, ho hum!

Be careful out there --------------dave

 

Man, that wildly sucks!!! Glad to hear you're on the mend as I really need you out there a year ahead of me setting an example of what is possible (pretty much just you and Donini that I hear about on any regular basis)

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thanks joseph. At least with the plate in the arm I can do without a cast so am more mobile and hopefully won't lose much fitness. Gotta keep trying to keep up with the young'uns.

Just noticed I wrote "Tom" - duh! sorry Tim. ---------dave

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I just had a new experience with rock fall.

 

Belaying my second up on R&D on one of the easy ledges toward the top, pulling slack, the rope started rolling a cantaloupe sized bolder down the route. We yelled, but knew we couldn't be heard by the three groups that had started up the buttress behind us!

 

Made us sick. We were so glad when we got to the base and could see all parties accounted for, and no rescue operations underway.

 

I've always considered the direct effect my actions can have on my party, but never before had I felt so connected to other climbers at a crag.

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a favorite long-time climbing partner Dr. Mark Shipman constantly reminds me that "geologic time includes NOW..." after riding a lightning triggered rock-and-ice avalanche down the NE couloir on Colchuck three years ago, (broke "pretty much everything")nothing much surprises me any more...

 

what works for me:

 

-wear a helmet: mine was destroyed in the Colchuck event, but I came through with relatively "minor" permanent brain damage

 

-wear a pack--you'd be surprised at how much protection it can provide. on the south face of Aconcagua, when spontaneous rockfall showered our stance, my partner, Nick Beer, astutely whipped his pack up over our heads, and the shower of golf-ball to football sized rocks did no damage whatsoever!

 

-use a double-rope belay system -- half-ropes (alternate clips) needn't follow the same precise line, so may be preferable to twins (strands clipped as a single rope) on dogturdite...

 

-look UP when you hear rockfall, or the warning "Rock!!!" - you can't dodge what you don't see

 

-shorten pitches to improve communication between partners, to reduce the prospect of rope-triggered rockfall, and to reduce the period of acceleration between the time your partner dislodges a rock, and the time it reaches you (or vice-versa)

 

-position belay stances to take advantage of sheltering features: "islands of safety"

 

-don't climb "dogturdite" (although I still do)

 

-be LUCKY -- I "should" be dead; I "should" have a prosthetic instead of a right foot; two weeks ago I climbed the northwest arete on Argonaut, and last week I climbed the west ridge of Mt. Cowan in Montana's Absaroka range.

 

-because geologic time includes now, that last point is IMPERATIVE - and perhaps the most important point listed - so I repeat: be LUCKY

Edited by montypiton

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Small rocks falling can also be very serious. You hear a lot about the big stuff, “I pulled off this big block and holy shit……”. I nearly cratered pulling off a very small rock about the size of a marble on the right hand first pitch start to the West Face Variation on Monkey Face about 15 years ago. I had climbed this pitch maybe 6 or 7 times before, usually climbing about 25 to 30 feet up for the first piece. This time, I wiggled in a stopper on the slanting crack, couldn’t really see it from my stance, just feel/blind placement, a good tug and it seamed stuck. I quickly gained the terrain above and was foot shuffling in the slanting crack and balancing with knobs above on the traverse. About half way over to the end of this little traverse I pulled on a knob and it popped, which sent me off balance backward, and my feet were firmly on the track and stayed put, the result being me falling backward and upside down. The blind stopper caught me upside down about 5 feet off the deck. Right in front of a couple hiking tourists watching the affair. I quickly got up, started climbing and fired the pitch. Only reflecting at the belay. We finished the route in good style, but I always take the left hand first pitch now :)

Edited by shapp

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i totally disagree about looking up.

9.8 meters per second is too fast to look AND react.

when you hear rock cower and turn to the side to minimize your width and surface areas facing the rock, and cover the back of your neck elbows forward

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It's not too fast at all in most instances unless you're in a coma. Of course you're gonna take cover, but I've dodged a lot of rocks that way, and I've got the reaction time of a traffic cone. I'd be dead about 3 times over had I just 'ducked'. Batters dodge baseballs traveling at 3/4 terminal velocity all the time.

 

Pretty much anything bigger than a basketball is going to kill you regardless of whether you're face up or down, so you might as take an active part in avoiding it. A softball sized rock traveling at terminal velocity will take your head off, helmet and all. In addition, not all deadly rocks are moving at terminal velocity. A 2000 pounder sliding at 20 mph will do the job just fine.

 

BTW, 9.8 m/s is pretty slow. I think you've got 'velocity' confused with 'acceleration (of gravity)', which is 9.8 m/s^2. Rocks can travel at any velocity up to terminal (up to 75 m/s, depending on shape).

 

The Baby Jebus helps those who help themselves.

 

Track and dodge.

Edited by tvashtarkatena

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no, i just didn't bother to type the equation. still disagree: batters are actively watching the ball and anticipating. with rockfall you have to hear it, process what you are hearing, turn your head to look, find the object, asses it's trajectory, make a reaction plan, and then move. At 9.8m/s^2 it will be traveling fast. I do agree with sliding rock - i'm talking a straight shot.

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Once more, with feeling: Falling things don't travel at 9.8 m/s^2. They accelerate at 9.8 m/s^2. They can be travel at any velocity between zero and terminal (or faster when ricocheting)

 

I've dodged a fair number of rocks, doing all of the above you say is impossible in the very limited time available, so proof is in the doing, I guess. Sure, fast moving rocks from high up can sneak up on you. They are the exception, however. Most rocks bounce around, or don't come from that high up, and are quite avoidable if action is taken.

 

If full cover is available, take it. If not, track and dodge.

 

A 5" dia chunk of granite at terminal velocity has the kinetic energy of a round fired from an AR 15. At that point or larger, it doesn't really matter whether it hits you in the helmet or the face, so don't let it hit you.

 

Perhaps a climber's not always as focused as a batter, but climbers get pretty tuned in to the sound of rockfall, and react pretty quickly, a lot of times not even consciously, when the shit comes down.

 

 

Edited by tvashtarkatena

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ok fine!

 

but to beat a dead horse, i am fully aware of the difference b/t velocity and acceleration. i again didn't fully explain. I said at 9.8m/s^2 it will be traveling fast. what I should have typed was it will be traveling fast by the time you can react in time.

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I'm just fuckin wicha, dude. I know what you meant.

 

But 9.8 isn't all that fast in the acceleration department.

 

Can we dodge them?

 

YES WE CAN.

 

Christ, I DODGE THEM.

 

Think about it.

Edited by tvashtarkatena

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BTW, a dead horse dropped from Snow Creek Wall would have the kinetic energy of a 6 pound cannon ball fired point blank at a baby's face.

Edited by tvashtarkatena

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