Every year, the American Alpine Club publishes Accidents in North American Mountaineering, a compilation of notable climbing accident reports from the previous year. Flipping through the book helps climbers recognize how climbing accidents happen, common mistakes that can turn serious, and to be safer in the mountains overall.
But every year, there are accidents that don’t make the pages of Accidents in North American Mountaineering. The following are examples of those types of accidents.*
BRAND-NEW #1 CAMALOT DROPPED
Colorado, Flatirons, Third Flatiron
On August 7, two climbers were on the Standard East Face Route with a set of new cams. The climber leading the fifth pitch, while trying to remove a 0.5 Camalot from his harness, accidentally unclipped a #1 Camalot from the same gear loop, and he watched over his left shoulder as the #1 bounced 500 feet down the east face to the bottom of the formation, somehow not hitting any of the other parties and free soloists climbing the route below. The climber slowly looked over his right shoulder to his belayer (who owned the rack), shrugged his shoulders, and mouthed “sorry.” The party finished the climb and rappels without incident and searched the bottom of the east face of the formation for the dropped Camalot without success.
Analysis: Climbers on busy routes should always exercise care to not drop gear. Also, if anybody wants a brand-new #1 Camalot with a few dings in it, go poke around at the base of the Third Flatiron.
Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, Petit Grepon
On July 22, a female climber (31 years old) and her partner finished the eight-pitch South Face route and stopped on the summit to coil their rope and eat lunch. The female climber dug through her small backpack to find she had only packed an expired apricot-flavored energy bar and half a bag of seasoned cashews leftover from the previous weekend. Hungry from the approach and climb, the climber chose to finally open the energy bar and grudgingly munch on it while watching her partner enjoy a turkey, swiss, and avocado sandwich he had made that morning, which, although somewhat hard to keep together because of the slipperiness of the avocado, looked delicious. The climbers rappelled and finished the descent without incident.
Analysis: This disappointing lunch could have been prevented by proper planning. The climbers planned the climb two weeks in advance of the date, and the female climber had plenty of time to shop for more satisfying food. Just go get a Snickers bar or something.
CLIMBER TAGGED IN PHOTO
Utah, American Fork Canyon, Division Wall
On August 3, two female climbers (both 27 years old) climbed four different routes on the Division Wall after work without incident, but also without inviting a mutual friend of theirs, Denise, who probably would have loved to go climbing. After returning to their car, one of the climbers posted a photo of the other climber to Instagram, and Denise saw the photo, causing hurt feelings and noticeable awkwardness between the three climbing friends.
Analysis: In the age of social media, having good judgment on the appropriateness of sharing a climbing photo is important, especially if Denise is involved, because although she’s great otherwise, she’s kind of prone to being jealous, if we’re being completely honest.
TESTICLE CAUGHT IN HARNESS LEG LOOP
Oregon, Smith Rock State Park, Christian Brothers Wall
On March 11, a male climber (26 years old) was climbing Barbecue the Pope and became pumped near the anchors. Unable to hold on, he fell from about six feet above the previous clipped bolt. As the rope caught his fall, his left testicle became painfully pinched between the leg loop of his harness. The climber lowered off the route safely and decided to take the rest of the day off.
Analysis: Proper falling technique is an important skill for all climbers to practice and master, but in this case, a properly-fitting harness or a minor adjustment before leaving the ground may have prevented the ball-smashing.
WRONG COFFEE PACKED
Wyoming, Wind River Range, Cirque of the Towers
On September 5, two climbers (male, 26 years old, female, 26 years old) left their tent to begin preparing for a climb of the Northeast Face when they discovered one of them had accidentally purchased and brought decaffeinated coffee. The climbing trip was aborted.
Analysis: Proper assessment of conditions can be the difference between life or death on a climb, and these climbers showed appropriate prudence in their situation. Although a decaffeinated ascent of one of the Fifty Classic Climbs would have been quite savage.
Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, Lumpy Ridge
On Oct. 4, two climbers (male, 38 years old; male, 36 years old) climbed Pear Buttress on the Left Book formation at Lumpy Ridge. At the top of the formation, the first climber coiled the rope while the second climber stepped away to urinate. While in a rush to empty his bladder, the climber dribbled on the leg loop of his harness before correcting his aiming.
Analysis: The climber is to be commended for not urinating while on a very popular route and waiting until he topped out, even if he did get a little on his harness. At least it was pee and not poop.
Nevada, Red Rock National Conservation Area, Black Corridor
Two climbers (male, 30 years old, female, 28 years old), arrived at the base of the Black Corridor crag to discover that neither of them had brought a rope, but they each had 12 quickdraws. They retreated from the crag, walked back to their car, drove to the female climber’s house, got a rope, and returned to the crag for a slightly shorted day of climbing.
Analysis: When planning for a day of sport climbing, a rope is helpful.
Washington, Stuart Range, Mount Stuart
On August 9, on the descent from the summit of Mount Stuart after a successful climb of the North Ridge route, a male climber (33 years old) discovered he had taken off his sunglasses while sitting on the summit and had forgotten to put them back on before following his partner (female, 34 years old) down, and only discovered his mistake after descending several hundred feet.
Analysis: If anybody’s up there in the next couple weeks, they’re black Smith sunglasses with polarized lenses.
*these are all fictionalized, but very likely remind you of a climber you know, or a climber you are.
This piece and dozens of others appear in my new book, Bears Don’t Care About Your Problems, out now.