Climbing Accident Report – March 31, 2008 – Red Rock Canyon


The Story –

I met Jon, Patrick, and Jason for the first time at Red Rock Rendezvous 2008. Since both Patrick and I had been wanting eagerly to do one of the classic long routes, Crimson Chrysalis (5.8), we headed to the Cloud Tower where the route resides on the morning of Monday, March 31. Because the route requires two ropes to rappel down, our strategy was to climb in two pairs and meet up at the top to descend together. Before we set off, Jon requested me to pair up with him because we climbed together a little bit beforehand (Hop Route Direct – 5.8, 2 pitches; Cookie Monster Pitch one 5.7) on the weekend, and I agreed.

The approach was a treacherous hike; Jason, Patrick and I arrived at the base about one and half hours after taking off from the parking lot. While Jason and Patrick were getting ready, another party Adam and Chris arrived at the base. We explained to them that we were a party of four, and they agreed to climb after Jon and I. Meanwhile Jon arrived and he looked beaten up from the approach.

Patrick started to lead the first pitch. We wanted to stay close together, so after Jason left the ground for about 20 feet, I started to lead the first pitch and clipped into the first bolt anchor right after Jason started to lead the second pitch. Jon followed the first pitch just fine but a bit slowly; after he arrived at the first belay, he rested for a while and continued up to lead the next pitch. He moved slowly but steadily; when he reached the middle of the climb, he encountered a bulge; he hesitated and started to become nervous. He placed a cam and attempted to climb over the slightly overhanging feature, and fell on that piece of protection gear twice, which resulted in a difficult gear cleanup for me. Finally he realized that he could totally bypass the bulge and climb to the right; he managed to reach the second belay station. Meanwhile I had been shivering because the climb was in the shade at all times and the wind was brutal.

I climbed up to Jon and we couldn’t see either Patrick or Jason in sight. Because I was still cold, I quickly racked myself up getting ready to leave. I spotted that Jon was about to belay me from the anchor and I made him belay me from the harness – one should always belay a leader from his harness. Because I was cold, I rushed myself to lead the third pitch. I felt I did not climb in the best form but I managed to lead it cleanly and clipped into the third belay station, which was also a hanging belay.

Jon had some difficulty following the third pitch and weighted the rope four or five times when he tried to traverse over a crack, which required some lie back and stemming techniques. I started to worry and wonder whether it would be better for me to lead the fourth pitch. Jon arrived at the third belay station, and expressed that he needed some rest and would lead the fourth pitch. I looked up. There was a bolt right above the anchor and another bolt 20 feet after. It seemed that there was no place to put pros between two bolts; if I were the leader, my strategy would be to clip into the first bolt and stem up to the left with the crack right between my legs, and climb as fast as possible to clip into the second bolt.

Jon started to lead the fourth pitch; he climbed to the left and wanted to put a pro between 2 bolts; however he could not find a good place; he stalled there for a while and I suggested him to down climb and rest at a better stance. In the meanwhile I accessed the route again and figured that he could probably climb to the right all the way up to the second bolt. He agreed that the right path looked climbable and traversed to the right from his location. After he climbed up for a while, he wanted to put a pro in. He told me that the rock quality was bad – it was a hollow flake – but he was going to put a nut in anyway.

After he placed the nut and clipped a draw, he was tempted to rest even though he should not have because the placement was far from bomber. However, he weighted the nut because he was too tired. The nut popped out and he dropped for about 25 feet. I got pulled into the anchor by a great force: my forehead impacted the wall first (Luckily, I was wearing a helmet), and my upper front teeth banged on the rock face that I was worried that I might have lost them. My teeth therefore cut my lower lip open deeply. Both of my knees got bruises and I got cuts and scrapes everywhere on my hands and fingers.

Jon yelled “I am alright,” and I couldn’t respond because I was in pain and my blood was dripping everywhere – on my coat, pants, biners, rope…and the rock. I was shivering non-stop because of the cold and trauma. I wanted to climb this route so bad; looking at myself, I told myself “I need to bail.”

I lowered Jon to the next belay anchor. Adam climbed up to me and offered us their second rope so Jon and I could bail. They would climb up to meet Patrick and Jason and descend together. The moment Adam reached my location, my tears started to drop like my blood. I said “I want to finish this route so bad;” “it will still be here,” Adam comforted me and helped me to set up the rappel. Jon and I rappelled down to the ground and hiked all the way to seek medical attention.

Lessons Learned –

After this accident, I gave it much thought. I kept asking myself this question “What could I have done differently to keep this from happening?”

1.Better Partner Assessment

Before I climbed Crimson Chrysalis with Jon, I had climbed with him for three pitches of which I led two (5.7; 5.8) and he led one (5.7). I knew that he was not a fast climber and Crimson Chrysalis was a 9-pitch climb and five of them are rated as sustained 5.8. I should have known that a 9-pitch, 1000-foot climb was too much of commitment for us as a pair. Patrick felt that if we could have split our teams up differently, for example Jason and Jon; Patrick and I, all of us might have made to the top. Jason was the strongest climber in the team and he has climbed the route before, he could have led the whole way if he wanted. I am a 5.8 leader in Red Rocks; however I don’t think I could lead all the pitches. I would say 6 pitches are the maximum I feel comfortable to take.

2.Speak Up If Not Feeling Comfortable or Whenever I Have Something to Say

During the climb, there were several occasions I felt that I wanted to say something, but after all I only spoke up at one occasion – I had Jon belay me as a leader from his harness rather than from the anchor. Other occasions include: a) I wanted to ask him to let me lead the fourth pitch because he was obviously exhausted, and I knew the climb was going to ease up a bit and if I wanted to rest, I could let Jon lead the easier pitches. I didn’t speak up. b) After I assessed the fourth pitch, I knew that there was no place to put pros between the first bolt and the second bolt and I meant to instruct him with my analysis but I didn’t. c) When he expressed he was tired and weighted the nut (a poor protection), I should have asked him to down climb instead, but again I didn’t say anything.

3.Fall Anticipation

I knew that Jon had a good chance to fall not only because he looked tired but he expressed many times that he did not want to fall on top of me during his lead which means he wasn’t comfortable leading. I wonder if I brace myself better whether the situation will be any different. I am not very sure because Jon out-weights me about 40-50 lbs and the fall was a 25-footer. But I think if I put both of my legs against the wall better, I might have hurt less.

4.Helmets Are Mandatory

My forehead was my first body part that impacted the rock face. If I did not wear my helmet, I might have knocked unconscious and let go my brake hand. During Jon’s fall, his head was banged into the rock face too, and his head was protected by his helmet as well.

Conclusion –

I feel that I let the desire of climbing Crimson Chrysalis cloud my judgment. Climbing is a serious undertaking – if there is any single moment I do not feel comfortable, I should act by either speaking up or bailing the route. Safety is the first priority and I should climb conservatively especially when pairing up with a new partner. I learned a lesson the hard way but luckily I did not pay a higher price.

Photo: The route Crimson Chrysalis
Photo Credit: Ted Ullman

5 thoughts on “Climbing Accident Report – March 31, 2008 – Red Rock Canyon”

  1. Glad you came out ok! I’m always much more conservative in all aspects of a long multipitch climb because it’s so much more committing than a short climb. I wouldn’t share ropes with another team either – I’d bring a tag line for descent. Hope you have some good multipitches to get you back in the mood!

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