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Ground fall on Left Ski Track in Joshua Tree
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By Nelson Day
From Joshua Tree, CA
Oct 2, 2012
me (about to sneeze)
I was leading the left ski track in Joshua Tree on Intersection Rock last weekend and suffered a ground fall from about 20 feet up. I landed in a patch of dirt that is about 2 feet by 3 feet. All around the spot where I landed there are sharp rocks that could have seriuosly injured me.

I climbed up past the "fin" area of the climb, which is about 18 feet off the ground, or so it appears. I placed a #4 C4 behind the flake/fin down low in the pod, clipped the piece, and continued up the climb. I messed up the sequence through the crux, and decided to take what I thought would be a short fall to my last piece, and start the sequence over again. I told my partner "falling", let go, and fell to the ground. My #4 cam popped out of its placement, as well as a crappy #2 below it. I knew the #2 was no good, and knew that once my #4 had popped, I was going to the ground. I landed on my butt, which broke my fall wonderfully. My arms also broke a bit of the fall, although I didn't hit them hard on the rocks. I didn't hit my spine or head on the rocks at all at impact, which is probably why I ended up in reasonable condition. After the fall, I stayed on the ground for a minute and felt out my injuries. My chest and butt hurt, but other than that, I didn't feel horrible. I then stood up and immediately felt pain in my rib cage. As I stood up, I felt some movement in my chest, which was pretty freaky. My partner took me to Desert Medical Center in Joshua Tree, where the staff put me through an abdominal CT scan. The doctor came in about 2 hours after the scan and told me that I didn't have any broken ribs, my spine was intact, and I didn't have any organ damage. He said I have soft tissue damage/cartilage damage at my rib connection to my sternum and that it would most likely take a few weeks to heal.

Causes of the piece of protection failing:

I went back to the site on Sunday and looked at the area I had the cam placed in. The crack is slightly flaring, but not horribly. I have to assume that as I moved past my #4 placement, the #4 rotated or slid up into the crack into a more flaring section. When I fell, the outward pull on the piece popped the cam outwards and through the more flaring area of the pod. If I had slung the piece, the piece probably would have not rotated or moved, and it would have held my fall. A better #5 placement was available higher in the pod, and deeper in the rock. This alternative placement would have been much safer, but I didn't have a #5 cam with me. I have since bought one for such cases.

I am very fortunate to have suffered very minor injuries from the fall. Slinging pieces that are critical on lead to protect the leader from a ground fall is always a good idea, especially if movement of that piece can jeopardize its integrity. A common complacent error among climbers is to assume that larger protection does not require as much care while placing the piece. I can now testify that larger protection needs just as much care as smaller protection pieces while placing.

I am not proud of this ground fall, it is an embarrasing blemish on my otherwise excellent climbing record. I hope others can learn from my mistake.

Nelson

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By FrankPS
From Atascadero, CA
Oct 2, 2012
Thanks, Nelson. Glad you're OK (and lucky!). Reinforces the idea that each and every piece needs to be placed as well as possible and adequately extended. Although I understand that all placements can't be textbook, my/your life depends on it holding a fall.

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By randy88fj62
Oct 2, 2012
Thunderbolt Peak in the Palisades
Thank you for sharing your experience. I read accidents of north america books and yosar reports. One way to prevent against accidents is to learn from others. I rarely place a piece without slinging it unless it's a splitter vertical crack or when aid climbing and there are several pieces between me and a ledge.

A good way to judge cam placements is to pay close attention when following. You can learn a lot by analyzing your partner's placements.

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By FrankPS
From Atascadero, CA
Oct 2, 2012
Nelson Day wrote:
My #4 cam popped out of its placement, as well as a crappy #2 below it. I knew the #2 was no good, and knew that once my #4 had popped, I was going to the ground. Nelson


Nelson, any thoughts on the #2 placement? Was it merely "psychological pro" or could you have placed it better?

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By Eric D
From Gnarnia
Oct 2, 2012
Born again on the last move of the Red Dihedral, h...
Glad you are okay and learning from it. I was on ski track right a few years ago and a guy decked on left just next to me. He sat on his only nut which popped. It was pretty crazy, right had just seen an accident and still had a huge blood stain on the base. As I was looking at it about to lead over it, a guy decks next to me. Scary.

I remember placing that #4 (or #5?) on left and feeling great about it. I also thought that the gear before the 4 or 5 was good. I didn't place in the weird small pods, but rather just outside of them where bigger pieces fit into a nice parallel place. The pods were the obvious placements but I remember thinking these were better. I agree with your assessment - extend slings on pieces that might walk. Get better.

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By Will S
From Joshua Tree
Oct 2, 2012
Put a red tcu in the 1.25" pod below the fin, it's bomber and will keep you off the ground. Not much else is bomber in that small pod, wider 4 cam units aren't so good...then again, old style #4 (purple) next to the fin is also bomber if placed correctly, I've seen lots of people fall or take on that placement...just seems to get in the way to me.

Plenty of people have popped from that point on the solo and walked away. Climbing is dangerous, count yourself lucky.

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By Mick S
Oct 2, 2012
I have looked at the Left Ski track many times, and despite doing several other routes in Jtree at the same grade, passed on leading it. The protection at the bottom did not look reliable to me, I considered it a route that you better not fall on. Glad you are OK.

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By NickinCO
From colorado
Oct 2, 2012
after the hard stuff, into cruiser hands.
Glad you're ok. I always put at least a draw on all my gear and if it's a shitty placement taking the time (and wasting energy) to place it is pointless. Thanks for having the balls to post. I think reading stories like this is good for everyone. Also might be good to practice down climbing instead of taking falls.

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By Nelson Day
From Joshua Tree, CA
Oct 2, 2012
me (about to sneeze)
FrankPS wrote:
Nelson, any thoughts on the #2 placement? Was it merely "psychological pro" or could you have placed it better?


It was definitely psychological pro. I was not relying on it at all. I knew the next piece I was going to place, which hand I was going to use, and racked it in the appropriate place on my harness. I climbed up a few moves, made sure of my sequence, and then climbed down and rested before making the actual ascent. I executed my sequence as planned, and placed the pro exactly as I had planned. It was a good placement, it just walked. I took an educated risk in relying on that protection, and executed everything as planned. I just should have slung the piece.

I also agree with the recommendation of down climbing and taking on the pro if the option is available. I was so confident in the placement that I just took the fall instead. If I had downclimbed, I would have seen that the piece had walked and would have been able to correct it.

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By mountainlion
Oct 2, 2012
Glad to hear you are Ok Nelson!

I had a very similar (sounding) injury of the soft tissue around the rib directly off the sternum (from a bouldering ground fall). It felt like what your describing. I was able to climb with it but it did move when breathing deeply.

It took about 2 months to fully heal. Lots of ice/heat rotations seemed to be the best treatment. Rest was recommended but I couldn't
stay off the rock but I did not do any routes that would cause me to
exert maximum effort.


Here's to your fast recovery!

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By Nick Stayner
From Billings, MT
Oct 2, 2012
Nick Stayner near the crux. Ryan Minton photo.
Thanks for taking the time to share and glad you're OK! A good lesson for most of us. I really have to work hard at adequately protecting routes with low cruxes.

I'm not sure if this was exactly your case, but it sort of sounds like one of my old bad habits. Many times on routes with low cruxes I've placed a piece at an awkward but necessary spot, not been happy with it, and gunned on past it anyway because I thought I could see a more comfortable stance/better gear/etc... only to realize when cleaning my gear on the way down that my decision put me in groundfall terrain. I think I got lucky a lot!

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By NickinCO
From colorado
Oct 2, 2012
after the hard stuff, into cruiser hands.
I had the same injury from kayaking, what really helped me was an elastic ACE lower velcro back brace moved up higher over the area of injury. Kinda held things together.

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By duh
Oct 2, 2012
Sorry to hear about your ground fall.

Back in the day, we used to toss an 11 hex behind the fin, seemed better than a #4 friend and if properly placed, less likely to move around or be in the way when passing it. Below that, a good medium sized friend in a pocket/ slot.

That patch of dirt you landed in, used to have a sharp boulder sitting there. A bunch of us locals moved it back in the late 70's, in order to create a landing, if you fell or dropped off the fin while soloing it. I know I dropped off the fin, more than once, in to that same spot before I had the confidence to 3rd class it.

I'm glad your injuries were not worse.

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By Marc H
From Lafayette, CO
Oct 2, 2012
The Cathedral Spires in RMNP, left to right: Stile...
I have a similar injury from wrestling in high school. There is a piece of cartilage that attaches each rib to your sternum. On the bottom, right side of my rib cage, the piece of cartilage that touches that rib separated from the rib. It now sticks out, but it's barely noticeable to others (I can't help but notice it).

It never returned to its original position, but it hasn't caused me pain in fifteen years. Although the first six months it was definitely painful.

I wonder if we have the same injury. I had it diagnosed at the time; I think the doc called it "Teet's syndrome" or something like that. Or maybe I made that up because I can't find anything online about it. And it does kind of look like a very small "teet." hahah

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By Fat Dad
From Los Angeles, CA
Oct 2, 2012
Close call. Glad you're OK. I'm one of those people who has done lots of harder climbs at Josh but always was leery of the pro on that thing. As a kid, I'd stare up at it thinking how I was going to bag it one day, but then when I got good enough it just seemed kind of dicey. Maybe I'll take the red TCU advice, sack up and finally sent it.

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By John Wilder
From Las Vegas, NV
Oct 2, 2012
Mick S wrote:
I have looked at the Left Ski track many times, and despite doing several other routes in Jtree at the same grade, passed on leading it. The protection at the bottom did not look reliable to me, I considered it a route that you better not fall on. Glad you are OK.


This. I backed off Left years ago thanks to the iffy pro on the first (and most difficult) part of the route. After my friend led the thing on super shaky gear, I pretty much swore off ever leading the thing.

Glad you're okay, dude- sounds like you definitely got lucky.

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By 1Eric Rhicard
Oct 2, 2012
It is a good sized roof. Photo: Jimbo
I always want two good pieces of pro between me and the ground. Hit the ground in 1975 because one pulled and the other a tiny stopper broke. If you don't have two good pieces downclimb but don't let go or fall if you can help it.

Haven't hit the ground since. Cams are not bolts and fail even in bomber looking placements.

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By Marc H
From Lafayette, CO
Oct 2, 2012
The Cathedral Spires in RMNP, left to right: Stile...
JLP wrote:
I freed this climb in my first few years, haven't been back to it. This and Lower Right are kind of POS routes that aren't worth the risk, IMO.


You have absolutely no idea about what's it's like to be in a beginner's pair of shoes. Your elitist attitude is ridiculous and old. Maybe you could find some slightly more productive use of your time other than ragging on folks that are climbing things that you "climbed in your first few years?"

Personally, I'm humbled by your posts. But I'm surely not worthy of your guidance.

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By Colonel Mustard
From Reno, NV
Oct 3, 2012
Colonel Mustard
Marc H wrote:
You have absolutely no idea about what's it's like to be in a beginner's pair of shoes. Your elitist attitude is ridiculous and old. Maybe you could find some slightly more productive use of your time other than ragging on folks that are climbing things that you "climbed in your first few years?" Personally, I'm humbled by your posts. But I'm surely not worthy of your guidance.


Ah, JLP is just rehashing JT512's greatest hits. He just can't seem to master his compulsion of telling the internet how stupid it is. Reminds me of Marvin the Paranoid Android, brain the size of the universe.... Classic stuff, really ;).

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By fossana
From Bishop, CA
Oct 3, 2012
West Overhang
Glad you're OK, Nelson. I remember pretty long runouts on that route and was glad that I wasn't a 5.6-7 leader when I did it.

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By Nelson Day
From Joshua Tree, CA
Oct 3, 2012
me (about to sneeze)
Thanks everyone for the feed back, injury information, and especially thanks to Jack for moving the boulder "back in the day" that could have really made things much worse for me! That being said, I really did enjoy the first moves on this route. Classic stuff.

My awareness of my situation (grounding potential) and gear placements has been heightened from this fall, especially while placing larger cams. I am typically more meticulous about placing smaller cams, and suffer from complacency while placing big "boat anchor" pieces.

This route has some very good movement before the bolt. Good enough that I would like to go back and try it again. I did notice in the pictures on the Left Ski Track page that nearly everyone did not sling their pro at the bottom. As such I don't feel like I made an uncommon mistake. I just paid for it (possibly) more than others have in the past. Hopefully others will at least be more aware of their placements as a result of my potentially fatal mistake. Especially larger placements, and slinging pieces that may move.

It may sound strange, but I am most thankful out of this whole experience that I did not get injured badly enough to prevent me from climbing for very long. A few of my friends went to Nomads while they were waiting for me to get treated at the hospital. When the store heard about my fall, they threw together a get well card. That card meant a lot to me, and reinforced the fact that climbing community really is a family with great people. Hopefully I will have the opportunity to participate in similar activities that make other climbers feel the same way. I can't wait to get back on the rock again!

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By Colonel Mustard
From Reno, NV
Oct 3, 2012
Colonel Mustard
fossana wrote:
Glad you're OK, Nelson. I remember pretty long runouts on that route and was glad that I wasn't a 5.6-7 leader when I did it.


Yeah, it would really suck to be a 5.7 leader on a 5.11.

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By Daryl Allan
From Sierra Vista, AZ
Oct 3, 2012
Me and my Fetish I guess.. ;)
Glad to hear you're doing well Nelson and thanks for sharing.

Just out of curiosity, what belay device was being used? About how much rope was between the piece and you when you let go? Did you give your belayer a few seconds to prepare or just say 'falling' and fly?

Thanks,d

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By Nelson Day
From Joshua Tree, CA
Oct 3, 2012
me (about to sneeze)
My belayer was using an ATC. He wasn't keeping me super tight, but he didn't have excessive slack in the system. Was a good belay. The type of belay device he was using is somewhat irrelevant - the pro didn't hold and as such the belay device never really came into play.

My tie in point was about 2-3 feet above my piece when I realized I had botched the sequence and decided to take the "short fall" and start over. I didn't give my belayer much time to react, I just said "falling" and let go. He said that he did have enough time to take a short amount of slack out of the rope. It is possible that when he took the slack out of the rope, the piece shifted. Again, if the piece had been slung, it would not have shifted.

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By duh
Oct 3, 2012
I was just one, of many who helped moved boulders to clear landings. Pretty sure it was JB, who spearheaded the moving of the boulder underneath Left Ski Track.

I was pretty young back then, it was a couple of years later that I was able to take advantage of the cleared landing.

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By mattm
From TX
Oct 3, 2012
Grande Grotto
I eyed Left Ski last time I was at Josh but didn't have the time to hop on it. I had read numerous accounts of the funky gear near the bottom. After bouldering up the first 6 feet or so and looking at those pods I thought "Man, these look tailor made for some Totem Cams". I didn't have my set with me at the time but made a note to bring them next time I was in Josh.

Anyone out there used Totem Cams on Left Ski Track?

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