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Integrity and ethics in Zion

Original Post
K Hill · · Denver, CO · Joined Nov 2014 · Points: 208

This post is a semi-rant and semi-call-for-help/advice regarding a frustrating situation that occurred on touchstone wall. I apologize for the detail of this story, but it is relevant to my question/rant. Hopefully others can learn from this experience as well.

On December 29th, 2016, my partner and I arrived early in the morning to climb touchstone wall. There was another party in the parking lot from Minnesota who had fixed a line to the top of the second pitch. They were planning to bivy on the wall and we were planning on shooting to the top. As we were all racking up and discussing logistics, they graciously offered to let us to jug up their fixed line first, as we were planning on freeing the 3rd pitch, where we would fix a line for them. We were rather new to aid climbing, so the idea of skipping the aid pitches sounded great, and it seemed we had a good plan. So we set off and everything seemed that it would work out great. Everything went well in freeing the 3rd pitch and setting up the next fixed line.

However, near the top of the 4th pitch, I was leading and took an unfortunate fall when a foot hold broke. A piece of gear in a flared crack popped out and I took quite a ride and ended up coming down on one of the bulges. My foot hit the wall first and I immediately felt an immensely sharp pain in my ankle. Being in medical school and having Wilderness first aid training, I tried to assess the range of motion of my ankle and put weight on it against the wall and it was clear that something was either broken or torn, as it was quite painful and immediately started to get swollen to the point that I had to remove my shoe.

As I hung there, I was still a good 100 feet above my belayer and we couldn't see each other and couldn't really hear each other either. I was close to one of the rap station ledges, so I swung over to that to anchor in. After trying to figure out what to do and getting a little delirious from the pain in my ankle, I realized the safest thing to do was bail. It was obvious I wouldn't be able to climb, and I wasn't sure if belaying my partner would be safe either. It wasn't as though we could discuss options since we could barely hear each other yelling back on forth.

If anyone has climbed touchstone, you know that the rap stations are significantly to the left side of the climb. So as I pulled the rope and rapped to the top of the 3rd pitch to my belayer, there was a good amount of gear (7 BD cams) I wasn't able to swing over and grab given my ankle situation and the relative location of the rap line to the crack. The party behind us were just arriving to the top of p3 after jugging, and we asked them if they would please clean our gear on that pitch. I happened to have the "toughtags" on my cams that have my name, phone number, and email address on them. I told them I'd pay for shipping and even give them $50 for their troubles. The party agreed and gave their condolences as my partner and I raped down to the ground. At the parking lot, we also left a note on their car with my information.

After upon getting to a hospital, it turned out I had torn my achilles tendon. I was lucky that it wasn't a full tear, but it was almost completely through the entire tendon, so it was a good thing I didn't stay on the wall.

Here is the dilemma and reason for this post. After waiting for days, weeks, and months, I've never heard from the party behind us about my gear. It seems as though either they just kept it for themselves, or they decided not to finish the climb. If that is the case, then whoever climbed it after would have found my cams and seen that they had my name and phone number on them, but didn't return them. Either way, I am rather upset at the whole situation. It's one thing to find a single cam or nut on a climb and claim it as "booty", but when it is multiple cams with a name and phone number on them, that is a different story. I also posted about this on the touchstone wall MP page.

So based on that long drawn out story, I have a few questions. Was there a better way to have handled the situation while we were up on the wall? what would you have done? what else should we have done? Is it right for someone to keep that many cams if found on a wall, even if they have a name and phone number on them? I am just rather frustrated by this situation and am wondering if I should have done something differently. I am also asking that in the rare chance that anyone in the zion area knows anything about a large amount of cams being found on the touchstone wall, they would give me some information.

I think most of the time, the people in the climbing community are people of integrity, but this situation is rather disheartening. I would hope that if climbers hear or see other situations like this, they would stand up and say something and not condone this type of conduct.

Sorry for the long rant.

nathanael · · Riverside, CA · Joined May 2011 · Points: 348
Kyle H wrote:So based on that long drawn out story, I have a few questions. Was there a better way to have handled the situation while we were up on the wall? what would you have done?
Not fall ;)

Sorry about the injury, hope you heal quickly. Gear is a bummer but what can you do.
Chase Bowman · · Baton Rouge/Durango · Joined Jan 2014 · Points: 600

It would of probably been best if you posted about the incident immediately following the accident, rather than now. imo I cant imagine someone witnessing a fall like that and not making an effort to return the gear. Check out this forum for the rules of booty.. I think they make sense.. Any gear left on a climb because of personal injury shouldn't be considered booty. Did you not get the information of the party behind you?…

Nick Votto · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2008 · Points: 320

Sorry about the injury, sounds like you did everything you could.

If the party behind you took the gear, they're assholes, plain and simple.
If someone else recovered them then it's a little easier to see them taking the cams.
If I found cams with name, address, etc on them I'd return the cams, it's really not that much effort.

Nick Sweeney · · Spokane, WA · Joined Jun 2013 · Points: 653

Kyle, super sorry to hear about your injury. I just got back from a trip to Zion... what an incredible place!

Undoubtedly, those other guys are pretty scummy to have taken your gear. The right thing to do would be to return it to you, ESPECIALLY since they had all of your information, you offered a reward, and the gear was left as a result of an injury.

On bigger routes, I know that there is a chance I may be forced to leave/abandon gear - this is a part of the game when you are pushing your limits and trying harder, more committing climbs. In this case though, I think these guys simply took advantage. Bummer.

jdejace · · New England · Joined Sep 2013 · Points: 5

The world is a cruel place. If the last couple of years of medical school don't convince you, residency sure will :) Climbers don't occupy a special moral sphere, unfortunately (neither do physicians, which is a lot more tragic but that's a topic for another time).

If you had to ask those guys to clean your gear (I would have offered immediately) and they didn't tell you to keep your $50, it was never getting back to you. I'd consider it a minor miracle to ever get any gear back, having different expectations sets you up for disappointment.

Jake wander · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2014 · Points: 180


i am from MN and climbed touchstone wall feb 1. we did notice one of your nuts (it sticks out in my memory cuz i had never seen the tag with personal info) and thats it.

in the off chance you know the names of the climbers, i could try to contact them as the community of MN wall climbers is pretty small. hopefully there is more to their side of the story.

let me know.

slim · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2004 · Points: 1,088

is it possible that they might have bailed before doing that pitch? that seems like a fairly plausible scenario to me.

FrankPS · · Atascadero, CA · Joined Nov 2009 · Points: 275

Sucks about the gear, but once you walk away from it, there's no guarantee you'll see it again. Some good people, some not so good.

Be grateful your injury wasn't worse and consider the cost of the gear cheap compared to a TBI or paralysis.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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