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Fall on Nutcracker, Cathedral Ledge

Original Post
Rob Albert · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2008 · Points: 0

Monday, 10-July was a pretty hot and humid day in North Conway. My partner and I decided to go to the Barber wall, and decided to get on Nutcracker. We are both quite experienced, and climb trad 5.10 regularly. He started up the climb, and said it felt great to be on the rock. He got up to the first crux area, around the small overlap, and put 2 pieces of gear in - a yellow X4, and the small blue C4. He started into the moves above the overlap, and perhaps kicked the C4 (?) as he slipped out of the crack. Neither of us are sure what happened. The result was that the C4 and the X4 both pulled, resulting in ground fall from about 30+ feet up. On his way down, he hit me in the shoulder, and I believe I rotated his body a little. The first thing to hit was his right side, then his back, then his head. He was wearing a helmet. It basically exploded - at least 3 visible cracks, and a large dent in the back of it. I called 911 immediately, as he was clearly in a lot of pain. We were fortunate that a nearby climber (Dave) was recently re-certified in his wilderness first responder. He stayed with my partner while I went up the trail to meet the first responders. They were on the scene about as fast as it took me to get to the parking area. By the time we got back down to my partner, he was having a little difficulty breathing, and was very hot. The MRS showed up shortly after we got back down to the base of the climb. The FD strapped him down to the board, and stabilized his neck as a precaution. We had roughly 20-25 people who helped move him up to the ambulance and off to Memorial Hospital in North Conway. CT, XRays and initial diagnosis in less time than it took for me to get to the hospital. It was decided to move him to Portland about an hour later. Portland confirmed the initial diagnoses and confirmed no neurological damage. No helmet would have been quite a different outcome there. As it is, multiple transverse fractures t9 to l5. Lung contusion, fractured hip, at least one broken rib. All else seems ok. No Neuro damage apparent. Likely discharged soon - as he is already walking around. 

Again, I have to thank all of the responders. It was less than 2 hours from call to hospital, which is absolutely incredible.

There are a few lessons here, and I welcome debate, questions, and suggestions.

1) We were a bit tired, and obviously made a bad decision to climb in the sun on a hot and humid day.

2) My partner had put a #2 C4 in the crack just before the crux, but pulled it in case he needed it later. If he had kept that in - well, it doesn't matter now...

3) I am not sure why the gear pulled. Neither of us has had gear pull on a fall. We fall REGULARLY. Probably fall every other time we go out. We have never had gear pull, nevermind 2 pieces on the same climb. 

I hope none of you have to experience events like this. The not knowing was the worst part for me, and I can't even imagine what my partner was going through. I will certainly be placing more gear on lead, and making sure that the pieces I place are as solid as possible. Be safe out there. 

coppolillo · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Sep 2009 · Points: 70

Phew, glad your partner is OK---

I know the AAC is doing a short sidebar in the new Accidents in NA Mountaineering on small cams---about judging quality/strength, etc....and if memory serves (I only saw a draft of it), there's some language in there about small nuts being potentially easier to evaluate/etc, in terms of strength. Dunno, I don't have much "analysis" to add to your story, but it occurred to me it's another accident involving small cams...

Check out that piece when it comes out. It got circulated between some smart folks, so it may have some insights within for you.....

Again, glad your buddy's OK and trust you are, too. RC

Greg D · · Here · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 871

Glad to hear he is recovering.  It could have been worse.  Do have and photos of the lobes of the cams that pulled.  Sometimes, that can provide some clues.  

wonderwoman · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2006 · Points: 84

Holy shit, Rob!  That's just awful!  Whoever it was, let me know if they need anything!  :(

Mike Morin · · North Conway, NH · Joined Nov 2007 · Points: 1,255

Damn, sorry to hear about this. Best wishes on a speedy and full recovery. I was out at the Barber Wall on Monday getting some TR solo laps on Nutcracker in after work. I stopped after a couple of runs due to how sweaty the jams were and that was when the wall was in full shade.

Edit to add: I'm in no way suggesting that you made a bad decision to climb in the full sun. Just affirming that it was wicked slick Monday, and I could see how your jams would slip out.

Benjamin Mitchell · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2016 · Points: 0

I fell off the crux of Nutcracker on the 9th and didn't think anything of it, it's crazy to think that somebody would take the same fall the next day and break several bones. Best wishes to your partner. 

For what it's worth, I got the impression that the thinner cracks around the crux wouldn't take gear that well, so I placed an ideal #1 (the piece I fell on) just below the crux section instead of trying to make a higher but less secure placement. 

The Yellow X4 is the only piece that has ripped out on me, sometimes it's all you have but there's just such a small margin of error for cams that small.

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

Thank you for posting, and I'm glad your partner survived.  I do a lot of back cleaning on alpine climbs and I'm trying to cut down - a little bit of redundancy is not a bad thing.  

Russ Keane · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Feb 2013 · Points: 150

"obviously made a bad decision to climb in the sun on a hot and humid day."

This seems unfair to yourselves.  Climbing in northern New Hampshire in the summer is not unreasonable.  Sun and heat is part of the game.  I have always found Cathedral granite to be a little "slick" anyway, no matter the season.  It's just very stiff climbing in my opinion.   Don't kick yourself for deciding to climb that day.

USBRIT Ross · · Keswick Cumbria.UK · Joined Apr 2001 · Points: 21,388

The only gear that has ever pulled out on me has been cams ....usually on clean aid and two or three pulled. I simply do not trust them.

Rob Albert · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2008 · Points: 0

Thanks for the discussion. RE: cam lobes; no visible damage at all. Also, the upper cam that pulled, may have been due to being kicked - we are not sure. The incidental contact may have been enough to tip it out, and pull. We are still unsure why the yellow X4 pulled. 

coldatom · · Cambridge, MA · Joined Sep 2011 · Points: 70

Wow.  Glad to hear it wasn't worse.  

I took a fall at the same spot on a hot and humid day 3 years ago.  My top piece was a green alien around my feet, and the placement looked textbook.  The alien exploded.  One lobe sheared off, and the axle bent.  My blue DMM nut, maybe 2 feet below it, held.  It held so well, that we left it there.  A crazy thunderstorm rolled in as we were trying to extract it, so we took off.

Anecdotal evidence, for sure, but maybe a good reason to mix up your pieces between nuts and cams.  Especially if you know you're headed into a crux move on slippery granite.

Greg D · · Here · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 871

I have a theory about X4's and the many threads with photos support it.  With no evidence in this case, it is merely speculation.  Personally, I won't use X4's.  

AaronP · · colorado springs co · Joined Mar 2014 · Points: 45

If it was "really" humid hypothetically  the cam lobes would  have less friction/holding power even if the gear was placed well?

Marc801 C · · Sandy, Utah · Joined Feb 2014 · Points: 65
coldatom wrote:

Anecdotal evidence, for sure, but maybe a good reason to mix up your pieces between nuts and cams.

Check out Henry Barber's rack when he climbed it in 2001 (pic from MP archives):

(Click to get to full size photo)

Joe M. · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2008 · Points: 9,655

But he's Hot Henry Barber, the rock conforms to his gear placements...

Kevin Heckeler · · Upstate New York · Joined Jul 2010 · Points: 1,411
AaronP wrote:

If it was "really" humid hypothetically  the cam lobes would  have less friction/holding power even if the gear was placed well?

My understanding is that humidty and moisture only play a smallish part in the friction needed for the cam.  Fine dirt/dust, mud, slime, etc would be more a problem as it leaves a film but straight water would be displaced between the lobe and rock under the load of a fall.

Is it possible one or both placements were in polished rock?  I've placed many cams (especially tricams in the Gunks) where I wondered if the rock was too polished.  Thankfully I've not had to test such a placement, yet.

Best wishes and speedy recovery to your friend.  I appreciate you posting the details as there's important lessons for everyone in these outcomes.

USBRIT Ross · · Keswick Cumbria.UK · Joined Apr 2001 · Points: 21,388
Marc801 C wrote:

Check out Henry Barber's rack when he climbed it in 2001 (pic from MP archives):

(Click to get to full size photo)

 Hexes  and stoppers much more reliable than cams 

Marc801 C · · Sandy, Utah · Joined Feb 2014 · Points: 65
USBRIT wrote:

 Hexes  and stoppers much more reliable than cams 

That's a completely incorrect blanket statement. 

Nick Goldsmith · · Pomfret VT · Joined Aug 2009 · Points: 440

Sorry your friend got hurt. Hope he heals up well.  One of the things I have noticed over the years is that when I have gotten on a roll of pushing hard, new routeing etc and get really comfortable falling that everything is fine and dandy for a good long stretch, perhaps a few months or a few seasons and then suddenly everything is not fine at all.  If you fall enough on gear sooner or later something bad will happen.  I have been fourtunate to never get seriously hurt but certainly had enough close calls. the last two big falls I had  ended up influenceing the route name. Screamer when a hold broke and I went way ,way farther than i should have  for various reasons.  Had time  to scream 3 times. Mad Man was the result of a blown beak and some big air with the bosch  hanging off my ass...   the largest piece I have blown was a green Camalot in a wet mossy crack. Most pieces in one fall =3 . Had a hard gear ripper at the Gunks stopped by  #2  Chiounard micro wire in an absolutly perfect placement on P38. Or at least what I thought was P38.........   If its a hard move on small gear a nut is way better than a micro cam all day long. Caught my buddy on a  #5 BD stopper on the Great Corner@ wheeler. helped in a rescue at the same spot where the leader opted for a micro cam instead of the stopper.....

Healyje · · PDX · Joined Jan 2006 · Points: 295
Marc801 C wrote:

That's a completely incorrect blanket statement. 

The issue isn't one of whether passive is better than cams, but rather does one have placement skills. What can be said about climbing without cams is that you didn't do it very long unless you developed at least a minimal set of skills in short order. Doing hard routes on all passive gear makes you learn to pay serious attention to the details of your placements - learning that may or may not happen in a cam-centric world. Look, it's your life on the line and the fine details count in spades even with cams and triply so for small cams. Otherwise using cams is more of a long-duration crapshoot where you're going to be had sooner or later. 

"Neither of us has had gear pull on a fall."

The accident was clearly unfortunate and none of us were there to see the details including the OP, but this statement could be taken to indicate a misplaced faith in cams and gear in general. No form of pro is superior to the other and all pro should be suspect as it's only as good as the placement you make with it and that gets back to the old Devils Lake maxim:


I highly encourage folks go out and climb like it's 1975 getting on something with just passive pro at least once in order to develop a better appreciation for just how important developing placement skills is.

Jimmy Downhillinthesnow · · Bozeman, Montana · Joined Mar 2013 · Points: 10

I'm glad your partner made it out. A good lesson on the potential drawbacks of small cams--placements just don't have as much room for error.

Best wishes on the recovery to your partner. 

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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