My Climbing Accident

July 29, 2017:

After a successful summer morning of bouldering in Little Rock Canyon, sending my old problem Fire & Ice….

….and sending the adjacent, harder Earth & Wind, an old nemesis…

…I was working my way back down the canyon and stopped at the old main bouldering area (that I had never been interested in before)…I thought I’d give it another chance. I found the main boulder that I wanted to try, and attempted the V6 arete. Too tired, and after several tries and only making it halfway up the boulder each time, I decided I was done for the day. I’ll come back and finish the problem another day. Before I go, though, I’ll do the topout of the problem really quick.

I stood on my pads and tick-marked the holds where I was going to grab and top out. Even though I was touching and marking the very chunk that would soon land on me, there was no indication that it was loose.


No that is not smoke or rock dust that puffs up partway through the video- that is just regular climbing chalk that puffs up when I slap the sloping handhold.

These 4 videos below show other guys that were lucky to not have the chunk drop on them when climbing the same boulder!

Lucky Guy #1

Lucky Guy #2

Lucky Guy #3

Lucky Guy #4

My friend Brandon says he also climbed the same boulder, as recently as April.

The low point of the rock breakage is about 10 feet high.  The rock weighs approximately 300 lbs. I must have lucked out and got an indirect, partial impact of the rock. The falling weight/force of the rock on impact was about 3300 lbs.

I landed on my pads, and quickly moved the rock off of my lower leg. After a minute of intense pain, I gathered my thoughts and realized that the remaining pain was all concentrated in my lower leg.  Looking down, I saw what I thought was my bone- it was actually my tendon showing.

There was no gushing blood, so I didn’t have any immediate concern for that. I then tried to stand up to see if I had any broken bones. It didn’t hurt any worse to stand. I popped some pain pills I had in my pack. I have always packed them since having a kidney stone, fearing the possibility of ever having a kidney stone again, but this time while out climbing. I packed up my pads and belongings and started to make my way down to the trail. I quickly realized that I was more hurt than I thought and that bringing my stuff was not viable.

I moved down the trail, slowly walking, and crab-walking when needed over boulders or steep terrain. After going a decent distance, and having made my mind up that I wouldn’t need a rescue, I pulled out my phone to call my wife. As I went to dial, she called me. I answered and said, “Don’t freak out, everything’s fine, but I have had an accident…”  She asked if I needed rescue or a ride, and I said I really didn’t think so.  I figured that I could either sit here and wait for an hour for help to arrive, or I could be at medical help before then. Easy choice. At this point, I still didn’t think I had a broken bone.

I hiked the 1/4 mile back to the car. Normally it would have taken about 5 minutes, but with my injuries it took about 25 minutes.  As I crab-walked to get down the last steep dirt trail section to my car, a guy pulled up and started his hike up the canyon.  He looked at my injury and offered me a ride.  I declined. I was just fine driving, but everything tightened up about 10 minutes later, making it excruciating to push the brake pedal. I started braking way ahead of time on each approaching stoplight.



This picture was taken in the waiting room at the Instacare, where my wife met me in the parking lot with a wheelchair.  The doc took one look at it and said, “We don’t deal with open wounds- go to the ER.”

12:00 PM

My wife drove me to the ER, where they gave me morphine and before long, I was laughing about the whole thing. Stitch me up and then I’ll go home. But then I started hearing things like:

“We need to irragate that laceration.”

“He has a damaged tendon.”

Then the radiologist handed me the x-rays and I looked at it and could see a clean break on my fibula (smaller, calf bone).


“Stay in the hospital for 2-3 days for a course of iv antibiotics.”



7:00 PM

Went in for surgery.  Woke up in another room and it was all over.

The surgery consisted of:
1. Irrigating/cleaning the laceration.

2. Stitching the partial tendon tear (peroneus longus)

3. Manipulating my ankle to see if fibular shaft fracture affected the ankle – negative. (Otherwise, they would have put a screw and a plate between my fibula and tibia.) Luckily just a simple, clean fracture of the fibular shaft.

4. Stitching the laceration semi-closed.

After 3 days in the hospital, they put a wound vac on my laceration and sent me home.

1 Week:



The surgeon prescribed the topical medicine Silvadene for the road rash which turned the wound silver/black. m

The wound vac was quite an experience- dressing changes every 2 days for 3 weeks. Pulling the tape off the wound and the sponge from the wound vac application was the most painful thing.  After 4 nurses over 2 weeks had redressed the wound-vac, all differently, I figured out the best way to do it so that it would work well and not hurt when removed. When I returned for my 2nd post-op visit, the doctor asked who had applied the wound vac that he was removing.  “Me.”  “This is beautiful,” he said, “This is exactly how it should be done.”

The purpose of the wound vac (Negative Pressure Wound Therapy – NPWT):

  • Drainage
  • Increased Blood Flow
  • Promote Tissue Growth (Granulation)
  • Reduce size of wound
  • Barrier to bacteria

jlh3 weeks:

Stitches removed. Dr said I could stop wearing the wound vac or continue if I wanted. I wore it for 2 more days, then stopped. I ditched my crutches a few days later and began walking like a penguin.

4 weeks:r

Walking awkwardly had caused me to bruise my heel, so I began wearing a plastic cup on my heel (that was given to me by a podiatrist for a prior minor heel injury).q

5 Weeks:t

Still wearing heel cup in shoe. Can walk almost normally now.  Going up stairs is easy. Going down stairs is awkward.

I started gym climbing a tiny bit this week.  Can’t put much weight at all on leg,  especially pushing with my toe. Mostly working the hangboard, situps, pull-ups.

I still re-dress the wound twice a day using either Medihoney or Bag Balm.  I’ve learned a lot about wounds in the last few weeks. Recent medical studies state that a moist wound heals better than letting it scab. Also Triple antibiotic is no longer recommended. Non-stick gauze is a life saver.

8 Weeks:

My wounds are now completely closed.



15 Weeks:

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Were you climbing alone?   Yes.

Is your wife mad at you?   No.

Will you still go climbing?   Yes.


Huge chunk of rock breaks off with Utah climber still clinging to it






1. Wear a helmet. Protect your brain! Rocks can be knocked off from above the cliff by other groups; a loose rock can come off the face of the route while you belay; you could fall off a dangerous belay stance and hit your head on the wall; your belayer could make a mistake and you could take a nasty fall.Watch this massive loose rock come off on a long-established route at Hard Rock, American Fork.

2. Back-up rappels with French Prussik knot. This simple back-up keeps an accidental drop of your brake hand during a rappel from becoming a disaster.

3. Tie knots in the ends of your rappel ropes. Before you set off from the top of a cliff on a rappel, always tie knots in the ends of your rope. Almost all climbers know this rule; however, when I started climbing- I didn’t. I was rappelling down a route I was projecting, and with 10 feet to go before the landing, I almost rappelled off the end of my rope. Luckily, I hit my elbow on the wall and in reaction- I stopped descending and looked down and saw the loose end of my rope just a couple feet below me. Although the rappel would have finished just 10 feet lower, if I had fallen before reaching that point, I likely would have bounced an additional 50 feet down the approach pitch. Luckily, I noticed the end of the rope before sliding off it.

4. Use an Auto-lock belay device.  When I first climbed outdoors, I bought a Figure 8 and had my inexperienced friends belay me and each other with it. Later, I moved to an ATC device, which isn’t much better. Why risk user error when you have your choice of various auto-locking devices that will save your life if your belayer drops the brake side of the rope?

Article: Climber injured in belayer failure fall – American Fork Canyon“He slipped and the device was not locked and so he fell…The individual helping him actually received burns to his hand trying to arrest his fall as he came down, but as he came down he actually struck his head on the wall.”

5. Ensure belayer is attentive. I have 2 stories where my belayer continued paying out slack while I was rested before a crux, causing a large fall. The first time, the belayer couldn’t easily see me through the trees high up on a route…as I lead the route, he got into a rhythm of paying out slack, but he did not realize I had found a nice jug to rest on right before climbing the crux. He was chatting with friends at the bottom of the climb, and kept paying out more slack. I didn’t realize I had a bunch of slack under me as I attempted the crux and fell. Falling 15 feet further than I had expected, I was lucky it was a clean fall. Once at the climbing gym…… on a long lead wall, I reached a steep section near the top when I fell. My belayer had been checking out the women nearby, and kept paying out slack without realizing I had paused to chalk up and rest before finishing the route. The catch was much further down the rope than I had expected. Once again, I was lucky that no injury occurred.

6. Ensure belayer knows how to belay. I gave my father a quick tutorial on how to belay, then raced up about 10 bolts of a route. Looking down from up high, I noticed that he was trying to hold me with just the climber side of the rope and did not have his hand on the brake side of the rope. Luckily, I was able to yell down some instructions and explain the proper way to get me back on the ground. A different time, I was climbing at the gym and became friends with a climber who could boulder V7. I asked if he would belay me on a top-rope and assumed he knew how. He used my locking belay device to belay me. After climbing up about 15 feet and not being able to get higher, I told him to lower me. Next thing I know- I hit the floor very hard. He explained that he never climbs, only boulders, and that he didn’t really know how to belay. Luckily I had been only 15 feet off the deck.

7. Tie-in to a separate anchor before setting up a precarious top-rope. When I first began to climb outdoors, I often set up top-ropes by scrambling around to the top of climbs. Sometimes, this meant putting myself in perilous positions to unravel my rope and set up the top-anchor. If you find yourself in a precarious spot on the edge of a cliff to set up a top-rope- back off, put on your harness, set up a separate anchor first and then approach the edge of the cliff once you’re secured.

Article: Man dies setting up top-rope“…as he bent over to attach the rope to the anchor, he either got light-headed and tumbled or the rope shifted and threw off his balance and he stumbled forward. He was on flat ground. It was just a tragic accident. Two of his children were there when he fell.”

8. Don’t assume a route with bolts is a sport route. I once started up an unfamiliar route…after clipping 3-4 bolts, I realized there weren’t any more bolts. I decided to run it out to the chains on top. It was a partial trad route, but I had no trad gear. I was well up the wall, and in a moment of poor judgment, I made the decision to continue upward. A fall would have been ruinous.

9. Don’t trust a top-rope set-up until you inspect it yourself. A group of eager friends and I took turns on a difficult top-rope that had been set up by a friend of a friend- a climber that we all thought knew what he was doing. He worked at a ropes course, so he surely knew how to set up the top-rope. (He actually owns a climbing gym now.) We took turns trying a difficult route using his top-rope set up. None of us could get to the top. After many attempts by all, my friend finally made it up and over the bulging rock to the chains. He quickly discovered that the setup of the top-rope was not good. Just 1 piece of webbing was threaded through both chains and clipped to the rope. The webbing had been rubbing against the rock. By the time my friend made it to the chains, the one piece of 1 inch webbing had sliced halfway through….leaving only ½ inch of webbing holding him. How many more falls would it have held?

How many rubs on the rock will this thin webbing take before snapping? imageHORRIBLE SETUP!!!!!


Great system using 2 separate, independent anchors. Image result for top rope anchor

2 bolts + 2 separate pieces of webbing + 2 carabiners clipped to the climbing rope. Don’t try to combine the 2 separate anchors into 1 system. Keep them separate from each other all the way from the bolt to the rope. If you don’t, then you are relying on 1 element somewhere in the system (instead of 2). Another failure of the 1-webbing scenario is that you’re much more likely to end up using an American Death Triangle; setting up the 2nd bolt for failure by shock-load in the event that the 1st bolt fails.

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10. Properly anchor light belayers. I remember reading many years ago about an accident at a popular, local climb. The climber fell, and since his belaying girlfriend weighed a lot less, she was pulled off her stance. She didn’t expect it, and dropped the brake side of the rope. Because she was using an ATC or similar device, the climber fell 40 feet, hitting the ground. There are several things wrong with this scenario: non-locking belay device, lack of belayer knowledge, and an unanchored light belayer.

11. Don’t assume you and your belayer are on the same page when you lean back at the top of the climb. Communicate, even if it is difficult to do so. If your belayer can’t hear you, either wait until he can or setup your descent so you’re in control.

I have posted below a link to a story about a climbing accident. My guess on what happened:  belayer thought climber would rappel, but climber thought belayer would lower her. Lack of communication. Climber arrived at chains…eventually leaning back, the belayer was not holding the brake side of the rope. Belay device was non-locking, so the climber fell to the ground. The friction and bend of the rope through the ATC and chains slowed the fall enough to prevent serious injury.

Red Slab Accident

The new standard for cleaning anchors – Stay On-belay

12. Don’t take inexperienced climbers on dangerous approaches. I am unfortunately guilty of this one.  Those I took climbing with me were agile and brave, but often were beginner climbers, and were probably not prepared for some of the approaches I took them on. I wish I could go back 15 years and not drag them up those 5.3 free solo approach pitches, or that small path on the edge of a 70 foot cliff, to get to the crag.

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13. When multi-pitching, don’t assume that tight feeling is your belay rope. When belaying on the ground…if the rope feels tight, then that usually means there is no slack in the rope. But when multi-pitching, the belayer is anchored to the wall with a separate anchor. This pulls on your harness just like a top-rope, which may deceive you into thinking there’s “no slack.”