Weekend Whipper: As Close As It Gets

By Rock and Ice | November 20th, 2015

“I don’t think I realized how close my head was to hitting the ground until I watched the video,” Steve tells Rock and Ice.

He’s lucky to be alive. Another few inches and he would have been eating from a tube for the rest of his life.

Steve was climbing Jungle Gym (5.10c) at the Playground, Red River Gorge, Kentucky, when he went for a ride. His leg caught behind the rope, he flipped upside down and his head skimmed inches above the deck. Luckily, he escaped with only rope burn.

Before he fell, Steve was looking all right—no obvious mistakes. His waist was only two or three feet above the last bolt and his right foot was well to the side of the rope, so why did his head nearly smack the dirt?

When Steve made a leaping move up and left before he fell, his leftward momentum continued once he was airborne. Out of reflex, Steve pulled in his right leg and it crossed the rope, which inverted him once the rope went taut.

Preventable? If Steve had extended the draw on the last bolt, the rope would have been more centered under his waist, decreasing the chances that his leg would cross. A lower foot position might have helped as well—but it seems that the culprit of the leg catching was just bad luck and bad timing.

The belay on the other hand—even with a soft catch, Steve shouldn’t have fallen half that distance. His belayer likely had too much slack in the system or caught the fall late. A few more inches and Steve would have been toast.

“Right after the fall, adrenaline took over and I felt super excited and more psyched than ever to get back on the climb,” Steve says. “My friends were significantly more sketched out than I was and were not too keen on the idea of me giving it another go. Eventually they talked me out of it. I shamefully bailed and we decided not to climb any more routes and head home. It was the last day of our weeklong trip anyway.

“I was damn fortunate to come out of that fall with nothing more than a bit of rope burn on my leg. Better believe this made me reconsider not wearing a helmet while sport climbing.”


Remember your helmet this weekend—and happy Friday!


Weekend Whipper submitted by Steve Ward

Watch last week’s Weekend Whipper: I’m Going For a Ride, Boys

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