Missed Clip, Fractured Skull

On June 28, at Malham Cove, Yorkshire, U.K., a climber slipped at the first bolt of Appetite (5.12a) and fell sideways to the ground, fracturing his right wrist and skull.

By Francis Sanzaro, illustrations by Alee Russell | July 21st, 2017

Malham Cove seen from the bottom of the cliff. Photo: David Benbennick (CC 3.0)

On June 28, at Malham Cove, Yorkshire, U.K., Toby Dunn and Keefe Murphy were warming down on the juggy and classic Appetite (5.12a) after a day of redpoint attempts. Dunn and Murphy are regulars at Malham Cove, have both climbed 5.13c in the area, and had climbed Appetite hundreds of times. Relaxed, Dunn climbed toward the first bolt 15 feet above the left end of a ledge. He put a quickdraw into it, but as he pulled up the rope to clip, his right foot slipped, and he fell sideways to the ground, fracturing his right wrist and skull.

Emergency services were called immediately. Dunn was unconscious for several seconds after impact, but otherwise remained conscious throughout. He was evacuated from the cliff by the local mountain-rescue team, and taken by Yorkshire air ambulance to a hospital, where he underwent an emergency craniotomy surgery to decompress his skull fracture. Dunn is recovering after having his skull patched with a titanium plate, and is working again as a physical therapist. He has returned to bouldering and toproping.



The weather was dry, but warm and humid, according to Dunn. Fatigue at the end of the day, humidity and condensation may have contributed to the foot slip. Limestone crags are notorious for acquiring a sudden layer of condensation as the temperature drops in the evening if the air is damp. However, whatever the reason for the fall, Dunn’s lack of protection was the cause of the accident—the first bolt was at 15-feet. As a skilled climber on a route well below his top ability, and a climb that he had done many times, Dunn made a judgment call and opted not to use a stick clip. However, Dunn’s accident highlights a certain moment (especially in sport climbing) when we are exceptionally vulnerable—right before making the first clip. Think of it in bouldering terms—would you boulder at 15 feet with no pads?



Never let your guard down, which is easy to say but not so easy to do on your cooldown or favorite routes that you have dialed. Warm ups and warm downs are for relaxation mentally as well as physically, but precautions you have taken on harder lines are worth following no matter if they seem overly cautious. A stick clip could have prevented this accident.

What you may not know is that some routes are bolted with stick clipping the first bolt in mind.

If any of the below apply to the route you are about to try, then it is a candidate for stick clipping.

  • The convention at the wall/area is to have a stick clip, and everyone else has one. This means that the equippers are likely bolting the area assuming climbers are using stick clips.
  • The first bolt is suspiciously high. If it looks like there should be an additional bolt between the ground and the first bolt, then use a stick clip.
  • The landing is problematic. If there are ankle breakers at the start, stick clip.
  • The route has hard moves off the deck.
  • The start of the climb is chossy.
  • There are fixed draws on the route with the exception of the first.


If you don’t have a stick clip, consider getting one or making a homemade version. Given the provenance of the word “stick clip,” you shouldn’t be shocked to learn that all you need is a stick and some tape. Here are options for stick clips.

1. Homemade—Buy an extendable pole and a metal spring clamp (Figures 1 and 2). Originally, climbers used painters’ poles (just as the scrap of carpet was the original crash pad), but now climbing companies sell the pole and the whole shebang. Use metal ring clamps to attach the clamp to the top of the pole. Cost: $15–$40.

2. Original stick clip—Tape a quickdraw to the end of a stick (with the rope properly clipped through). Use a small rock or stick to keep the gate open (Figure 3, plus watch video below), and don’t overdo the tape.

3. Rodeo clip—This involves swinging a loop of rope to clip the draw. Make a large loop of rope and swing it above you so the top of the loop clips right into the draw. Be sure to have your loop oriented correctly so it doesn’t backclip. This technique only works for steep climbs; otherwise the draw lies flat against the rock and the loop can’t catch it.

4. “Hey, mister.” Borrow one from fellow climbers, and offer yours to a party who could use one.

<strong>Figure 1:</strong> A homemade stick clip made from a broom handle or extendable pole and a metal spring clamp secured by ring clamps.
Figure 1: A homemade stick clip made from a broom handle or extendable pole and a metal spring clamp secured by ring clamps.


<strong>Figure 2:</strong> A homemade stick clip in operation.
Figure 2: A homemade stick clip in operation.

<strong>Figure 3:</strong> An original stick clip made with a quickdraw taped to a stick, and the top biner wedged open with a twig.
Figure 3: An original stick clip made with a quickdraw taped to a stick, and the top biner wedged open with a twig.


How To Make Your Own Clip Stick – Tips from Jonathan Siegrist:



This article appeared in Rock and Ice issue 244 (August 2017).

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