Chop Chop!

The following story is an exept from the conversation with Ben Burnham.

I was guiding a lady who was doing some sort of contract work over at Silver City, New Mexico. We had talked on the phone quite a few times but we could never arrange our schedules to where she could come over for a long weekend and that I was available. So finally we made contact. She had had some climbing experience. One of her friends had worked for Black Diamond. All the gear she had was relatively new and she had used it a few times, especially when she climbed with him around Salt Lake. We went out and we did the practice wall and she zoomed all that. We did Hitchcock pinnacle Ė no problem there. So I figured we would go do "Hai Karate". So I went up to the top of it and set up a top-rope and rappelled down and then had her belay me. She had belayed me on several climbs previously with no problem. She was using an ATC made by Black Diamond and she had used this quite a bit. I had her step back from the rock at "Hai Karate" because it kind of zig-zags up through there. I wanted her to watch what I was doing, so when she did it on top-rope, she wouldnít be lost.

I got to the top and I said, "O.K. You can let me down." She lowered me down to about where the bolt is which is about 4/5 the way up the climb. Then she stopped me and said, "Do you want me to move in closer to the rock?" I said, "No, just let me down slowly." What happened then was beyond my ability to comprehend, even to this day. She just let go of the rope. Here I was falling with friction through her ATC and friction through the chains at the top. But I was fallingÖ By falling, I had spun around and she tried to stop me by grabbing the rope above the ATC, which pealed the skin off of both of her hands - her fingers on both of her hands. If she had grabbed it below it, she probably could have stopped me. She was pretty frightened about the event and she didnít do that. I hit the ground pretty hard. I was still conscious and she was pretty excited. She ran and got some help. There was somebody from Outward Bound or somebody up there. He had some first aid experience and he came down and said, "Well, I donít feel any broken bones, but you still could be injured." Search and Rescue was practicing over on the Practice Wall and someone had told them that someone was injured and one of the gentleman came over and asked me if I wanted them to get me out. Well, I had helped them get a friend of mine out who broke a couple of bones in his ankle a year before. I said, "No. No disrespect sir, but I am in a hurry." So I got up and walked to the base of "Nancyís Thumb", put on my hiking shoes and walked back to the vehicle. A friend of mine was climbing that day and he drove me to TMC. They took me into the emergency room. They did an X-ray and the lady said, very pointedly, that my back was broken. Well, fortunately a good friend of mine, a neurosurgeon, was on call that weekend and I told my friend Vince to check with him. Kurt came in, Dr. Schroder came in, and took over the case and told me that I had a compressed L1 on my spine and I would be a little bit shorter than I was the day before.

I said, "What do you think?" and he said, "I think everythingís going to be fine."

I didnít climb for probably two months and then I climbed for about six weeks under medication, but I didnít lead anything. I went to the Druid and down at the left end of the Druid there is a 5.9- and with him (Dr. Kurt Schroder) belaying me that day, I guess you could say I climbed under doctors supervision, I led that climb. That was my first lead.

Since then, I have not had any desire to own or use an ATC. I now own, because of that accident, three Gri-Gris. I instruct everyone that I go out with on how to use a Gri-Gri because if they take their hands off the Gri-Gri, guess what, I stop. Thatís the positive thing about it.

So even on lead, you want to be belayed with the Gri-Gri?

I want a Gri-Gri and I donít care. Gri-Gris are specifically used for either rappelling (of course you can use only one rope to do so, but thereís a way you can go about that even with a double rope rappel) and also they should only be used on Sport climbs. But because I feel confident enough in the gear that I put in, I only want to be belayed on a Gri-Gri. Some people find it kind of strange. I am fully allowing myself the possibility that one of my pieces could come out. I canít blame it on them if it happens, can I?

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Copyright ©: 2001, RAHutchins and Ben Burnham
Revised: July 13, 2001