Shawn Bradley on 'Space Cowboy'

Blood at the base of 'Space Cowboy'

Where Shawn fell - blood on the ledge of 'Space Cowboy'

The trickle

The 10 foot trickle of blood

On Monday, October 22, 2001, I heard from a fellow climber that there was a bunch of blood at the base of "Space Cowboy" - one of the most beautiful climbs on the mountain. Evidently, a climber named Shawn Bradley was rope soloing on "Space Cowboy" on Friday, October 19 and he fell between the second and third bolt. Shawn has sent me his version of the accident:

My name is Shawn Bradley and I was rope soloing space cowboy on the 19th of October. I was at the crux, unable to clip the bolt, when I fell. Although my ankle impacted the ledge where the blood is, the self belay system ( a clove hitch tied to my harness) prevented me from a more serious injury. After getting to the ground and gathering my gear, I struggled a short distance up the trail when another climber, by the name of Pat Royer, hauled me to the top where a Ranger was waiting to help me to an ambulance. I suffered a severe sprain and twelve stitches but thanks to the help of fellow climbers like Pat, I made it out okay. If anyone wants to return the 2 quickdraws that were left on the rock I can be reached at

Shawn wrote up a good summary of what happened but I wanted to know more. I sent him a long note asking him a bunch of questions and suggested that it might be easier to talk on the phone. I talked with him this morning (11/25) and here is the story:

Shawn had climbed 'Space Cowboy' on top rope before and was familiar with the climb. He was confident enough in his climbing abilities to try and climb the route as a rope solo. As he went up the climb, he climbed past the second bolt to the third bolt. He had it at eye level, but somehow had gotten the sequence wrong. He could not get a hand free to clip the bolt. He hung there on the small crimpers as long as he could, but he knew he wasn't going to be able to clip the bolt, so he bailed off the climb. He cleared everything on the way down, but there was too much rope out and he hit the ledge at the base of the climb. He estimated the fall at 30'. (Note: Using the clove hitch to rope solo, you need to estimate the amount of rope required to get to the next bolt. Shawn said he had extra rope out because he thought he might come into the third bolt from above.)

After he hit the ledge, it took a couple minutes for him to gather his senses. He said he was looking down and then looked at the rope and thought, "Wow, it worked!" A few seconds after he hit, his left ankle really began hurting badly. He looked down and saw a shard of shin and thought it was bone due to a compound fracture. He could see he was bleeding badly but didn't think it was too bad - not life threatening (Shawn is a wood worker and had some experience in coming too close to the blades of saws - he was experienced in blood loss). After the fall, the rope was stretched to its limit and the clove hitch was cinched tight. To get off the rope, Shawn had to stand on his tiptoes - not much fun when you have a severe ankle injury.

Once he got off the rope, he rappelled to the base of the climb and gathered up his gear. He began limping towards from the base of the climb towards his truck. Pat Royer, who was climbing in the area with his wife, heard Shawn moaning and groaning and came over to help. Pat wrapped up Shawn's leg in his shirt and carried Shawn up and out on his back (Shawn estimates his weight at 170 lbs. and the hike out is all up hill). Pat expressed dissappointment that he didn't have his first aid kit. Meanwhile, Pat's wife had a cell phone and she called 911.

When Pat and Shawn got up to the road, a ranger was waiting. Shawn got into Pat's truck and Pat's wife brought Shawn's truck down. They met the ambulance about halfway down the mountain - near the road construction. Shawn was rushed to the emergency room. He was not able to contact his wife, Nancy; he didn't have a phone and he thought she was at the home show. Meanwhile, things went slowly at the hospital. Later, Pat called Shawn's home to find out how he was doing, but only Nancy was at home; Shawn was still at the ER. She got to hear the story of the accident from Pat.

When Nancy arrived at the ER, the doctor asked her, "Do you climb, too?" "Better than he does!" was her response. Shawn and Nancy thought this was really funny (sick climbing humor), but the doctor didn't get the joke. Shawn has spent three to four weeks wearing a Moon boot and is currently wearing a speed brace. He can maneuver around O.K. on level terrain but the broken terrain is still challenging. He thought that he would be climbing in a few weeks. When I asked him what Nancy thought about the whole thing, he said she was used to it.

[Note: a consistent theme that comes out of these accident stories is that if an accident occurs, it is nice to have two things: a cell phone and a first aid kit.]

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Copyright ©: 2001, RAHutchins
Revised: November 25, 2001