The other day I was struck with one of those wonderful feelings of irony. I still maintain that irony is one of those things that the British seem to do better than anyone else, but I suppose there’s no real proof to that and besides, it’s not entirely relevant here anyway. The fact is that the other day, I was searching through some of my old articles, and stumbled across one called Injuries. As with all the others that I came across, I started to read through.
It tells a tale of a friend of mine, Terry, on our first trip to Font, when climbing at night, slightly drunk, he landed awkwardly on his spotter and manager to split his chin open quite substantially and give a nice little concussion to said spotter. In hindsight it was a stupid idea to try a problem harder than any of us had ever done at that point, let alone in the dark and pissed but you’ve all made stupid decisions and this was one of them.
While this in itself is not really something ironic, or funny I continued to read as the article mentioned that wonderful climbers phrase “injury or death”. This continues to fascinate me, and if I’m completely honest, is possibly the reason that I don’t lead climb well at all, so I was quite surprised that it had been playing on my mind for the last three-and-a-half years. I continued, really quite captivated by my own words from such a long time ago, with another slightly more horrific incident slowly dredging itself from the depths of my long term memory.
The following year Terry invited me on another trip to Font, staying pretty much in exactly the same spot as the year before. I jumped at the chance, for a week in Font is much better with good company and it certainly beat my lack of plans for the rest of the year! And so we went back, exploring Bas Curvier, Elephant, an elusive little area whose name escapes me, and eventually, somewhat inevitably, back to Helicopter.
I really should’ve known better, but it was daylight and we were sober which was definitely a big plus point, and anyway, I was a lot stronger so surely it couldn’t go so horrible wrong again. As a point, we had come to a sort of unofficial point that no spotters should be used to avoid repeat trips to Dover A&E. Again, in hindsight, it was probably the wrong decision.
We had all had a bit of a play, but after a little while, the only two who were actually intent on getting through the crux and finishing it off were me and Terry, who had both wandered round to the top of the boulder to check out what was perhaps a tricky topout. The fact that it looked quite straightforward probably just filled us with more confidence: latch the big jug with the right hand and stop the swing and it’s in the bag.
In my previous article, I have described the boulder problem in a little more detail, and I don’t wish to be redundant but I shall explain that the problem is quite overhanging near the top, comes off an arête into a good undercut (right hand) and terrible sloper (left hand) to dyno wildly out to the right into an enormous dish, albeit with a tremendous swing. It is this move that is the crux, and the one that was giving us so much grief.
We all have our own different styles in many ways on the boulders, and I tend to be extremely flexible and concentrate more on technique. As a consequence with moves like these, I tend to move in seemingly unusual ways and on this particular occasion, I was leaning heavily into the wall and jumping out directly out towards the hold. Terry on the other hand was jumping out to his right, and spinning as he caught the last hold, before taking the plunge and coming back to start again.
It was actually me who had the first bad fall, but thankfully, due to years of indoor bouldering and a queer reluctance to land on my feet, I came out surprisingly unscathed. As I caught the hold coming directly over my head, my feet swung wildly out behind me and all of a sudden, I found myself horizontal in the air some fifteen-feet in the air, with what was originally a nice large jug, now a poor sloper. Not being able to hold on, I fell, landing laid out flat on the pads below me. I seemed to shake out alright, and other than being slightly winded, walked away to lament my next attempt. I remember thinking to myself “This’ll go within the next ten minutes”. I never did find out.
Before the time had passed, Terry, a rather tenacious and determined climber, had had another go. Again, with left hand on the sloper, and right flying out in the air, he hit the jug and his hand stuck. Terry’s body slowly twisted in the air (these things always happen slowly in your head), and as more weight came onto his right arm, the force became too much, and he let go.
There are many different ways to analyse this incident, and many people blame me, which is fair to an extent as I really should’ve been spotting properly, but as I have already explained, nobody was spotting that day. I wonder if he had let go slightly earlier if he’d landed better, or if he’d concentrated on the fall if things had gone differently. As I said, there’s plenty of conjecture that can be thrown around, but all is irrelevant.
As Terry fell through the air, he began to twist in the air, leaning out to his left as his legs flew past his centre of gravity. While the bouldering pads were placed directly under Terry, similarly to myself not long before, he wasn’t falling straight down. His right foot missed the pad and I maintain landed on a route. While his foot now couldn’t skip along the sand, something had to give. Something did, with a crack that I’m sure made us all flinch.
Terry broke his tibia and fibula by about 20degrees, and spent a week doped up in the hospital in Fontainebleau, not being able to speak French, and without English-speaking doctors and nurses. It took hours for the pompiers to get him out of the woods prior to that, and left us with two cars and only one driver. The whole incident is something that has stayed with me since and remains the most horrific climbing accident it has been my displeasure to experience.
So when I re-read the original article from 2006, warning of the dangers of bouldering and the potential for serious injury, I let out a little smile. It seems some climbers can’t be told. I’m off up the pass in the next few minutes, for some cranking somewhere around the Cromlech. I’ll try and be careful, I promise…
Due to the fact we were making a film at the time, Terry’s horrendous fall was captured on video. This was completly unintentional; but surely warranted putting online! I have included the video below, but please remember that the noise is terrible, the sight stomach-churning and the whole thing pretty ghastly, so much so i cannot watch it anymore. If you want to watch it (and i know plenty of people who have) the click below but IT IS NOT RECOMMENDED.