• TNB: Climbing's Big Mistake
  • TNB: Trad Dads and Dad Bods
  • TNB: Do the Right Thing
  • TNB: Big Wall Soloing Sustenance – Cookies vs. Bugs
  • TNB: When Your Rope Falls Off—and 5 Ways to Prevent the Nightmare
  • TNB: Before I Die - What Would Climbers Think?
  • TNB: Raphael Slawinski - Firsthand Account of Everest Earthquake
  • TNB: Point Break - Sharma, Andrada on the Big Screen
  • TNB: Muscle Shoals - Rock and Soul
  • TNB: Naked Soloist is Saner Than Me
  • TNB: The Hard Climb to Heaven
  • TNB: Summer Camp
  • TNB: Suicide in Our Sights
  • TNB: Ethan Pringle's 10 Tips for Sending Your Project
  • TNB: Hawaii Rocks - Totally Aloha
  • TNB: PointGate - Why Comp Climbing Is Not The Future
  • TNB: My First Epic
  • TNB: Eight Ways to Avoid Braking Bad - The Art of the Soft Catch
  • TNB: #Dawnwall and The Creation of Alex Honnlove
  • TNB: Vision Quest - Benji Fink and Mexico’s Steepest Big Wall
  • TNB: The New Dawn (Wall) of Climbing
  • TNB: The Top 5 Weekend Whippers of 2014 (Plus the Comments)
  • TNB: 10 Tips for Jolene Kay, Professional Climber (and Hot Actress)
  • TNB: The Story Behind the Craziest of Rescues
  • TNB: The Risk of Climbing
  • TNB: How to Get Stronger by Doing Nothing for 5 Minutes a Day
  • TNB: Eight Ways to Improve Your Footwork
  • TNB: In Praise of the Weekend Warrior
  • TNB: Joe Kinder Visits the World's Hardest Cave
  • TNB: Celebrating Insomnia in Chamonix
  • TNB: Run, Rabbit - Hermann Gollner, 71, Cranks Pump-O-Rama (5.13a)
  • TNB: Five Best Photos of 2014
  • TNB: Clip Like A Pro - 5 Tips from Sasha DiGiulian and Sean McColl
  • TNB: Five Things Every Gym Climber Must Know About Climbing Outside
  • TNB: Still Jeff Lowe
  • TNB: Moving Over Stone With Doug Robinson
  • TNB: Wheels Up—The Top 5 Climbing Rigs
  • TNB: Is K2 The New Everest?
  • TNB: Things—Besides Us, That Is—That Fall
  • TNB: When Homemade Gear Works, Sorta
  • TNB: The Outsiders
  • TNB: R.I.P. Homero Gutierrez Villarreal - The Padrino of El Potrero
  • TNB: A Short Talk with Sierra Blair-Coyle
  • TNB: Ian Dory, Ninja, or The Craziest Thing I Ever Seen
  • TNB: The Best Crag Dogs of All Time
  • TNB: 5 Ways to Make People Love Your Routes
  • TNB: Hudon and Jones, and Don't Forget It!
  • TNB: Climbing's Tribal Rites
  • TNB: Sasha DiGiulian and Alex Johnson On How to Be a Modern Pro
  • TNB: Is Dean Potter A Bad Father?
  • TNB: Silly Places We’ve Slept - Tales of Unplanned Bivies
  • TNB: Forgotten Hero - Frank Sacherer 1940-1978
  • TNB: The World-Class Weekend Warrior – Martin Keller Climbs V15
  • TNB: Everest Sherpas No Longer Willing to “Grin and Bear It”
  • TNB: Hardheaded Helmet Lesson Learned
  • TNB: Six Most Awesome Jobs for Climbers
  • TNB: The Coolest Climbing Deal Breaker
  • TNB: Sharma and Glowacz Send World’s Steepest Rock Climb
  • TNB: An Encounter with a Legend - Patrick Edlinger, Plus A Whipper Vid
  • TNB: Six Things Every Climber Should Do Before They Die
  • TNB: Falling from the Top
  • TNB: Weekend Whipper
  • TNB: Band of Crushers
  • TNB: Charlie Porter, We Hardly Knew You
  • TNB: Climbing's Greatest Route Names
  • TNB: Hot Women Die and Have Sex on Everest
  • TNB: The Great Tragedy at Carderock
  • TNB: Thoughts On Death, and Last Words
  • TNB: Climbing's Next Big Story
  • TNB: Next Level? Honnold Pushes the Game on El Sendero Luminoso
  • TNB: Jeff Lowe Invented the Sport
  • TNB: The Most Popular Weekend Whippers of the Year
  • TNB: If Ondra Isn't The Best Climber In The World, Who Is?
  • TNB: Storm Years or Typhoon? The Biggest Issue in Climbing
  • TNB: Jim Bridwell Speaks
  • TNB: Honnold's Biggest Solo
  • TNB: Death on Forbidden Peak - Was the NPS Complicit?
  • TNB: Ice Climbing Goes to Sochi Olympics
  • TNB: When Gear Attacks
  • TNB: 8a.nu: The Best Climber in the World is the One with the Most Points
  • TNB: Shutdown: Illegal Climbers in Yosemite—Ninjas or Criminals?
  • TNB: Who is the Best Climber in the World?
  • TNB: The New Courage in a Rucksack
  • TNB: Unsolved Mystery - The Ten Sleep Shooting
  • TNB: The Pad Problem - Honnold, Kehl on Headpoints and Highballs
  • TNB: Travels with Delaney Miller - National Champ Turns to Rock
  • TNB: Jail Food and Booty
  • TNB: Love on the Road
  • TNB: Is Pakistan Safe for Climbers?
  • TNB: Flash Floods, Climbers and How to Get Out of the Way
  • TNB: Climbing's Next Level
  • TNB: Best in Show - Brand New Gear from the Outdoor Retailer Show
  • TNB: Adam Ondra Ties the Knot
  • TNB: Under Pressure - Trotter and Honnold On How Bets Can Help You Send
  • TNB: The Tragedy of Tito Traversa
  • TNB: DR's Crazy Brain Puzzle. Get It Correct or Else.
  • TNB: What Happened To Climbing Films?
  • TNB: Cry of the Colorado Fussy Snivel
  • TNB: Mystery Solved!
  • TNB: The Mystery of Moses Tower - Help Answer a 25-Year-Old Question
  • TNB: No Such Luck
  • TNB: Erasing Midnight Lightning
  • TNB: Mayhem - Crawling, Balling & Brawling on the Evere$t Soap Opera
  • TNB: Watching the Boston Marathon
  • TNB: Chasing the Devil's Snort
  • TNB: Born-Again Gumby
  • TNB: Super Unknown - Austin Dark Horse Establishes 5.14d in Random Texas Cave
  • TNB: Fearless?
  • TNB: The Big Freaking Deal, Ain't Bouldering
  • TNB: Honnold's Achilles' Heel
  • TNB: He's Either Crazy or a Poet
  • TNB: The Fish Cheat and the Prince of Climbing
  • TNB: A Letter from Santa... I mean Sharma
  • TNB: Traveler's Advisory - El Potrero Chico, Mexico
  • TNB: A Year Ago - Athol
  • TNB: Gun Control
  • TNB: What's the Problem?
  • TNB: Derek Hersey's Magic Carpet
  • TNB: The Apprentices
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  • TNB: Klem Loskot is Back Climbing V15 and 5.15
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  • TNB: Crossfit Misfit
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  • TNB: American Dirtbag
  • TNB: How Not To Climb 5.12
  • TNB: Project FAIL
  • TNB: The Backwards Future of Climbing
  • TNB: The Death of Progress
  • TNB: The Da Vinci CO
  • TNB: The Philosopher King
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  • TNB: Bad Genes - The Different Types of Gumbies
  • TNB: Mouth Wide Shut
  • TNB: Outside Reality
  • TNB: The Day I Saved Jésus
  • TNB: My Pad, Your Problem
  • TNB: House Rules
  • TNB: Five Things I Don't Hate About Climbing
  • TNB: Metro-Pointing
  • TNB: Beast in the East
  • TNB: Artificial Intelligence
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  • TNB: Self-Destruction
  • TNB: Soul Sport
  • TNB: Nine Pitches
  • Video Spotlight
    Rooftown Vol. 2 - Featuring the Bouldering Exploits of Matt Gentile
    Rooftown Vol. 2 - Featuring the Bouldering Exploits of Matt Gentile
    Whipper of the Month
    Weekend Whipper: Alastair McDowell's Los Indignados (M7) Screamer
    Weekend Whipper: Alastair McDowell's Los Indignados (M7) Screamer

    TNB: Hardheaded Helmet Lesson Learned


    <em>Rock and Ice</em> intern Ryan Gannaway wears her helmet in style while belaying. Photo by Randy Levensaler.Climbs in Rifle have been done hundreds and thousands of times. Yet as I moved off a rest on Defenseless Betty during a last lap, at dusk, I felt an odd sensation below my right foot. It took half a second for me to understand, and bellow, “Rock!”—just as the ashtray-sized missile whacked the ground by my belayer Jim’s foot. We stared at each other, pop-eyed. A week later Jim returned, picked up the rock, and brought it home to put in his garden.

    More recently, something a lot worse happened.

    I wasn’t there for this one, but it happened on a cliff and route and even hold I know, and to a good friend. My husband, Mike, and our friends Jim and Randy were out at a local crag, Main Elk, near New Castle, Colorado. The crag is a mesh of sandstone, quartzite and some limestone, with bands of junk interspersed with solid panes. It faces south, gets loads of sun in winter, and hosts many nice routes, but they are new and still cleaning up.

    At afternoon’s end, the three stopped at one more route, the long and mega popular Velociraptor (5.11a). Mike led up and took its new alternate ending, Triceratops (5.11c). They’d all done it. They knew of a creaky hold. They all had helmets, used at various times, but on this last climb the helmets were on the ground.

    Mike used the creaky, chalky undercling, it broke, and, as if in slow motion, he watched it dive down and hit Randy in the head. Randy heard the shout of “Rock!” as, pulled off his feet by the leader fall, he swung in toward the base. He tucked his head, not—thank goodness—looking up. The blow took him to his knees. Randy steadfastly held onto the belay, though Jim quickly took over to lower Mike; they helped staunch the blood flow with Jim’s extra T-shirt; and all packed up and drove to the hospital, where followed a CT scan, stitches and staples. Randy was diagnosed with a two-millimeter depressed skull fracture. He is recovering well, because he is a strong and fit person, and all of us are shaken by what could have been catastrophic.

    Randy is irritated at himself: wouldn’t you know, he’d worn his helmet belaying every other pitch that day. Jim wishes he’d said, “Hey, there’s loose rock, you might want to put on that helmet”—which sat four feet away. Mike keeps seeing replays of the sickening images of rockfall and impact.

    We all know, though these are personal decisions, that everyone should wear helmets for climbing. But I’m reminded that it is as, maybe more, important to wear one while belaying. Or even walking from route to route. And to be careful simply when pulling down a rope, which can dislodge something.

    Jim recalls finishing a route near Glenwood Springs and grabbing a big chalked dish he thought was the usual clipping hold. It blew, with three people standing below in the alcove where it shattered. At Main Elk, which gets more popular every winter, holds have smacked the ground by people eating lunch, and near a child and a dog. Earlier this year, while lowering someone, I was hit—got a nice black eye—by a quickdraw that accidentally twisted off a climber’s harness, and fell 30 feet onto my upturned face.

    Moreover, I often, especially in climbing at Main Elk, have called down, “Heads up. The rock isn’t very good right here.” If the belayer moved sideways—and when I, on belay, have done the same—I assumed we were protected. Yet the belayer can still be pulled, inexorably, into the fall line.

    Randy and I have lately talked about how we all get a little too used to hearing random rockfall hit nearby. We say, “Wow, did you see that?” and are shocked for five whole minutes, and then forget about it.

    Herewith, a few reminders:

    • Wearing a helmet to belay, especially at a newly developed area, is as important as when climbing.
    • Moving out of the fall line as a belayer may not protect you.
    •  If you take children, protect them from potential rockfall.

    Now is the time, after the freeze-thaw cycle, when rockfall is most prevalent. At Rifle last spring, my friend Chris and I peered through the shattered back window of the pickup truck into which a rock had bounced, landing in the mayhem in a case of beer bottles. In the concrete-hard-packed dirt road, where vehicles pass and people stand and socialize, was a sickle-shaped ding where the rock had bounced.

    Last weekend at Rifle, I noticed—and obsessively pointed out—many fist-sized rocks dotting the road. Mike didn’t like the newly developed and rather loose cliff where Jim and I did some moderate routes; instead he walked around on the canyon road, gazing with new eyes up at the truckloads of choss that line the whole sloping rim. We’d heard some rockfall across the canyon earlier that day.

    It was three or four years ago that I knocked that rock off Defenseless Betty. The next summer, another friend, Johann, was standing below the same climb among a crowd of people, packing up to go home. He’d just climbed the route and someone else was taking a toprope burn on his rope when a broken hold the size of an orange beaned him.

    “I don’t remember the event,” Johann says. “I remember waking up and feeling warm blood in my face. I think I was out for 10-ish seconds.” The laceration took 10 stitches, and the symptoms of concussion (such as dizziness and memory lapses) lasted a week, but he felt he got off easy.

    “I’m pretty grateful to come out the other side of that one,” he says.

    “I feel like people, especially belaying, take risks they aren’t aware of. I often climb without a helmet at Rifle or Main Elk, but always wear one when I belay or hang out at a busy cliff where there are people above.”

    Holds and cobbles and blocks can snap and fall. For all the times they miss, sometimes they hit, and that could change everything.


    Please tell us your own tales. We hope they are of near misses and not non-misses!

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