IN MARCH, Phil Cody reached the top of a 5.10d at the Bruise Brothers Wall, Red River Gorge, Kentucky. Fighting a serious pump, Cody, 21, struggled to clip the anchors, which consisted of bolts with two pre-hung quickdraws left by a climbing partner. After a few flubbed attempts to get the rope clipped, he became desperate.
“At that moment I was willing to do anything not to fall,” Cody says. “I made a wild last attempt to jam the rope into the carabiner.”
It appeared to his friends that Cody grabbed for the anchor as he peeled away from the cliff.
As his belayer lowered him to the ground, Cody saw blood streaming from his left index finger.
“I held it up to my face to take a look. That’s when I saw a thin white something protruding from my finger. In order to confirm what I was seeing, for whatever reason, I licked some of the blood off, and, yeah, I had licked my own finger bone.”
The “meat” of his finger was found on the sandy ground behind the belayer. Luckily, Cody’s climbing partners were able to clean the flesh and muscle and bring it to the hospital. Even luckier for Cody, that hospital happened to have one of the best hand surgeons in the world—one who was part of the surgical team that performed the first successful full- hand transplant.
Cody went directly into surgery and the surgeon was able to re-attach his finger, nail bed included. Although the finger is a little shorter now, Cody
eventually has regained full sensation and movement.
Cody was new to leading and this pitch was his most difficult lead to date. It appears that his left index finger opened the gate of the lower biner on the anchor quickdraw and was pinched between the gate and the nose, stripping the meat from the bone when he fell. In medical terms, Cody’s finger was “de-gloved.”
Reaching for a draw to prevent a fall is an instinct common to new leaders and veterans alike, but can have horrible consequences. Stories abound of climbers who have lost fingers or impaled their hands on the nose of a biner when attempting to grab a draw.
“Everybody knows you don’t grab the quickdraw,” Cody says. “I knew it, and I don’t even remember grabbing it.”
When you’re pumped and slipping, grabbing a draw might seem safer than falling, but, in situations where the fall is safe, it is usually better to take the lob.
In some instances—such as runouts above ledges or potential groundfalls— falling could be disastrous. In situations like these, absolutely grab the quickdraw, but first make sure to carefully set your feet and aim to grip the draw by the sling, above the lower carabiner.
Under no circumstances should you attempt to grab a quickdraw, or any piece of gear, when you’re already falling.
Practice efficient clipping and keep tabs on whether you’re in a position to fall safely. This accident would have been prevented if Cody had successfully made the clip, or simply taken the whipper.
Also read Impaled by a Quickdraw
This article was published in Rock and Ice issue 225.