On June 14,
2015, Nicholas Mozdzierz, 25, fell 50 feet to the ground while climbing at the North End of Cathedral Ledge, New Hampshire.
A climber (who wishes to remain anonymous) witnessed the accident and told Rock and Ice, “I heard a scream and crashing. I turned around just
as Nicholas hit the ground, body sideways with his head taking substantial impact.”
Mozdzierz lay unconscious for several minutes. After coming to, he was able talk, move and feel his appendages. North Conway Fire and Rescue carried him
from the woods to an ambulance, and he was taken to Memorial Hospital in North Conway.
Mozdzierz was wearing a helmet and did not suffer life-threatening injuries.
According to the witness, Mozdzierz was climbing Kiddy Crack—a 60-foot, low-angle 5.7 crack split by a
“I chatted with them briefly and could tell they were a little green but were having a good time of it,” the climber said. “They were getting
the guts up to lead [the route].”
Mozdzierz ran into difficulty near the top of the route and began to down-climb, then fell. His top two pieces of protection pulled, and he hit the ground.
Mozdzierz’s belayer had serious rope burns on both hands—the palm of his left hand was gouged and the fingers of his right were burned from the second
joint up. The type of belay device that he was using is unknown.
It’s unclear whether Mozdzierz’s ground-fall was due to his gear ripping, belayer error, or both. Mozdzierz’s fall length increased when his two pieces
of protection failed, but possibly not enough for him to reach the ground 50 feet below. The rope burn on the belayer’s hands suggests that he let
the rope—and lots of it—fly, also extending the length of the fall.
Always check and double-check belay systems before leaving the ground. If a belayer is inexperienced, have another person back him or her up by providing a second set of brake hands
and an expert eye.
When belaying, remember: The brake hand never leaves the rope. The brake hand never leaves the rope. The brake hand never leaves the rope.
If you’re new to trad climbing and want to try your hand at plugging gear, start by going out with an experienced trad climber and placing different types
of gear along the ground or on top-rope. Have the experienced climber check your placements and provide feedback. Another great way to study gear placements
is to follow a trad route on top-rope and remove the gear placed by an experienced leader.
Only begin leading once you understand proper placements, then start with easy-to-protect routes well below your sport redpoint level—what you can
comfortably climb without falling—and work your way up.
Listen to intuition when it comes to leading trad. If you don’t feel ready for a route, there’s no shame in passing up the lead—it’s called the sharp
end for a reason.
Bottom line: Always wear a helmet. It probably saved Mozdzierz’s life.