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Rock Climber Talks About 30-Foot Fall and Injuries

Kimberly Kelly recounts the events that lead to her breaking both ankles in hopes others can learn

Photo by: Steph Gimmel of La Sal Mountains

Experienced climber and Moab-based Kimberly Kelly was involved in a rock climbing accident on Oct. 21 that left her with two broken heels and a broken tailbone. She was being lowered by a belayer in the Manti-La Sal National Forest, Utah, when the rope pulled through the belay device and she fell to the ground.

There was no knot in the end of the rope and they were not watching for the middle-mark. She was wearing a helmet. This is an extremely common accident that has happened to new and pro climbers, so let this story serve as a reminder to check your safeties.

We reached out to Kelly to hear her story, which she shared below. There is a fundraiser page here where you can donate to help Kelly, a single mother, during her recovery.

Kimberly Kelly’s Story

My climbing partner and I went to the Dakota Crags in the Manti-La Sal Mountains, Utah, near Moab. It was a beautiful day for some sport climbing, so we began on some easy routes before deciding to try something else.

We hiked over to Good Times Wall and quickly slid on our harnesses. I put on my climbing shoes, racked 10 draws and a chalk bag and was ready to lead. We double-checked our harnesses, my figure-8 knot, his belay direction, and off I went.

“Climbing,” I said. He responded with, “Climb on.”

We looked at the guidebook, as well as the phone app, to determine which route we were on. There were additional climbs since either have been updated, so I ended up climbing a different route than we were expecting, which was our first mistake.

I ended up leading the Good Times, a 5.7 which was very pleasing and not a challenging climb. It is a very long route, about 230 feet (70+ metres), and my partner’s rope is only 60 metres. I climbed up with relative ease and marveled at the nice sunshine and beautiful fall colors amongst the aspens, brushes and pine.

I told him to “take,” as I put myself in-direct to the anchors with a daisy-chain. I then asked him to give me slack, so that I could put on my anchor carabiners with extensions, undue my figure-8 knot to put a small bite on my hip with a carabiner to not lose the rope, then put my extra rope-end through each anchor chain left to right. I tied another figure-8 knot on the rope-end running through the anchors and back onto my harness. I made sure it was through the top and bottom of my harness, and running through the anchor correctly, before I asked him to “take” again.

After I cleaned my daisy-chain, I asked to be lowered. On the way down, I asked if I should leave any directionals, he said no. I cleaned the draws on the way down. As I reached the second-to-last draw, I asked him to stop lowering me. I then took the draw off and said, “Lower.” To which he replied with, “Oh, fuck.” And then I fell.

As I was falling the 30 feet to the ground, I looked to my left and the view resembled a camera falling; blurry and shaken. I knew I was in for some pain, but I was totally calm.

I hit a ledge, which broke both of my heels, then landed on my bum, which broke my tailbone. I then fell back and hit my head on a sharp boulder, as well as my left arm. Luckily, I was wearing a helmet.

I was dizzy and in shock; sharp pains raced up my spine and to my feet. I could hear my blood pulsing under my ears, as I hyperventilated, but I tried to gather my thoughts.

My partner rushed over to comfort me, which made me panic so I calmly told him, “Get off me please.” my mind raced as I tried to assess the damage with my Wilderness First Response training. I was in complete shock.

I listened to my body, as I slowly moved to my side. Pain was radiating from my bum and feet. After I calmed down a bit, I decided to follow my training. I asked my partner the time and he told me that it was 3 p.m. Sundown was closer to 7 p.m., so we had about four hours to get out.

I slowly pulled off my harness, because it felt like it was squeezing my guts, and then I had to pull off my climbing shoes. I was not aware that my feet were fractured in multiple places, and it was extremely painful to remove them. I knew my feet would only swell, so I got them off.

I asked what we should do about our gear, he said that he could pull the rope and told me that he would replace my carabiners. He told me not to move and to just relax while he took the gear back to the truck and would then come back for me. I didn’t have faith that he could carry me, however, as we are approximately the same weight.

I tried to stand, but I couldn’t, so I tried to limp with a sturdy stick, but still couldn’t. I was unable to weight my feet, so I began to crawl. I was crying at this point.

If you have ever climbed at Dakota Crags, then you know the trail can be steep with tree roots, rock drops and unforgiving ledges. My partner rescued my last draw, my climbing gear (except my anchor gear) and ran it to the truck as fast as he could. We were close to 8,000 feet in elevation.

I continued to crawl out, pushing and pulling against anything on the ground that would allow my feet to remain in the air and my body from rolling down. Some parts were so steep, that my running nose was dripping off of my forehead. My forearms were covered in tears, snot and dirt.

I had my helmet on until my neck felt like it was going to break under the weight. My partner took my helmet and watched me crawl out, as I tried to make jokes to lighten the mood. He attempted to carry me twice, both times piggyback style.

We almost fell over and I really didn’t want to risk more injuries, so I decided to keep crawling. I took off my long-sleeve shirt and tied it around my knee to hopefully save it from the tiny rocks digging in. He let me use his long-sleeve shirt for the same purpose. He then offered his shirt, which I was thankful for.

It took me two hours of crawling to reach the truck. We texted our boss to inform her that I was not going to be able to work the next day. Then we had another 45 minutes to drive on bumpy dirt roads back to Moab.

I fought with myself about going to the hospital and paying the bill. Finally, I decided to change out of my expensive clothes, shower, and head to the hospital.

Visit Kelly’s fundraiser page here to help out during her recovery.

Do you have a story to tell about a climbing accident that can serve as a helpful reminder to others? Let us know at brandon@gripped.com

Lead photo: Steph Gimmel of La Sal Mountains