Home > Profiles

Five Times a Climber Got a Knee Seriously Stuck in a Crack

Offwidth cracks have been eating up climber's knees at crags and in the mountains for decades

A climber got their knee stuck on St. Bernard, a 5.9 on The Apron, in Squamish this spring and required a rescue team to help remove his swollen knee.

The climber got stuck at 7:30 p.m. and wasn’t off the mountain until after midnight. Squamish Search and Rescue manager Tyler Duncan said dish soap was used to grease up the climber’s leg, but that they also had to chip away at the rock to make room.

It made national headlines and countless people in Squamish watched the rescue take place, but in the world of wide cracks, climbers have been getting their knees stuck for decades.

Kain Route

The Kain Route on Bugaboo Spire in B.C. was first climbed in 1916 and is one of the most-climbed routes in the Bugaboos every year. The summit ridge has a number of big blocks that you climb on to reach the top. More than once, a climber who stopped to belay by sitting on a block has gotten their leg stuck between the massive boulders. Rescue crews have had to fly up with a dish soap and carjacks to get climbers off the mountain and back down to safety. Below is a low-resolution grainy video by Gripped editor Brandon Pullan in 2007 of a helicopter dropping off rescuers to free a climber’s stuck knee.

Trango Tower

In 1976, British climbers Joe Brown, Mo Anthoine, Malcom Howells, and Martin Boysen visited the Karakoram Himalaya where they attempted an unclimbed route on Trango Tower. Their first attempt ended part way up at what is now known as the Fissure Boysen. They had only one large bong and Boysen had to run out 20 metres of unprotected offwidth, at almost 20,000 feet, before placing it to ensure that he was protected for the rest of the pitch. On the next move his knee jammed and would not come loose, and he spent hours fighting to free it, cutting his pants off in the process. It’s said that he prepared to die as the sun began to set, but when he finally relaxed, he fell out of the crack, and descended to his team. After the emotional drain of nearly seeing Boysen die a cold death, and running low on food, they retreated. The following year they returned and completed the climb. Boysen took a second bong, and managed the offwidth without problem. At 5.10, A2 their route was the hardest and most impressive technical route completed at high altitude at the time, and it opened the door to big-wall climbing in the highest ranges on earth.

Yellow Brick Road

Yellow Brick Road is a classic 5.9 in the Needles, and on the second ascent in the 1970s, a climber got his knee stuck in an offwidth off the first belay. From the Needles guidebook in 1992: “His partner rappelled to base, ran to the lookout tower and got a plastic squeeze bottle of salad oil, which was used to lubricate and free the leader’s knee. The squeeze bottle is still in the crack at the belay. It is recommended that this section be liebacked. Always climb safely and avoid the need for rescues.”

Easy Jam 5.4

On April 21, 2013, a climber got his knee stuck in Easy Jam, a 15-metre 5.4, on the Nautilus formation in Vedauwoo, a place known for eating up knees. Neil Mathison, on duty as Albany County Sheriff’s deputy, and Rick Colling, of the Wyoming Highway Patrol, were on scene by 4 p.m. Mathison, who is experienced in high-angle rescue, reached the climber and ensured that he was anchored to the rock. Mathison then attempted to loosen the climber’s knee without success. He called for help from local climbers with the Medicine Bow Nordic Ski Patrol. Ski patrollers arrived with additional climbing and medical equipment. They climbed Cornelius 5.5 and set up a Z-rigged raising system at the top of the climb, and gave the subject some motor oil to lubricate his leg. They got him out on the first pull. His leg was scraped, bruised, and sore.

Boogie Til You Puke

The most famous stuck knee incidents in Canada is surely when Jason Kruk, at the time one of Canada’s top all-round climbers, got his knee stuck on Boogie Till You Puke 5.11 in Squamish. Luckily, a film crew was there to document everything.