Jack, running it out on Curtain Call, just prior to a 60' whipper from a solid stance below the first roof visible above him.
" Why did Jack fall? He was at a good stance, looking solid. He was using Black Diamond tethers and had both tools in. One tether came unclipped in the fall, both of their clips were bent and
Jonathon and I have talked a lot since Jack died. We've talked about Jack's quirks and his humor and his friendship. And how he really enjoyed mentoring and at times messing with people's heads. Just for the fun of it. I liked and could appreciate that.
We've both talked with Pam about our observations as well. And Pam had thoughts of her own to share. So this wasn't easy for anyone. But I think Jack would appreciate the effort. Simply because he loved to teach and pass on what he knew and his experiences. From our friendship I know he did that honestly and with out ego, just as he did with most every climber he met. If we can learn something from this accident and Jack's life may be we'll all be better for it.
Some times I hate this blog. Over the blog's three year history it gets the most views when some one in the tribe dies. I have to admit it makes me angry. But just as there is so much beauty in climbing there is also death. More than most of us like to admit. And may be the blog can make a difference in some small way. I truly hope so.
I am well aware of the fact some might take offense to my comments here and my opinion. It has taken all of us a long time to even want to share this in public. So I'll get on with it.
Jack not only grew up in the school of modern ice climbing but in many ways helped defined it and "wrote the book" on it. And that may have been what killed him.
The picture above and the one previous of Jack on the first pitch of Curtain Call are classic examples of that in my mind. On Curtain Call that day a few years ago, Jack was 100 feet out and had stopped at a decent, no hands rest. He was on double ropes, with good screws, the first at 30' and a second at 65 or 70'. We were chatting rather casually about the amount of ice being dropped from above by another pair of climbers. Jack was safe and protected, just waiting for them to clear the final pillar. I was getting bombarded and it was dangerous. Then, Jack simply fell off. It was like he intentionally just stepped out into space. I was dumb founded!
Just like on Bridalveil later, Jack fell off for no apparent reason. An autopsy was performed and Jack did not have a heart attack as Jonathon and I had first speculated. And at least on Curtain Call he was aware enough to maintain his tools through the entire flight and catch. I took note and was impressed by that. Pam didn't think the Medical Examiner went any farther with the autopsy than looking for the initial cause of death and the damage from the fall. So we'll never know what caused either fall. But it does cause one to ponder.
Pam's comments, "I know that some people have conjectured that maybe he had a heart attack or some other physical glitch that caused him to fall. All I know is that they did a full autopsy on him, and didn't find anything that indicated anything like that, for what it's worth. He had been sick with a bad cough over Christmas break, so maybe it was something as simple as a coughing fit. Who knows..........."
Jack wasn't hurt seriously on Curtain Call only slightly tweaked a knee from hooking a crampon just prior to stopping. Two reasons Jack had no serious injuries from that fall. One is, the ice was very steep that year and the other...was just shear dumb luck.
The moderate conditions on Curtain Call (WI6) when Jack fell. He was at a good stance just below the first roof and 20' below the obvious belay cave.
From those two incidents I have no doubt how we all can make our own ice climbing safer. Jack just gave us all one last, costly, climbing lesson.
Mind you, Jack and I had been playing at this game over the same decades. Jack had always just been a lot better at it. I have to admit I had never seen anyone take a whipper like that on ice. No one. I had time to think about the end result of Jack hooking a crampon or going upside down on that fall and smacking his head. It was a long fall and we both had a lot of time to think about it. It is a 120K drive from Curtain Call to Jasper and no phone or services mid winter between them. I've seen serious injuries from much shorter and seemingly less serious falls.
In that fall on Curtain Call Jack never dropped his tools, which were untethered. And he finished that pitch straight away. I was wide eyed and impressed. He scared the shit out of me to be honest. All the while Jack was apologizing profusely to me. He said it was his first ever lead fall on ice...and I believe that.
The day previous I had chastised Jack about the amount of pro he used...or rather lack of pro he used. Typically if you are incapable of climbing a piece of ice, you lace it up. It is a technique which almost guarantees you won't be able to climb that piece of ice. There is no fine line between control and stupidity. Being in control on ice is mindset, strength and skill. Stupidity is putting your partners and yourself at risk by trying to climb over your head.
6 screws for pro and 2 for anchors seems legit on the long 2nd pitch of the Right Hand side of Weeping wall. The day previous Jack used only 3 Helix screws. I was impressed but not pleased. I couldn't image the aftermath of holding a 60+ foot fall on ice.
Look, I know Jack was a better climber than I am. But I also have stayed alive while climbing over four decades by being a little conservative at times. I've taken any number of good sized falls on rock including a 70'er onto a swami and held a 150er' on a body belay. No injuries to speak of and no falls leading on ice. So when I think a partner is out of line, I have no problem giving them some shit about it. Including Jack.
And as you might imagine after the conversation of 3 screws on a steep lead the previous day I wasn't all that happy about the winger on Curtain Call. We both wanted to finish the line, which, silly enough, seemed important at the time.
One of the conversations that came up later on that trip was umbilicals. Jack had forgotten his Nomics at a rap station. I collected them and refused to return them. It was the second set of tools I we had found that season at a rap station. I had already told Jack that if you are gonna run it out at least use umbilicals so I wouldn't have to be totally responsible for his mistake. Half in jest of course..and I made Jack buy me a burger and a beer to get his Nomics back. Fair's, fair, right? But Jack manned up and took the comments to heart. He was gracious even as I rode him a bit. I get cranky when I get scared. Jack knew he had scared me. He had scared himself I suspect as well.
Use umbilicals and use an appropriate amount of pro. Or heaven forbid, just stay off things you are incapable of climbing safely.
So Jack liked to run ice out on lead. He was very, very good at climbing steep ice. And at least in our minds running it out above pro showed a level of skill and control few will ever attain. It was a badge of honor.
Adding a set of reliable umbilicals to the mix should have prevented any sort of serious accident. Even though there isn't a single pair of commercially made umbilicals that are rated to hold a leader fall. All the while most every one counts on umbilicals doing just that, catching a fall or momentary slip. The unreliability of any commercial umbilical leash set should be well known by now. If not this is your warning!
And if you are going to use an umbilical please make sure it is one that at the very least has a reliable attachment point to the tool. And a strong attachment point on the tool. Only a locking biner or a direct tie in from leash to tool is guaranteed to keep tools and leash attached. Grivel and Blue Ice figured that out a while ago with their umbilicals. Any sort of simple gated carabiner (no matter the biner you choose) will not stay attached reliably on a metal to metal attachment system. They will lever themselves off.
You might want to rethink your system if they look anything like this.
You are trusting your life to that system if something should fail. Choose wisely.
Know what a fall factor is in climbing. Know how to calculate it on lead and to minimise it to safe levels. It is important. You need to have that knowledge if you want to lead on rock or ice. Make sure your partner is aware of the same info and can figure it out himself. Communicate!
Know how to place pro and where, on any ice climb. The best ice screws now are easy to place by comparison, And it is easy to carry a bunch of them. Be conservative, place good pro often enough to be safe and ..NEVER, ever fall.
More reading material on the subject here:
Jack, very proud to be included as one of the authors of our sport @ the Bozeman Ice Fest in in 2012.
Photo courtesy of
and the Bozeman Ice fest