Ping, Ping, Ping, Thud…

Well, the last two weeks have been great.  I have been training really hard, been having a lot of fun with the boulder leagues and been feeling really strong in general.  Went to Boven this weekend and got on Pit Fighter and Lab Rat on Saturday before the rain came, Pit Fighter was grimy and damp so I left it alone and went over to Lab Rat.  With the help of Warren, I figured out some awesome beta for the first part of the route and managed a new highpoint in the rain.  Fantastic

So the idea for Sunday was to go and do some of the easier trad lines in Hallucinogen and then get back on Lab Rat to see if I couldn’t do some more good links.  Warren and I jumped on Captain Hook (18) to trad it and have some fun, it was great fun. I decided that next I was going for the onsight of Witless (25).  We walked over to the base, started discussing what gear I should take up, unfolded the rope and I was off.  I placed two nuts, then moved to a good slot where I placed a DMM Dragon 1, then moves a little higher and placed a Wild Country Z5, I then did what I thought was the crux and was pretty happy to reach the next slot and put in a Wild Country Helium 2.  Each placement seemed like it was good.  I knew the cracks were flared a little but I tested each cam and each cam seemed to be good.  I kept on climbing and then I was about a meter above my last cam only to realize I was in a bit of a bind.  I tried to do a move, it didn’t work and I was airborne.

I figured I’d go about 2m, but when I heard the first ping I knew there was trouble; when I heard the second ping, I knew I was in dire straights; when I heard the third, I knew what was next: THUD.  I was on the ground.  First thing I noticed were the pins and needles in my hands and feet.  I thought I had broken my back.  They went away in a few seconds.  Next thing I was thinking was: is anything else wrong?  No blurred vision.  Can I move?  I sat up, Warren says, “dude are you alright, don’t move! Just take it easy.”

I was about to stand up, but thought better of it. Instead I rolled over and was getting tangled in my rope and gear. It was really uncomfortable but I knew that I was alright.  Warren pointed to the big rock I landed on with my head and shoulders and I said “well at least my head isn’t bleeding” his response was “Yes it is dude.”  I laid back down.  Warren determined I was alright, we were chatting and I was in good spirits.  Warren then pulled out the phone and snapped a pic telling me that I’d be grateful later.  I was grateful then, just very quiet.

Brian Weaver ground fall

A little worse for wear but anything you can walk away from is a victory in my mind… Photo Warren Gans


Warren: There’s nothing worse than the pinging sound of gear ripping.
Brian: What about the deafening thud of the person hitting the ground?
Warren: Yeah that one is a bit worse…

After this, he headed off to grab some Coke for me to get some sugar in my system.  I was in a bit of shock for sure.  I was feeling dizzy and light-headed, typical Brian response to the sigh of blood (I’m such a pansy)!  Hector came along before Warren got back, we started chatting, he gave me a sip of his tea.  I was starting to feel better but still light-headed for sure. After a little while we decided to head down to Roc ‘n Rope to see Alex and get my head wound looked at.

I slowly made my way to my feet after Warren finished packing my bag.  I walked out.  I was joking and laughing a lot and realized that the worst injury had been my ego, but I still needed to make sure that this was the case, you don’t usually fall 8m and just get to walk away.

When we got to Roc ‘n Rope I found a stern-looking Alex at the gate, she was not impressed with the situation.  She cleaned my head with Savlon and it made me all woozy again, so I laid back down on the concrete.  I tied to call Yvette but my phone wasn’t working, so I sent her the message:
My phone isn’t working… I had a bit of a fall. I’m just a little bruised on my shoulder and a cmall cut on the back of my head.  I gave her Alex’s number and a few seconds later I was explaining the whole story.  We went through the checks to see if I was fine.  I was.

Hector offered to drive me to the hospital in Pretoria so I could meet Yvette.  The drive home was long, my shoulder was getting really stiff, but the music was good.  Jimmy Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Coldplay, Audio Slave.  I had to watch Hector demolish a bag of chips, a pie and a big bar one.  I was ravenous at this point.  Perhaps the worst part of the injury!  We made it to the hospital, Hector was a legend in his own rights.
Somehow he is always involved in rescues, fortunately this one didn’t rank very high in terms of severity.

Thanks to Warren, Hector and Andrew for the weekend and the support.  I’m gonna get this one second go, you watch!

Just to clarify… 
The rope took a little, as is evident by the damaged cams (see pics below), but what actually broke my fall was the flat ground beneath me and the big rock that my shoulders and head landed on.  It was pretty rough.  From my perspective it was insane. Very fast and scary, definitely couldn’t “feel” the pro slowing me down…

Brian is sponsored by Edelrid, Vaude, Madrock and uses DMM & Wildcountry trad gear.

Related article:  Brian Weaver Interview

Cams damaged after rock climbing fall

48 Responses to Ping, Ping, Ping, Thud…

  1. Brent Feb 20, 2012 at 12:18 pm #

    wow! lucky to walk away.
    did you wear a helmet?

    any chance of a closer pic of those cams..what caused them to pop so badly?

  2. Justin Feb 20, 2012 at 12:36 pm #

    Damaged Cam
    Damaged Cam
    Damaged Cam
    Damaged Cam
    Damaged Cam
    Damaged Cam

  3. Robert Feb 20, 2012 at 1:17 pm #

    brian, glad to hear you walked away from this 1.
    3 different cams in one long flared crack?
    would love to see how flared in fact the crack was. or was it ‘cracks’?

  4. Brian Weaver Feb 20, 2012 at 1:23 pm #

    Cracks. There a little pods going straight up the climb. The left side is flat and the right is not quite parallel to it. I’m definitely going back to it to figure out what went wrong and to send it…

  5. Ray Feb 20, 2012 at 1:25 pm #

    Hectic Brian, please can you give more information on your cam placements? That is really scary. How flaring were those cracks? You make them sound as if they were virtually parallel. how did you test them – a hard yank or a gentle pull?

    Glad you made it out alive and not too broken!

  6. Brian Weaver Feb 20, 2012 at 1:27 pm #

    Several hard yanks… I’ll take photos next time I’m on the route.

  7. Arno Feb 20, 2012 at 1:29 pm #

    Sobering…glad you got to walk away from it man!

  8. Gavin P Feb 20, 2012 at 2:05 pm #

    Brian, thank goodness for the “happy ending” / non-fatal landing!
    Probably a stupid question to ask an experienced trad climber but, if the cracks were vertical, were all the cams positioned with the stems facing downwards or were some of them stuffed in at right angles to the rock?
    Also, you didn’t answer the question about whether you were wearing a helmet. If so, how much damage did it sustain?

  9. Brian Weaver Feb 20, 2012 at 2:11 pm #

    The cams were all angled downwards. I forgot to put my helmet on, it was at the base of the climb. I got wrapped up in the moment preparing for the climb and I jumped the gun.

  10. Lukas Feb 20, 2012 at 2:41 pm #

    Phew! Very glad you walked away from this one!

    Would you mind posting your “results” when you do figure out why the pieces ripped? And, if I may be so bold, could you try recreating and photographing the placements involved when you go back? I hear too many stories of cams ripping and it would be awesome if we could all learn something from this.

  11. ScottS Feb 20, 2012 at 2:51 pm #

    Gavin raises a good point about the direction of the stems.

    I’m not much of a traddie (read limited falling on gear), so I’ve always been very nervous of cams placed in vertical cracks. Especially if they’re shallow placements.

    In horizontal cracks, or a crack under an overhang, the camming action makes intuitive sense to me. In vertical cracks surely the direction of force must cause the cam to walk outwards as you fall on it? If it doesn’t walk too far, it holds your fall. If it does, you’re Brian at Warren’s feet…

    It had been raining, was the rock moist inside the cracks?

  12. Johann Feb 20, 2012 at 2:55 pm #

    Wow, the popping of those cams is quite worrying. This is likely to dent the solid faith I usually have in my placements. Might do more backing up in future. Like others, would be really interested to learn more about why exactly they failed. Glad this incident had the happy ending that it did, Brian.

  13. Brendon Feb 20, 2012 at 4:12 pm #

    Woah… that is crazy! maybe you should stick to the 29’s… hahaha! Glad you managed to walk away from it, could have ended rather badly…

  14. Craig Feb 20, 2012 at 4:52 pm #

    Eish… sorry to hear about this Brian! Glad you’re OK!

    Time to invest in a set of BD Camalots perhaps?? 😉 Just kidding… I’m sure there was nothing wrong with the cams, or your placements… Just one of those things!

  15. Richard Feb 20, 2012 at 6:27 pm #

    Hey dude,

    Eish. A guy at Arapiles had a very similar thing happen at the other side of the gulley we were climbing in (cam pop, deck on boulder, about 8m up) – but broke his back. It was a long wait with him for the strecher to arrive….

    So glad you came out okay – we build them tough in SA!

    RE cams pulling, some things to consider (Disclaimer: this is my opinion – do not take as fact )

    1. Cams may be placed angled downward but as you fall the rope becomes tight. Now, depending on the position of your belayer and whether one of your earlier pieces of gear resists a pull perpendicular to the rock, the tightening of the rope can potentially cause all your cams to change orientation and for the stems to face more perpendicular to the rock. In such a case it is possible to unzipper a whole vertical crack (depending on luck and friction etc). Not cool.

    2. Flared cracks, beware. – The cam may seem good on a few hard yanks, but that doesn’t really replicate the force when you plummet from above. Now, in good, rough parallel cracks the yank test is probably a good indication of whether it will take a fall (provided the cam stays in that orientation, see point 1, and the rock doesn’t break etc). However in a flared crack, with enough force pretty much any cam will rip out – the greater the angle of the flare/smoother the rock, reduced amount of camming – the lower the force required. This does not mean that a cam placement in a flared crack won’t necessarily hold a fall, or that if there is nothing else you should not place a flared cam. However, one must be very weary of flared cracks, and if at all possible use a different piece of gear. I would always consider a flared cam placement as marginal.

    3. Marginal gear. The problem with marginal gear, is although better than nothing in terms of physics, mentally you look down and see several pieces of gear and feel safer than you probably are. This may give you the mental boost/courage needed to send a route, but if you push on and then still fall off, you are more likely to get injured than if you backed of earlier.

    Lastly, the cable damage on your cams suggests to me they abraded against the side of the pods. I think this would be exacerbated if they had changed orientation (i.e pulled out and down from a more perpendicular position, rather than pulling straight out) ….

  16. Warren Feb 20, 2012 at 9:38 pm #

    And we were having so much fun up to this point too! When he fell the first piece bit hard, but the rest poped out much easier, and I think zippered out. The direction of the stems looked good, but they were all shallow placements due to the shallow cracks. I think that it was the direction change when the force was placed that caused the failing. Some of the cracks would have been moist as there was good rain the day before. Brian was spectacularly lucky, and a bit nieve not wearing a helmet. I assumed he didn’t have one with him

  17. MOkganjetsi (Willem B) Feb 21, 2012 at 8:55 am #

    don’t sweat about cams suddenly becoming disfunctional! go get the old first ascent dvd and gawp at didier and dean potter taking some 10+m whippers on a single piece to restore your confidence. a well placed cam is and was and always will be bomber. the issue of flaring cracks is interesting. all things being equal, a cams hodling power is determined by the camming angle and the contact surface of the lobes (assuming same material used); not the tension of the springs or anything else. a cam works on friction generated by force – if it bites; it bites. a bit like a ladder that is placed against a wall – if it stands properly you can put an elephant on it. so cams rip because firction is dimished (wet / polished rock); the rock breaks or the cam’s aluminium tears or the placement was always not correct (camming angle too big in flared crack); lobes not making good contact with the rock etc. the camming angle is an interesting one. wild country originally came up with the hallowed 13,75 degree angle which is perfect for almost all types of rock. the more friction the rock has the bigger camming angle you can get away with. BD C4 in size 3 has for instance a 15 degree angle and it still bites hard on sandstone and granite (jip. the increased camming range is not only due to the double axle design….) metolius gave their master cams a smaller angle (around 12,75 degrees i think) – less range but more bite……. a flared crack obviously increases the camming angle and hence, at some tipping point, cams rip. all cam manufacturers make it clear that cams are designed to work only in parallel placements (a small degree of flaring will not see cams fail but they won’t encourage it); horizontal and vertical cracks make no difference (in theory); its all about the direction of the force, the camming angle and the contact with the rock.

  18. MOkganjetsi (Willem B) Feb 21, 2012 at 8:58 am #

    some interesting “break” tests done on trad gear (keeping in mind that most 1/2 ropes have a max impact force of 6kn):

  19. Bruce Tomalin Feb 21, 2012 at 9:24 am #

    Hell of an interesting discussion. Maybe Richard nailed it according to Warren’s report?
    Warren/Brian – how were the cams extended? Were normal (sport) quickdraws used or “floppy” (trad) draws on thin tape/ slings? As far as I understand, proper extension is critical to prevent zippering…
    Mok – thanks for restoring our faith – was starting to think of updating my will…

  20. Brian Weaver Feb 21, 2012 at 9:55 am #

    There was no need to extend the cams, the top cam was the helium and I clipped the rope to the biner, the lower cams have extendable slings built in and were placed in extended position. The nuts beneath the cams each had a short draw on them (Warren had to work hard to get ’em out afterwards). The line was perfectly straight and Warren was directly beneath me while belaying so extending any more than this would have only added to risk rather than benefit (the entire line is only 12m).

  21. Dean Feb 21, 2012 at 10:18 am #

    Brain/Warren: Just checking. From the description is seems the top cam pull first and then the second higest or did some of the lower cams perhaps pull first (which is also likely due to forces being outward and the stem changing orientation to accomodate the outward direction of pull)?

  22. Mikhail Feb 21, 2012 at 10:24 am #

    Speaking of camming agles, have a look at these cams :

  23. MOkganjetsi (Willem B) Feb 21, 2012 at 10:42 am #

    the camming angle increases by half a degree (per side) for each degree that the crack flares. if a crack flares by 2 degrees the camming angle on a friend will be 14,75 which is still lower than that of a C4. i guess it really becomes an issue when a crack flares by 5/6 degrees or more. the totem cams have a low cam angle at 13 degrees; hence it can handle more flare; i doubt that the lab test of holding up to a 40 degree flare has any practical sense – perfectly even & high friction rock = great contact & holding power unlikely on real rock. bad idea to create false expectations!

  24. Henkg Feb 21, 2012 at 10:43 am #

    Brian, is the route straight up or curved? Still at the grade it is probably steep. Could this result in the scenario Richard described?

    I am so happy to see you walk away from this.

  25. Brian Weaver Feb 21, 2012 at 10:46 am #

    Dead straight and slabby… It’s just full of irony isn’t it?

  26. shorti Feb 21, 2012 at 10:49 am #

    hmmm, yes Dean the dreaded reverse zipper is my biggest fear, I’m sure they would hove noticed and mentioned if that was what happened. The dragon cam’s lobes has a lot of damage on it. it is interesting to see that the damage on the outer lobes are are very close to the ends of the lobes. That’s not great. Flaring cracks are bad news for big falls.

  27. Bruce Tomalin Feb 21, 2012 at 12:09 pm #

    Thanks Brian. Great how much interest there is in getting to understand what happened and thanks for your responses to all the queries.
    Mok – you’re smokkling with my kop now? Wat se jy nou? For us dummies…

  28. MOkganjetsi (Willem B) Feb 21, 2012 at 12:34 pm #

    check the link posted by mikhail and it will hopefully make sense 🙂

  29. Jan & friends Feb 21, 2012 at 5:59 pm #

    Hey Brian! We were climbing right next to you on Dead Ant. We heard you fall (around the corner) … ping, ping, ping, aaargh, thud! Was scaaary! We thought you’d bought it! Glad you’re ok man. It really didn’t sound good. Get well soon!

  30. Bruce Tomalin Feb 22, 2012 at 9:11 am #

    Thanks Mok and Mikhail, think I’m getting it now (bit earlier in the day!). Downward flared cracks change the angle (of attack?) of the cam lobes… When “flared” cracks were mentioned I assumed flaring from inside to outside (with a more or less constant width in the down direction), not flaring downward as in the illustration. I would be VERY hesitant to place a cam in a constriction above a wider area of crack: slightest wiggle and its out of there…

  31. Dark Horse Feb 22, 2012 at 10:01 am #

    Glad that you are ok Brian it could’ve been a lot worse, perhaps consider climbing with someone who has loads of trad experience so that they can check out your placements and give you some advice. I could be wrong, but cams, when placed properly just shouldn’t pop and definitely not 3 in a row.

  32. Ernesto Feb 22, 2012 at 11:38 am #

    Didn’t Brian start climbing trad with Clinton? Does he not count?

    But the idea is sound. Perhaps one of the tradsters could go look at the pods Brian used for his pro? We know what gear Brian used so an assesment of if the pieces seleted for the placements (assuming correct use – which I do assume) is possible.

  33. Brian Weaver Feb 22, 2012 at 11:55 am #

    I’m not a total noob. I’ve climbed 30 on gear. I’ve had quite a bit of practice. 🙂 I’ve climbed with both hector and Clinton. I feel very solid on gear and while I’m onsighting I feel secure and confident. I’ve taken many falls on pro and only had one piece pull in the past but it was marginal and I knew it wouldn’t hold when I placed it. :)I’m still psyched to trad and I wanna go for prime time direct next month.

  34. Chris F Feb 22, 2012 at 6:00 pm #

    Ouch mate! Guess that’s one life cashed, how many left? Doesn’t Witless have a bolt, or were you too high for it to hold you? Out if interest how far out from the base of the route did you land?

    Happy healing!

  35. paddy Feb 22, 2012 at 11:46 pm #

    Sounds quite similar to a fall Paul Every had on Mannenburg (a while back). He started on the route placing nuts and placed two spaced friends when he hit the crack. Paul was confident that these placements were bomber. Anyway Paul popped off the crux expecting a small fall onto a solid friend, being the second friend. This friend (ha ha) popped. This would have been ok had the lower friend held, which sadly did not happen. Paul’s rapid descent was briefly interrupted by the last nut just as he crashed through the tree at the base to give his coccyx a more than slight mugging. Paul literally crawled away from the crag. What saved Paul was that last nut.This had originally been placed lower down but was moved up to cater for the spacing to the first friend. This move was debated on the basis that the friend placement was bomber. From what I have read the two incidents are similar and it would be interesting to see if there are commonalities that point to a vulnerability.

  36. Gavin P Feb 23, 2012 at 9:01 am #

    Maybe it’s time to resuscitate that old climbing adage, “You get old climbers and you get bold climbers, but you don’t get old, bold climbers!” Take care – you are not immortal.

  37. Bruce Tomalin Feb 23, 2012 at 11:16 am #

    Most of this forum is entertaining/inspiring, but this is life-changing/saving…
    Are we going to write these incidents off to just one of those things that happens (and may kill you) or, as Paddy said, is there something here in common that we can learn from? The devil is in the detail of the placements (and maybe rope management), so Brian please don’t take offense if we keep nagging for more details. Lessons learnt here could save a life… So Paddy, all the pieces lifted (nuts and cams) except last nut. Was the crack flaring (outwards/downwards), was it a straight up crack, were the pieces extended and how? Is the commonality maybe the zipper effect? Thanks for the patience…

  38. Chris F Feb 23, 2012 at 11:35 am #


    Thanks for your comment, Paul E decking at Toon Town was the first thing I thought of when I read this, I just couldn’t remember the route name. is his “shit route” grafitti scratched at the bottom of the route still there?

  39. Guy Paterson-Jones Feb 23, 2012 at 5:23 pm #

    Hectic dude. Glad you made it out fine, climb safe.

  40. paddy Feb 23, 2012 at 9:29 pm #

    Hey Chris, not sure about Paul’s art work.The last time I was at Toon Town was when Paul crawled out. Bruce, also not sure about the nature of Mannenberg’s crack – I was just belaying. What is definite is that Paul was sure about the friend placements and tested them. In fact he gave them really good janks. Paul was also a very competent climber so the friends were likely placed properly. As belayer the set up of the friends did not worry me. My suspicion is that the Mannenberg crack may flare. If so then maybe it says something about the grainy nature of Boven rock. By the way only friends popped.

  41. Gustav Feb 24, 2012 at 12:55 pm #

    I am surprised nobody asked yet what thickness of rope was used.

    What thickness of rope did you use?

  42. Chris F Feb 24, 2012 at 3:54 pm #


    I am wondering about the slightly gritty nature of the rock as well. It probably doesn’t get noticed that much when sport climbing as the outer faces are much more exposed to the elements so it is less of an issue, and where it is an issue the surface can be cleaned of the gritty layer, revealing better rock beneath. Cracks are another matter though, as it’s hard to see exactly what the surface is like inside the cracks, especially on lead, and on routes that aren’t climbed regularly. This combined with the flaring of the cracks may well be a significant contribution to the gear ripping. Have there been any further incidents of cams ripping at Boven, as well leader falls where they have held? My trad leads at Boven I could probably count on one hand! Used to leave scaring the crap out of myself to Magalies climbing. be intersting to see what marks are left on the rock after this incident too.

  43. GavinP Feb 24, 2012 at 5:13 pm #

    If Brian’s gear was correctly placed, as it presumably was, yet it still unzipped from the flaring cracks when he fell, then one presumes that a similar fate is likely to await anyone else who falls and has protected the route in a similar way. One must conclude that there is either a better way to arrange the gear or that this line is a potential death route.

    I’m not expert on placing cams and simply picked up the basics from my more experienced partners. However, I would virtually never clip a cam, even one with its own short sling, straight onto the rope – I would always add an “open” sling (not a quick draw) of an appropriate length, even if it was only a 10 cm sling. This protects the cam from rotating from its ideal position, either due to rope drag as you climb, or due to the forces generated by a fall. Also, btw, if the belayer is sitting down comfortably some metres away from the base of the route, this can also increase the risk of unzipping from the bottom up in the event of a fall. I always like to see my belayer right up against the rock, directly below the first piece of gear. Sorry if I am taking coals to Newcastle.

  44. Snort Feb 29, 2012 at 10:07 pm #

    There is something called the 10 000 hour rule. If you ain;t done your 10000 hours then you are not proficient. The last time I had a cam pop was on “Where do you think you are going” 25 on my on-sight attempt some 25 years ago in the Magaliesberg. And since then I have fallen on many.

    Done my 10 000 hrs since then.

    Methinks Brian has seen his last cam pop unexpectedly….

    Brian, and Warren, no matter how you describe the situation, there was something flawed in the system that probably would not have happened if you were more experienced.

    What you endured was a great experience and I am sure you will learn from it but there is no way that you can imply that your placements were flawless and that cams just simply zipper when well placed. Not so.

  45. Snort Feb 29, 2012 at 10:10 pm #

    I was climbing with Willem Le Roux at Yellowwood and also places a cam in s slippery flared crack but the cam was an offset and fitted perfectly. I took a leader fall on a nut higher up and the cam swiveled and came out. I was not surprised really….

  46. shorti Mar 1, 2012 at 10:17 am #

    I agree with Snort. I don’t actually know how many hours I’ve spent placing gear, but I sometimes take so long on a lead, that I might actually be close 🙂 What I’ve learned is that people say bomber WAY too easily. I haven’t fallen in a long time, but I’ve placed many pieces that I knew were sketchy. I’ve pulled 4 cams and I knew all of them were bad. 3 in one big fall, the other while aiding through an impossible for me to free roof. Incidentally Brian also popped that same cam placement a few weeks later if I remember correctly (Twist & Shout). Cams placed in flaring cracks or smooth rock are never to be considered bomber in my books. I’ve fallen on cams that I’m convinced would have popped if I had not extended them. Even when it is in a straight line it can help keep them from swivelling out of place. I’ve never popped a hex 😀

  47. shorti Mar 1, 2012 at 10:33 am #

    Back to Brian’s fall. I’ll venture a guess (a good one I think) that the bottom two cams have already swivelled out of place before the top cam popped. The top cam might also have swivelled when you climbed passed it or that moment just before you put downward force on it. The initial force was likely outward before moving down – depending on how far past it you’ve fallen off course. Short falls are bad for that sort of thing. All just educated guesses off course.

  48. Warren G Mar 2, 2012 at 1:24 pm #

    The only piece that didn’t pull was the first placement, a small nut that took some convincing to get out. like I say, the top piece pulled me forward- until it poped, then i fell backwards as the remaining gear zipped. i was about 1.2 meters from directly underneath the first piece, which was close to 3m off the deck.

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