John Long Injured In Gym Fall

Shit:

Climbing’s best-known author, pioneer and original Stonemaster, John Long was seriously injured on November 29 at the Rockreation climbing gym in Los Angeles when his bowline came untied and he fell feet to the floor, suffering a compound fracture to his lower left leg/ankle.

Before everyone starts decrying his use of a bowline — although there is certainly merit to the argument against using one — this is not the first instance I’ve heard recently where a climber decked from not finishing their knot, bowline or otherwise.  It bears repeating that no matter who you are and no matter how long you’ve been climbing, you can never double-check yourself and your partners enough before leaving the ground.

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29 Responses to John Long Injured In Gym Fall

  1. Philly Cheese December 11, 2012 at 10:04 am #

    Over the years I have really enjoyed reading John Long’s numerous articles and books on climbing. I wish Mr. Long only the best as well as a speedy recovery. Will be happy when he’ll be back on the rock.

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  2. Con Short December 11, 2012 at 8:38 pm #

    First off his bowline didn’t come untied…He didn’t finish the knot. Which I might point out he has done before in the same gym. John Long is a story teller. He has had a very short “climbing career” and in all honesty many of the original stonemasters are still out there staying fit and climbing. Not spinning stories of the good old days. I’m sorry to point this out to most but the guys we should be reading about are under the radar because they chose to just get on with things and go climbing. John is a good writer and he does indeed write a good fictional account of many of his climbing ascents. You don’t really need to scratch the surface that deeply to find out many of his stories..are just that…Stories.

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    • bob banks December 12, 2012 at 12:27 pm #

      So after clarifying that he didn’t finish his knot, which is true, what was the point of the rest of your post, other than to be a redacted?

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    • Kat December 12, 2012 at 8:12 pm #

      And who are you? How come you’re special enough to know this “insider” scoop on John Long? What have you done? I’m sorry, but your comment just comes off as pretentious and you cite no sources for your claims.

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    • mcclendonp December 13, 2012 at 12:48 am #

      You’re a douche bag.

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    • Bill Morris January 10, 2013 at 3:39 am #

      To Con.. hmm.. He has made a living out of his stories, which are, quite entertaining, have some historical value, and are well written. He also has ascents that most people who have been around have heard of and have a respect for.. Have you? hmm.. in fact how old are you? Either you are so young you weren’t around when he was hanging and sending with some of the best, or you were and never capitalized on your successes and are just plain jealous. I’ve been climbing for nearly forty years and a professional guide for more than 27, and and I know lots of people in lots of places that appreciate Largo, that don’t even know him personally. Can you say the same about your life? Sounds to me like you’re whining between the lines you’re writing to criticize him.
      You are right.. there are always guy under the radar doing incredible stuff that is noteworthy. John’s experiences don’t compete with or overshadow their accomplishments in any way so whats your point? hmmm..
      One of these days, you will be an age where your reactions will be fading , your stamina and power waning, and your will to push the envelope ( if you ever could),
      will be at its end. THEN dish out the “words of wisdom” by living by your own words- keep your mouth shut and your pen on the table. Bill Morris

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    • tonkabodhi February 9, 2013 at 8:05 pm #

      Con Short – So, you cannot read OR climb…got it.

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  3. Kevin December 11, 2012 at 11:34 pm #

    As a guy who uses a bowline (outside, I respect that basically every gym I’ve ever been to doesn’t allow them), I have pretty mixed feelings. If someone forgets to retrace his figure 8, it’s a tragedy. If a person forgets to finish his bowline, OMG WHY WERE YOU TYING A BOWLINE?! Not sure I understand where that hate is coming from.

    That said, I’ve never taught anyone else to use a bowline. I recognize that the figure 8 is much easier to remember and especially to check.

    But I’ve tied the knot hundreds of times. I’m definitely not going to forget how to tie it. I also think, at least for myself, I’ve got a much better chance of not finishing a figure 8 than a bowline. If you don’t finish the bowline it, well, doesn’t even look like a knot, it would fall apart totally. If you don’t retrace the 8, it definitely looks and feels like a knot. I’m curious to know how John didn’t “finish his knot,” if it was just that he forgot a backup knot or was only midway through tying it? For the record, in lieu of a backup knot, when I tie a double bowline, I go through my harness a second time and retrace the bowline again, similar to a yosemite backup.

    Now I’m off on a tangent. But all THAT said, I’ll just add one last thing:

    I have a policy of never, ever letting anyone distract me in any way while I’m tying a knot. If someone’s talking to me while I’m tying it, I probably don’t hear a word they’re saying–if it’s important they can repeat it. The alternative is tying half your knot, getting interrupted by a stupid story about a sandwich, then forgetting to finish it. Never stop in the middle of tying in for anything! And like Narc said, both people should be checking each other, always!

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    • chris December 12, 2012 at 6:06 am #

      The uproar is because we have two options for tying into our harness — the bowline and a retrace 8.

      The bowline, though used by a small number of climbers, seems to be associated with a disproportionate number of ‘came untied’ accidents, for whatever reason. So we can make a reasonable conclusion that many of the accidents in question may have been avoidable.

      Also, most people would probably say that the retrace-8 is more immediately check-able due to its symmetry. The bowline lacks that. Plus, so many people are not familiar with it that they probably can’t do a decent inspection without some training.

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      • Kevin December 12, 2012 at 2:35 pm #

        Is it really a disproportionate number? It seems to me like when there’s a bowline accident, the dissenters are just disproportionately loud about it.

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      • Zack R. December 20, 2012 at 5:27 pm #

        “used by a small number of climbers” – everyone I know ties in with a bowline

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  4. zach December 12, 2012 at 12:19 pm #

    Personally I use a bowline for the most part when I’m climbing outside, but as a climbing gym employee, I teach the figure 8 as the most redundantly safe way of tying in while climbing indoors. The main reason for this is the knots symmetry, and from the safety perspective that it is fairly easy to look up at a climber 40ft in the air and tell that their figure 8 is tied correctly, but a bowline simply looks like a jumble of rope and I have to trust that they tied it right and wait until they are back on the ground to check. In gyms, almost every accident comes down to user error and people not doing their safety checks, and I wish more people would follow the example of not trying to have a conversation while preparing to climb. We have had people not follow their figure-8s back through, people forgetting to clip into auto-belays, and both partners hooking up as the belayer, and when the climbing falls or let’s go at the top, the fall and get seriously injured. I have this argument with customers occasionally and they all try to argue that the figure eight is too hard to undo after a fall, and that they will never mess up their bowline, which I generally agree with them on, as most climbers tying in with a bowline in my experiences are fairly experienced climbers. But the misfortune of experienced climbers like John Long and Lynn Hill should serve as deterrent enough. Unfortunately one of the biggest things I have learned about climbing gyms is that they breed complacency and many people do not take the safety aspect as seriously in the gym as they do outside. Hopefully climbers of all levels can learn a lesson from this unfortunate incident.

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    • Kevin December 12, 2012 at 2:32 pm #

      Checking your partner’s knot while he’s 40ft in the air is about 40ft too late.

      And not that it really matters, but Lynn Hill’s accident was due to not finishing her 8.

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  5. JRock December 12, 2012 at 1:10 pm #

    The Bowline…Not John Long Approved!! Not solid. Not redundant. Not equalized. And there was certainly extension…..

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  6. Rl December 12, 2012 at 7:49 pm #

    I think Zach meant checking people climbing in the gym he works at.. Staff in the climbing gym cant check everyone before they leave the ground.

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    • zach December 12, 2012 at 10:07 pm #

      Thanks, I should have cleared that up. It’s surprisingly easy to look at someone’s figure 8- knot from the ground and know that something isn’t right.

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  7. ronnance December 13, 2012 at 6:56 pm #

    This comment may sound crass, but that isn’t my intention. One of my favorite aspects of climbing is individual responsibility. Sometimes you screw up and get off easy, but most times the consequence is painful or deadly. I like that. It keeps one honest, focused, and self-reliant. It’s a bummer when anyone gets hurt, and I haven’t read anything that implies John Long didn’t take full responsibility for the consequence. I have, however, noticed a slight trend of the ‘blame someone or something or anything other than oneself’ cultural norm creeping into the climbing world. After I nearly decked on my longest whipper ever, several folks said things to me like, “Bro, your belayer had way too much rope out. That was a terrible catch; you shouldn’t have fallen so far. Etc.” To which I replied, “I’m the one that chose to let him belay me.” I also thanked my belayer for keeping me off the deck and bought him dinner. Climbing usually exacts a heavy price for poor decisions and oversights, and that’s one of the reasons I love it.

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    • joeyjoejoe December 13, 2012 at 11:03 pm #

      Not crass. Great comment.

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  8. John Liungman December 14, 2012 at 1:49 pm #

    Have to agree with Ronnance. To continue on the same track, I object to gyms telling experienced climbers not to tie in using the bowline “because it might encourage beginners to try it”. I find this to be an attitude that goes against my principle of life-long learning. People should be allowed – even encouraged – to develop new skills and try new techniques. The bowline (the correct one) is not that hard to learn, or inspect. As a sailor, I´ve been tying it in my sleep since age 12. It´s all about whether we encourage learning and development, or stick with what we were taught on day 1.

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  9. Colin December 14, 2012 at 6:24 pm #

    Ronnance’s post is…confusing. Yeah, I’m all aboard with the personal responsibility stuff, but now we’re taking our belayers out to dinner as thanks for an awful catch? What?

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  10. ronnance December 16, 2012 at 5:33 pm #

    I just added the personal anecdote to point out that several climbers were quick to blame my belayer for my long whipper. I blamed myself. I chose to let a not so experienced belayer give me a catch on a slightly wet route at the end of the day. My poor decision was at fault. Anyway, I agree that it isn’t the best example for the point I was trying to make. My point was that the climber is ultimately responsible for her or his fate. That point of view is somewhat in contrast with a lot of societal messages. I’m not trying to defend the bowline, or suggesting climbers should overlook safety concerns. I just like that climbers tend to take personal accountability for accidents. If climbing were completely safe it wouldn’t really be climbing. The danger, and the typically severe consequences for screwing up, are what makes it more than just a sport.

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  11. Michael Touchette December 20, 2012 at 4:39 pm #

    I hear ya, i have been using a bowline since childhood. And yes you must always dble back and I always end with a stop knot… Best wishes John, have always loved your stories.

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  12. Regan December 23, 2012 at 3:43 pm #

    I’ve also been climbing on a bowline for 15 years, as do most of the better climbers I know. It’s not a rare thing. If I ever use a figure 8 it is usually on a brand new rope where I’m expecting to take a big whip, so purely pschological.

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  13. Kevin G December 26, 2012 at 1:35 pm #

    Bowline or 8 doesn’t really matter.

    If you and your partner are not checking each other it only takes one mistake.

    Some general rules I try to follow:

    1. I don’t talk to people why I tie-in. (My social life suffers)
    2. Ask my belayer to check it, and recheck it myself. Also, double check their belay.

    In regards to rule 1 – it is not that I have difficulty tying in – I’ve been climbing almost 20 years with several climbing related jobs. I just find that talking is a distraction.

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  14. Jeffrey Dopp March 8, 2013 at 3:25 pm #

    So how is John doing anyway?

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  15. bob perkins May 29, 2013 at 10:20 am #

    I need to get a hold of Long somehow…via email. Does anyone have that …

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  16. Nicola June 19, 2013 at 10:48 am #

    Does anyone happen to know how to contact John Long? I am searching for him to conduct an interview for a documentary. I also happen to be searching for Jim Bridwell, in case anyone knows how to contact him as well.

    Thanks!

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  17. Gale July 15, 2013 at 6:54 pm #

    Ah, y’all know John could still outclimb and out write and out knot the pants off ya! Hope you’re healing as fast as after that skateboard fracture, Largo! Bo Peep

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  18. Richard Watson October 29, 2013 at 11:16 pm #

    I now know of five climbers who got hurt or killed because they did not finish a knot. I can surmise from reading comments on this oversight that this has happened many more times. When you have a figure eight follow thru that is not finished, the rope is still running through the harness. If you were distracted and then forget to double check the knot, the rope is still in your harness and it’s not hard to imagine that you then start the climb unaware of the danger. To avoid this possibility, when top rope climbing I clip into a self locking biner with a figure eight on a bight. It is much simpler, easy to see and check, and avoids the all too human error of assuming your knot is good just because the rope is running through the harness.

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