Barry Blanchard Whips Ice Climbing; first time in 25 years


Will Note: Barry wrote this not longer after taking his first lead fall on a screw; Barry is the man on ice, it's a good read, thanks to him for letting me use it.

Barry Note: "On sober reflection I figure the climbing was hard WI 5 and that 8000lbs (seriously) cut loose."

After 25 years of ice climbing it finally happened ... today I fell onto an ice screw. It happened in Johnston Canyon this AM. Catherine and I had walked in with Finnigan -the Irish sled dog- and my beautiful wife had warmed us up leading a WI 4 pitch. My lead, I walked the halfhieght catwalk to it's north end eyeing a stout pillar up the far corner, then out a meter and a half roof to finish in the trees. I chimneyed up between rock and the pillar placing 6 screws (3 in series at the top to safeguard the hard pull through the roof). Must have been too hard because I went at it once and decided that the better way to solve the problem was to step across space to a "just" touched down pillar to the south -another good screw. I turned onto that pillar's front, tight under a one meter roof formed, like the other I'd abandoned, buy the perfect horizontal shearing of bygone pillars of substantial mass. I bridged my right foot wide to tag a 30 foot goatee that had formed over the old one meter truncation. At least one other person had climbed here. A couple of hard cranks with the left tool in the old ice top of the bygone pillar and delicate tapping with my right tool in the goatee and I got my left foot over the roof and I thought that it was over and that it hadn't actually been that hard, many good rests.

I was getting stable in order to place another screw. Tap, tap, tap with my right tool, thunck, and then a lightning strike opening the ice and running upslope from by my right tool! A hideous tearing sound like metal ripping and me thinking: "OK, here we go". A flash of 30 ft, and a number of thousands of pounds, of ice plunging away; a violent tug then me sailing sideways and down.

Absolute thunder, my back arching as the rope caught me ... softly.


"Ya, I'm ok"


Catherine lowered me and I thought that I had both tools, but when my feet hit the ground I saw that my left tool was gone and that the wristband was still closed tight around my wrist and that all 8 bar-tacks that attach it via 2 strands of 1/2 inch black webbing had blown!

I went back up with one of Catherine's tools and cleaned the pitch lowering off of one screw and a locking biner. Catherine found my left tool in the jumble of debris at the base. A small silver metal ladder lock used to hold the excess strapping against the micro biner of the "Liberty" leash was gone and 4 inches of doubled webbing had run through the 1 cm slot at the base of the micro and stoppered. My back, shoulders and abdominals took a tourquing. The fracture ran up from me for 6 feet then across the very top of the goatee for an arching 10 feet. The crown was 1&1/2 feet deep and the fracture stepped down into the old stub to a depth of 1&1/2 meters. I think that my right tool snagged in the parting ice and that pitched me into a horizontal crucifix and the weight shot through my wingspan and exploded the small ladder lock, the doubled webbing ran through the micro under pressure and hit its' end, then the bar tacks ripped in series on both sides of my wrist and I was airborne. I think that the recoil on my left tool popped it free to fall.

Catherine was lifted about 4 feet until she snapped tight to her ground anchor, slam-dancing her knee into the pillar, great things those ground anchors when ice is filling the sky. She allowed no rope to slip through her ATC.

I was caught largely by one of my 1/2 ropes (obvious from the far superior tension in that knot at my harness), I'd alternated the clipping on the way up. I was caught on Grivel's shortest "360 Ultimate" ice screw (12 cm) and a 1/2 inch Wild Things sewn spectra single runner and two Lucky carabiners. The screw was in good ice on top of the first pillar and it hadn't moved at all, no powdering of the ice below the screw at all. I estimate that the fall factor at about .5 as I came to rest in space about 10 feet above Catherine. I think that I took about a 25 foot fall on 55 feet of rope, but it may have been 30 ft on 65 or 70 ft of rope. The 1/2 rope, used properly, did a grand job. I was hoping to get through having never fallen onto a screw, c'est la dic,

I can now state from experience that it all works!

Please share this with the greater climbing world.

respectfully yours

Barry (Bubba) Blanchard