Tales from the Edge - Helmet Close Calls
Every year, we receive emails from customers whose Petzl helmets have saved them from injury or even death. By sharing some of these stories, our hope is to inspire as many people as possible to wear a helmet next time they go out — as you can see in the stories below, it might just be the best decision you'll ever make.
Click the links below to jump to a specific story, or just scroll through all the stories, below.
• Ouray Ice Fall - Jessica Rathe
• Snow Creek - Justin Skaare
• Helmet Saves the Day - Mark Beverly
• Chouinards Gulley - Anne Skidmore
• West Face of Tahu Rutum - Kyle Dempster
• Climbin' Punishment - Ross Purnell
• Saved by My Helmet! - Jonathan Lytton
• ADD YOUR HELMET STORY NOW
Ouray Ice Fall
It was super cold that morning at the ice park in Ouray and the ice was really brittle. The park was packed. We decided to warm up on top rope at an anchor in Scottish Gullies. When we got to the bottom, I tied in, checked my gear and started climbing. I was just a few moves off the ground when the climber next to me shouted "ICE!" Standard stuff, I tucked my head in and waited for the ice to fall past me. Only this time, it didn't. Next thing I knew, I got cracked in the head. Hard. I lost my grip on my tools and fell back on the rope. Being so close to the ground (and with rope stretch), I ended up dazed on the ground. It was a rush — a few people running over to make sure I was okay — and me just trying to blink my eyes back to clear vision.
We found the culprit projectile. Somehow the guy next to me had broken off an ice-covered piece of rock from the mixed climb next to me. So it was huge, hard, and heavy. We sat back away from the ice wall while I tried to figure out if I was actually okay and then packed up and took off for the day.
I am absolutely confident with the damage that my helmet sustained that I would not have survived being hit in the head with something that size, at that speed. I'm a huge believer in brain-buckets now. Thank you for keeping my head intact! The helmet certainly did its job.
- Jessica Rathe
I was climbing a route called Snow Creek on the north face of Mount San Jacinto, which towers above Palm Springs, California. "The North Face represents one of the longest alpine ascents in the lower 48," reads an article in Palm Springs Life. "While big climbs in the Cascades call for a 5,000-foot elevation gain, San Jacinto tests climbers with a grueling 10,000-foot gain."
The climb is normally Class 4 to lower Class 5; during the winter it requires crampons and an ice axe above 5,000 feet. My partner and I didn't bring pro, as we didn't think we need it. Unfortunately, this year was a particularly low snow year, and where normally there would just be ice axe and crampon terrain, there were exposed rock waterfalls.
Unfortunately, we made a route-finding error that forced us to retreat from the climb. While downclimbing, I missed a small toehold and tumbled 50 feet down an incline. I cartwheeled and bounced off my helmet and bashed my right thigh, causing a hematoma to form. From there we had 12 hours of Class 3 scrambling and bushwacking back to the car. I was losing blood into my thigh and through my mouth and hand, and it was difficult to walk on my left leg. Normally, we would have camped, but we were both afraid that if we stopped, I wouldn't be able to walk the next day, which proved to be the case. Thank god for my headlamp (also Petzl) as most of our exit was done in the dark.
A grueling 12 hours later, we made it to the car, and 12 hours after that, I was in an ER, where I received two blood transfusions, an IV, and pain medication. I spent the next three nights recovering in the hospital. Half a dozen doctors told me how lucky I was to have been wearing a helmet, and I don’t like to think about what would have happened had I not been. Thanks Petzl, your gear saved my life.
- Justin Skaare
Helmet Saves the Day
Recently, I was guiding a trip into a very remote part of the San Juan Mountains of Southwest Colorado, on some peaks that see very few ascents. When packing for alpine trips it’s always a conundrum to decide what to bring to what to leave behind when it comes to weight and bulk. I sometimes wonder if I can get by without a helmet and save the trouble of having the unwieldy beast flapping around on the outside of my pack or taking up valuable space inside the pack.
But the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) reminds mountain guides to always act professionally. That’s what I thought about when I packed my helmet for the long approach. I thought about it again when I took a shot to the head by a rogue rock while climbing up a loose approach couloir to The Index. A crack in my Petzl Meteor III helmet was a minor outcome compared to what could have been a trip-ending result.
We take enough chances out there, exposing ourselves to risk on a regular basis when in the mountains. Mitigate that risk by taking the proper steps in all regards when you can. Wearing your helmet is part of that; it doesn’t take away from the fun and will ultimately help bring success without cutting corners to get there.
- Marc Beverly, AMGA Certified Rock and Alpine Guide
The route was Chouinards Gulley (WI3) in the Adirondacks. My partner was leading off to the side and was only about 30 feet up. I was tied off to a little tree at the base and thought I was safe, with a rock buttress next to me. I was belaying, and the next thing I knew I was on the ground. I wasn't knocked unconscious, but the hit was forceful enough to make my knees buckle and drop me to the ground. I stood up, shook it off, and felt the top of my now-cracked helmet. My partner and I believe that at the top of the climb, more than 200 feet above, some climbers topping out knocked a chunk of ice down. Even if they'd yelled "ice," we wouldn’t have heard it -- and perhaps it's a good thing; if I had looked up, I could have gotten it in the face. All in all, the helmet saved my noggin’.
- Anne Skidmore
West Face of Tahu Rutum
Pakistan, 2008 -- I glared at the tiny lobes of the blue Alien cam that supported my weight, knowing that if it popped, several pieces below me would follow suit. I moved like a ballerina on Valium. I cautiously committed to the next rung of my etrier, an eight-inch advance on the 4,400-foot wall that I was climbing. It was my ninth day solo on the unclimbed West Face of Tahu Rutum -- this was no place for error.
As I stood up, something gave way and I was airborne. The last thing I clearly recall was seeing the flake expand, the lobes of my blue cam release, and gear start to rip. A clean aid fall can be a cool sensation: scary, but exciting. This particular fall would have a different ring to it, though, that ring being the back of my head against the slabby rock 40 feet below my previous stance.
The pitch had some snow and ice and, so I was wearing crampons. I can’t be sure but I think they could be blamed for my inverted flop, getting hung up on some low-angle rock. I was never completely knocked out, but I did take several minutes to start moving again. When my vision finally exited the tunnel, I began assessing the damage. My left ankle and back were sore, a tooth on my left crampon had broken off, and the back of my helmet, including some of the inner foam was destroyed. I shouted some obscenities into the massive Karakoram Range, took lunch, and kept climbing.
- Kyle Dempster
Only July 3, 2010, I was leading the route Climbin’ Punishment (5.9+) at Seneca Rocks, West Virginia, one of the most popular trad climbing areas on the East Coast. The route is traditionally climbed in two or three pitches, but I was attempting to lead the entire route in a single 60-meter rope length. About 100 feet off the ground I was lie-backing the corner crack. I guess my hands slipped, because I fell headfirst and backward about 20 feet, cracking the back of my head against the wall.
Apparently I was knocked unconscious -- my belayer says I was unresponsive for 20-30 seconds -- but my Petzl Meteor helmet took the brunt of the abuse and quite frankly saved my life. Without the helmet I would most likely be dead or severely brain injured. You can see the back of the helmet is damaged and the ribbed styrofoam liner is cracked from the front to the back. Because of the helmet, I was able to regain consciousness and complete another 100-plus feet of climbing to finish the ascent. I just wanted to write and say thank you for making a fantastic product. Keep up the good work. My next helmet will certainly be a Petzl.
- Ross Purnell
Saved by My Helmet!
On August 28, 2010, I was climbing a technically easy multipitch trad route near Banff, Canada, with my partner, when I fell while leading. I don't know what caused the fall -- perhaps a hold broke, perhaps I simply slipped; that moment has been wiped from my memory -- but I plunged about 20 meters, hitting various hard obstacles on the way down and losing consciousness in the process. When I awoke, my partner phoned to arrange a helicopter rescue, and I have been recovering since, first in hospital and now at home. While I sustained fairly severe injuries, I am extremely fortunate that those comprised only scrapes, bruises, and broken bones, all of which will heal in due course.
My helmet is another story. It faired far worse than I did, as it absorbed blows from one or more of those hard objects I encountered on my sudden descent.
So, many thanks, Petzl! Your product did its job and saved my life.
- Jonathan Lytton