My latest book The Undercover Scientist
and its US version Why Sh*t
still generating some of my most diverse interactions ever... Yesterday a Dutch journalist
up to ask on behalf of her readers why shoes fly off the victims of car accidents. I did my
explain the effect of different forces generated by such an impact. Today a reader has sent
extraordinary story of continuous mishaps (which makes the "chain of accidents" narrative
book seem positively mild). It's so long I need to put it into two parts, so this is the first
Dear Dr. Bentley,
I thought you might be amused by this episode that
happened to a
fellow with whom, in a group of about a dozen, I went on a climbing weekend in the Sierra
Nevada of California in about 1954. About a dozen of us, mostly students from Berkeley,
the Eastern Sierra to climb in a granitic ridge called the Sawtooth Ridge. Close to the cars
the trail to travel cross-country in the open forest at this relatively high elevation (ca.
soon had to ford a substantial little river over a long downed tree. This fellow, very eager
gungho, volunteered to go over in his underwear and set a handline. Everybody crossed with
large packs successfully and he got dressed, put on his own pack, untied the rope, balanced
halfway across and predictably fell into the deepest part, though holding on to the rope to
pulled out (accompanied by hearty guffaws).
Steaming halfway up the terrain to the ridge, we stopped at a
clear, inviting mountain stream (just short of the first snowfields), into which he jumped
testing the temperature and virtually "levitated" out of with loud screams.
We arrived at a suitable camp site early in the afternoon and
proceeded to practice self arrest and roped arrest on snow, something Californians at that
were sorely deficient in. Despite warnings about the lay of the rope around the planted ice
managed to give it a double loop or crossed the rope on the shaft with the result that his
sliding rapidly down the steep practice slope, was stopped jarringly, with the ice ax flying
the snow in two pieces and the "weight" having some bruised ribs.
We returned to camp to make dinner. In front of my eyes he
to the edge of the creek to get water, ignored the possible corniced edge of the snow cover
promptly fell through the cornice into the creek.
The next morning we set off to climb the "Doodad", a peak
large rectangular block sitting on the summit ridge. I volunteered to run back to camp to
somebody's left-behind rope and was coming up in the brilliant morning sun behind the
now ascending a steep snow couloir toward a notch in the ridge adjacent to the Doodad.
fellow had no ice ax and had been holding forth how his piton hammer with a long claw
service instead. No sooner said, than he fell and descended the harsh neveé slope at a good
frantically digging in his ineffectual piton hammer. Having neglected to wear gloves, he
at the bottom with thoroughly abraded and bleeding hands.