Liam Hutchinson started climbing around two years ago and reached a level of competency that usually takes half a decade to get to. A highly skilled BMXer in his youth, Liam always mastered the hobby he chose and surpassed most his friends in his pursuit of it.
The 27 year old, now studying an MSc in Fire and Explosion Engineering at Leeds University, has also tried his hand at downhill biking. So rock climbing seemed like a natural progression for one who likes his sports adrenaline-fuelled, where a combination of physicality and intelligence are required to succeed.
But last summer this almost came to an end when he found himself falling from just over 11 metres.
“I started climbing and couldn’t find a spot to place my gear. I kept climbing at around 5 metres because it was easy going to a spot at 11 metres. But when I got there, I pulled on a hold and it broke off. I fell backwards, 11 metres down.”
Many who take part in extreme sports describe near misses and close calls with this level of nonchalance, perhaps as a way to compartmentalise the danger. Or maybe because they know the fate of falls like this are quite literally out of their hands.
Since discovering his love for climbing in the indoor bouldering gyms of Leeds, climbing outdoors seemed like a “natural progression” and he has now travelled around the world with the sport. From the limestone of Vietnam and Thailand to world class, deep-water-solo spots in Majorca, any time he has free from studying or being with his family is best spent climbing.
His fall, however, took place on home soil.
Langcliffe Quarry in North Yorkshire is logged on the UK climbing site as offering ‘stimulating’ climbing and offers the climber, as Liam put it, with “lots of fingery holds.” But when Liam, still relatively new to trad climbing, couldn’t find the right spot to place his gear, he came unstuck.
“I felt like a dead man as I was falling. Then when I hit the ground it was onto a slope, so after the really hard impact, I started tumbling uncontrollably. I didn’t feel anything at first, but expected the pain was coming and that I was going to be hurt, potentially even paralysed. But after I laid there for a few seconds, I felt I’d gotten away with it.”
He miraculously survived the fall, despite falls from this height having previously resulted in climbers being airlifted to hospital. This month, a sixteen year old died after falling 15 metres onto a submerged rock at Kellys Falls in Australia. Fortunately, Liam had better luck.
“I’d just busted myself up with cuts and bruises and possibly fractured my wrist. I never got this checked. I’d also damaged my ear drum and couldn’t hear out of it for a couple of weeks.”
After the fall, which could have been so much worse, Liam was climbing again after an hour’s rest.
He got himself together and forced himself to do a relatively easy climb so he wouldn’t be scared to come back. “It hurt quite a lot, but was worth it. I then took 3-4 weeks off to heal up.”
Since then, Liam has continued to climb at a high level. After recently becoming a dad, however, he has stopped trad in favour of the safer alternative of sport climbing. This is where bolts are fixed into the wall rather than being placed into cracks and fissures by the climber to protect them from falls.
Despite the severity of this fall, Liam’s ‘most annoying’ climbing injury came from snapping his pully, i.e his flexor tendon on his ring finger, which has troubled him and effected his climbing for four months. A point which shows you where a climber’s priorities are and signals that Liam has no desire to stop taking part in his chosen pusuit of climbing, despite the risks.