/ Falling rocks?

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mbrookes on 18 Apr 2019

Blacknor North

We were here on Monday late afternoon (15/4/2019). Having been frozen in the 2 deg C windchill at The Cuttings the previous day, and only marginally better in Dungecroft Quarry earlier in the afternoon, it was a relief to find a sheltered spot that also benefitted from the hazy afternoon sun.

As my daughter's boyfriend progressed up the route (7th clip or so?), a small rock hit the ground a couple of meters to the right and behind where my daughter was belaying.

At first I thought it might simply have been kicked or flicked off the route, until 15 or so seconds later, another came down, and it was clear it was not from the climber. These were large enough to take an eye out, or give a serious head injury. Now thinking it might be deliberate, I whistled loudly up the cliff and shouted "STOP", but to no avail.

The next was bigger, and the one following large enough to be fatal (a piece with roughly 2-3 inch sides, by 1/2 inch thick.

There was a rhythm to the rocks arrival, with a clear pause between each. Then they stopped. I'm no geologist, but this didn't feel like a natural rockfall. My guess was that someone was "innocently" tossing or kicking rocks from the path along the cliff edge above, not considering the possibility of people below.

Needless to say, I had the climber abandon the climb, tether and clear down, while we took shelter closer to the cliff. As we were packing up to move, perhaps ten minutes later, one more (this time smaller) rock came down. Then no more before we finally left.

Could someone more knowledgable tell me whether this sounds like a natural event? Does a limestone rock face cleave off small parts at regular intervals like that?

Post edited at 02:21
profitofdoom on 18 Apr 2019
In reply to mbrookes:

> Could someone more knowledgable tell me whether this sounds like a natural event? Does a limestone rock face cleave off small parts at regular intervals like that?

I've been a limestone regular all over for decades and have NEVER experienced rockfall on UK limestone, others have different experiences no doubt, but that's my story. So to me no, it doesn't sound "like a natural event". But I have several times experienced rocks and other stuff lobbed down by idiot non-climbers, so no surprise in your story to me

pass and peak - on 18 Apr 2019
In reply to mbrookes:

May I encourage you to report this on the new BMC incident reporting system, https://www.thebmc.co.uk/modules/incident-reporting/ as this type of thing is becoming more regular in my opinion! Glad your daughter and co escaped without been injured!

M

TobyA on 18 Apr 2019
In reply to profitofdoom:

This sounds odd, but big bits of cliff of Portland have collapsed naturally. So it's not as if it's not possible for naturally occurring rockfall to happen.

Are there sheep or goats on Portland? They can cause little bits of rock to fall as the graze in crazy places.

Dandan - on 18 Apr 2019
In reply to TobyA:

There are no free-roaming livestock on Portland, the only thing directly above Blacknor North is a footpath right near the edge so I would almost guarantee this was someone flinging rocks off the edge. 

It may have been completely innocent, it seems a lot of locals have no idea that the base of those cliffs are often occupied by climbers. I certainly like to hope that is the case and that the person who throws their bagged dog poop off that spot daily is also just ignorant and not malicious.

I'm surprised a shout and a whistle didn't get them to stop though, that has worked for me at Cheyne Weares before.

jimtitt - on 18 Apr 2019
In reply to mbrookes:

Rabbits.

johnl - on 18 Apr 2019
In reply to jimtitt:

> Rabbits.


You can't say that, it's Portland.

johnl - on 18 Apr 2019
In reply to mbrookes:

Stones thrown off the cliffs at Blacknor is a regular event, I've even had parents encouraging their youngsters to throw stones off when we have been visibly moving about below.

Sofas, motorbikes, fridges and hay bales are also known hazards.

Jon Greengrass on 18 Apr 2019
In reply to mbrookes:

As soon as it became apparent that the rockfall was unlikely to be natural, I would be leaving the crag and calling the police as soon as I had a phone signal.

Ever since a near miss I've always worn a helmet at Portland and wouldn't climb with a belayer who didn't have one on either.

owlart - on 18 Apr 2019
In reply to mbrookes:

One visit to The Cuttings we had similar rockfall. Looking up, there was a Magpie strutting back and forth along the top casually knocking off stones as it went! I got hit on the bridge of my nose and thought it had broken it, but luckily just a scrape and bit of a bruise. I'm glad I was wearing a helmet.

Gerry on 18 Apr 2019
In reply to mbrookes:

Many years ago, before bolts, the sledgehammer we left by the stake atop Blacknor came flying over. All those old bits of car and bike didn't get to the bottom without help either.

mbrookes on 18 Apr 2019
In reply to pass and peak:

> May I encourage you to report this on the new BMC incident reporting system

Thank you, yes, that was what I was leading up to. I didn't want to report something that could otherwise be explained as a natural phenomenon.

Post edited at 13:01
mbrookes on 18 Apr 2019
In reply to Jon Greengrass:

> Ever since a near miss I've always worn a helmet at Portland

As I said to my daughter afterwards "and that's why you wear a tin can". When I had suggested helmets previously, she said "no-one wears helmets sports climbing". Funnily enough the two climbers next to us, the only others on the crag at that point, were both wearing helmets.

An investment will be made.

mbrookes on 18 Apr 2019
In reply to johnl:

> Stones thrown off the cliffs at Blacknor is a regular event

In that case I would like to suggest signs at intervals along the cliff edge, and would be happy to contribute to the cost. I have no idea if the BMC would be willing to undertake such an initiative though.

> Sofas, motorbikes, fridges and hay bales are also known hazards.

That's horrifying!

Post edited at 13:12
mbrookes on 18 Apr 2019
In reply to owlart:

> there was a Magpie strutting back and forth along the top casually knocking off stones as it went!

Interesting. I could perhaps see that for the smaller stones, but not the largest couple.


> , but luckily just a scrape and bit of a bruise. I'm glad I was wearing a helmet.

Glad you were okay, but it's a reminder that even helmets can't prevent all risk of injury from items falling from above, especially when looking up, as a belayer must.

fred99 - on 18 Apr 2019
In reply to mbrookes:

> > Stones thrown off the cliffs at Blacknor is a regular event

> In that case I would like to suggest signs at intervals along the cliff edge, and would be happy to contribute to the cost. I have no idea if the BMC would be willing to undertake such an initiative though.

> > Sofas, motorbikes, fridges and hay bales are also known hazards.

Perhaps any such sign should state that culprits may well be liable for criminal prosecution for either Murder or Attempted Murder, or at the very least Assault With A Deadly Weapon.

Perhaps the Police locally should start with such offences whenever culprits are caught.

Duncan Bourne - on 18 Apr 2019
In reply to profitofdoom:

It doesn't sound like a natural event to me either.

But re: falling limestone. I still keep in my car the brick sized lump that belted my new helmet in Dovedale whilst climbing. I use it to hammer in tent pegs and as a reminder to wear a helmet

mbrookes on 18 Apr 2019
In reply to fred99:

> Perhaps any such sign should state that culprits may well be liable for criminal prosecution

Having a sign notifying visitors of the path / climbers below would certainly remove the possibility that throwing items over the edge was innocent, and make it somewhat equivalent to throwing rocks from a footbridge or overpass onto a motorway below.

> for either Murder or Attempted Murder

"Offenders will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law" is a nice catch-all that would reinforce the gravity (ho ho) of disregarding the warning.

Sean Kelly - on 18 Apr 2019
In reply to mbrookes:

Gearing up below Levitation at Low Man two weeks ago and a litre bottle of water was dropped from the sky and actually hit my partner a glancing blow on the back. It was over half full and had fallen over 150 feet. There was quite an audible thud as it hit the ground. We climbed the route and as I was making my way off the summit some dozy tourist asked if I had seen his bottle of Buxton spring water as it had fallen out of his pocket. No I can't quite work that one out either. He actually descended the whole way to the bottom of the crag to retrieve his water-bomb! He didn't seem at all concerned that he nearly killed someone. Luckily we both had helmets on our heads. Beggars belief!

Kevster - on 18 Apr 2019
In reply to mbrookes:

Missiles and other debris have been a regular occurrence on portland for decades. If anything, I'd suggest it's not so bad as it has been in the past. Though I also climbed more in the past.

If it's any help, I find Avon worse. 

Probably should say, I like climbing at both portland and Avon.  Just for balance. 

Post edited at 21:21
profitofdoom on 19 Apr 2019
In reply to Duncan Bourne:

> It doesn't sound like a natural event to me either. > But re: falling limestone. I still keep in my car the brick sized lump that belted my new helmet in Dovedale whilst climbing. I use it to hammer in tent pegs and as a reminder to wear a helmet

Interesting to hear of natural rockfall on limestone on this thread - it's just never happened to me in decades, as I said - just lucky, I think. I've had worse on Dinas Mot where a really giant boulder came whirring down and just smashed into the scree not far from us - we looked up and it clearly hadn't been loosened/ pushed by climbers (of course)

atthedropofahat on 19 Apr 2019
In reply to profitofdoom:

Really? I've seen rockfall and evidence of recent rockfall in all UK limestone climbing areas. And having climbed limestone in the dolomites it's also common there too. Surely if you want solid rock you head to the gritstone?

captain paranoia - on 19 Apr 2019
In reply to mbrookes:

The tops of a number of areas on Portland are friable stuff (an example of the differing quality of the various geological strata; there's a good reason why the vertical cliffs are topped by sloping areas, and why quarries dig down through overburden to get at the good stuff), and do fall naturally. A mate of mine pulled a brick-sized lump off a route at Cheyne Weares. They're sea cliffs, and are constantly being eroded.

That's not to say that falling rocks are exclusively natural; I stopped a kid chucking rocks off the top at Swanage, explaining to him that he couldn't see where they would land, and there might be people below.

Post edited at 10:49
mbrookes on 19 Apr 2019
In reply to captain paranoia:

> They're sea cliffs, and are constantly being eroded.

I hadn't discount the possibility that it was natural. It was a windy day, blowing off the top of the cliff on that side of the island (hence sheltered for climbing) below. 

However, I would have expected one rock, or a bunch together, rather than one at a time. Also they didn't rattle down the crag, they sailed down (but perhaps that's normal?). Together this made me question whether this was likely to have been a natural event.

I'm still not 100% sure, but helmets will be acquired in any case - the outcome would have been the same if one of them had struck, regardless of the cause.

Fakey Rocks - on 22 Apr 2019
In reply to mbrookes:

I think along the top of much of Portland it is pretty loose, sandy, stoney, soily + potentially loose stuff, some parts worse than others. It's pretty clear to see if you try peak a bit higher than the lower offs. 

Wet rainy weather erodes soil away from stones so one day they tumble, small mammals, rodents and wabb#*% ... those furry thingies with white sticky up tails, crows , seagulls, kestrels, etc, are occasionally moving around, corvids in particular may not have thrown the larger stones but could easily be manouvering them to pull out a tasty morsel. They don't care who is below. But even without the wildlife, and rain erosion, changes in temp cause slight expansion and contraction of earth, which during long dry periods can cause the biggest rock falls. There was a quite large one reported last year near Pregnant Pause area, which is Blacknor.

Climbers can pull some fairly hefty brick sized holds off unexpectedly too. 

Best to expect occasional falling rocks at all crags.

Greenbanks - on 22 Apr 2019
In reply to Sean Kelly:

Buxton Spring? Other brands are available, surely?

olddirtydoggy - on 22 Apr 2019
In reply to mbrookes:

Had a spray of debris at Wildcat, Matlock way on some Limestone crags a good while back. There was a spray of loose material and no more after that so we are certain is was natural. What you describe sounds human or animal caused.


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