Climber Gets Stuck in Crack and Wins UKC Photo of the Week

© Jholder

 After his leg got stuck in a crack at Rosyth Quarry in Fife and a rescue team were called out, Jacob Holder never imagined that a photo depicting his misfortune would win the popular vote ahead of 5* mountain shots in our UKC Photo of the Week competition.

While wedging a limb in the rock can be a serious issue—with the worst outcomes ranging on a sliding scale from soiling oneself to a 127 Hours-esque self-amputation—thankfully Jacob did not require medical attention and can see the funny side.

Getting rescued from the crack  © Jholder
Getting rescued from the crack
© Jholder

In response to comments asking for more details—despite the image of ladders and high-vis jackets surrounding a climber stuck a few metres off the floor being 'worth a thousand words', as one commenter wrote—we spoke to Jacob to find out what went wrong. We also asked WideBoy Pete Whittaker for tips on how to help prevent every climber's worst nightmare. Do you know your jams from your bone locks?

The benefit to getting stuck is that you get plenty of time to scout out the route and contemplate all the mistakes you've made in life.


Jacob is 21 and has been climbing for about eighteen months. He was visiting Rosyth Quarry for the first time as part of a group of St Andrew's University Mountaineering Club members. Having successfully led Andy's Route (VD), he decided to try the classic Chemical Warfare (S), which consists of a crack that has expanded somewhat following a rockfall last year. 

'I was going for a foot jam, but the crack's quite a bit too wide for that, and my leg fell in and my right knee got stuck,' Jacob told UKC. 'The benefit to getting stuck is that you get plenty of time to scout out the route and contemplate all the mistakes you've made in life.'

Jacob attempted to free his leg using the limited handholds available, but failed to haul himself out of the crack. 

'Luckily, I had gear above me and just slowly fell onto the cam, so my weight wasn't fully on the leg, otherwise it probably wouldn't have been nearly as funny,' he said.

Over a two-hour period, Jacob's belayer Kira held his weight while their friends attempted to free him.

'Funnily enough, no-one really believed I was stuck at first, until they tried to get me out,' he said. 'One of our group climbed up to the ledge below me so I could use her hands as a footstool to get out, but because of the angle I was at, it didn't really work and was just very sore.'

The group tried setting up a top-rope with a sling attached to use as a leg loop, but that didn't work either, since pushing upwards also seemed to shift Jacob's leg sideways. 'When you can feel your bones scraping against rock, your incentive to move drops quite quickly!' he said.

Unable to help, eventually the group resorted to calling the police and asking for mountain rescue. Both the fire brigade and mountain rescue were deployed. 'They were rather confused as to where we were at first,' Jacob said. 'I don't think there have been many rescues required 5 minutes from the M90!'

The fire brigade arrived first and attempted similar extraction techniques to those that the students had tried, 'but with a ladder and a sturdy fireman instead of a rope and a fragile climber.'

Jacob was concerned that the rescuers would have to torque the rock to free his leg, and hence 'ruin the route for other people,' but fortunately there was no need.

'In the end, mountain rescue came down from the top, slapped a chest harness around me and winched me out slowly while the fire folk wiggled my leg out,' he said. 'It was very sore when we were trying to get the leg out, and I thought I was going to pass out at one point, but it was very funny apart from that! They were pretty chill about the whole situation, as soon as they worked out I wasn't losing any circulation in my leg and was cheerful, they kind of treated it as a training exercise.'

The extraction took around an hour, with some time spent explaining climbing gear to a curious fire crew. 'They were absolutely fascinated with the cams,' Jacob said. 'And, it turns out that if you ask them really nicely, a firemen will put your sock on if your foot's cold.'

But did he finish the climb?

'Funnily enough, I didn't finish the route, but I do want to go back for it at some point!' he said. 'We thought the mountain rescuers might be upset if we called ten minutes later saying "Uh... it happened again..."'

Jacob got off lightly with a sore leg, while his friend got told off by the fire brigade for soloing a Mod in Crocs. The group retreated to Tim Horton's for a hot drink after their ordeal, before laughing about 'a really funny day' in the pub later on.

And, it turns out that if you ask them really nicely, a firemen will put your sock on if your foot's cold.

Thankfully, the incident hasn't put Jacob off trad. He managed to climb the following day and also ticked his first VS last weekend. 'I'm hoping to push up to HVS soon and get comfy on VSs, with the aim of doing A Dream of White Horses in the next year or two,' he said. 'I don't know how many lessons there are to take away to be honest, other than that I will definitely be featuring in future mountain rescue talks and I will never hear the end of this from my mates!'

The response to a photo of the scene that he uploaded to UKC—unambiguously titled 'Getting rescued from the crack'—was unexpected. Votes from over 100 users resulted in a 5* rating and the coveted 'UKC Photo of the Week' title at the end of February. One week later, it finally slipped to second place behind one of Hamish Frost's professional photos taken on a 6,000m peak in Nepal.

'I just thought the situation was really funny and in terms of a legacy to leave, this is probably as good as I'll get,' he said. 'I think it's hilarious that the picture managed to do better than people going up Mont Blanc! And it is also good as a bit of a warning. The crack is perfectly leg-sized and while unlikely, I could totally see it happening to someone again in the future.'

Jacob has some advice for the next climber unfortunate enough to be consumed by a crack:

'Really focus on just staying chill. I was lucky; I was only about three metres off the ground and had folk around me to help, so it's a lot easier to stay calm, and I kind of accepted the situation about two seconds into getting stuck! But if you were on a multi-pitch or something, it would be very scary. Not moving the leg too much meant I didn't cut off circulation, which wouldn't have helped anyone.

'Basically, try to act rationally and sensibly when in a stressful situation and don't let your ego stop you from getting help or panic, making your situation worse. It's also reassuring that on (almost) any climb in the UK, mountain rescue should be able to get to you fairly quickly, and I've never met someone who was forced to become a permanent feature of a crag after getting stuck.'

How often does this happen and what should you do if you get stuck in a crack?

Crack expert and WideBoy Pete Whittaker shared his advice.

Pete Whittaker gets stuck in.  © Mari Salvesen
Pete Whittaker gets stuck in.
© Mari Salvesen

I often get asked by climbers at Crack School events about 'getting stuck in cracks', and the fear around it or how to ensure it doesn't happen. Ultimately, in a few limited cases it could be possible to get stuck. However, after over 17 years and thousands upon thousands of feet of crack climbing, I'm still yet to get a body part stuck in a crack. Here are a few tips to help prevent this:

1. Learn to identify certain sections of cracks that are just asking to be 'totally locker'. They could be incredibly V-shaped, or have weird notches, lumps and bumps which scream out for limbs to get stuck in them. In these situations, it's important to reduce the amount of passive jamming you do in that particular space (passive jamming meaning you use the rock's natural features to lock the body in place without much effort from you). Instead, focus on doing an active jam in and around this space, place the jam slightly more on the edge and avoid completely wedging your body part deep in there. Of course, this does come with experience of what those jams and features look like.

2. Relax the jam and reverse how you put it into the crack. Sounds simple, but when people think they're stuck, they probably actually aren't at all. They panic and do all the opposite things that they should do. They'll start vigorously tugging and pulling in a way that the body part has no chance of coming out from the crack. Instead, relax, calm down and reverse what you did to get the body part in there. Yes, maybe it might take a bit of a tug, but a light tug in the direction that it initially went into the crack, is far better than randomly tugging in a panic. If you start panic-tugging, the body part can swell, get bigger, and that's when you start to come across problems.

Imagine removing a stuck piece of gear: the gear is moving in the crack, but it's not quite finding its way out. Very, very rarely by forcibly tugging and pulling on it does it actually come out. You have to give it care and attention to find the right passage out between the rock's features. The same goes for your 'stuck' (which probably isn't stuck at all) jam.

3. Make yourself safe. If you really think a limb is stuck, place a piece of gear (which you probably will be able to because you're in a crack), and take the weight off that limb. If you don't take the weight off it, you can often still be slightly tensing whilst trying to get it out. Tensing it is not good. Remember, you need to relax and have a soft jam to remove it.

4. Take your shoe off. I've seen a foot get stuck in a crack once. There is a really simple solution to this: take the shoe off. Sounds simple, but again people just panic instead of being calm.

5. Get the lube out. Oh panicked, you're all swollen, you did all the wrong things and that knee is not coming out of the offwidth. Well, it's time to get lubed up. Get your mate to throw oil all over you. There's no point in stopping at just the knee, rub it into your chest, arms, back (it'll make you feel better). Don't worry, you're gonna slide right out and be able to have a laugh about it in the pub later. 

If all else fails, do as Jacob's friends did and call the police to ask for mountain rescue.

Visit the WideBoyz website and YouTube channel for more crack climbing tips and tricks.

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Filling out the incident report form after this was the highlight of my week

6 Mar

Time to dust down this classic. Worth watching to the end….

Many thanks for the "soiling oneself" video link. Can't watch it now but have saved it for later.

"Jacob is 21 and has been climbing for about eighteen months."

That's a long time to be stuck in that crack. Presumably the rescuers kept him going with regular food drops.

6 Mar

Seen that a few times before, but always worth a rewatch 🤣

I got my foot stuck in Savage Slit (Summer) (S). We’d wanted to do a quick route before going over Cairn Gorm and Ben Macdui before dropping down to Loch Avon, so I was wearing big boots and got one thoroughly stuck in the crack. I was on lead and my partner had basically no experience, it took about 15 min of painful twisting and wrenching before I freed myself. We carried on with the plan, the next day we went back to Aviemore via Cairn Toul and Braeriach and hit a distillery; in the morning the area round my Achilles heel had swollen to the size of an orange and that was the end of the planned 2 week holiday after only 2 days.

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