Off-route rappel and stuck rope, stranding a party overnight
October 2016: A party of three climbed the classic link-up “Serenity and Sons”— the three-pitch Serenity Crack (5.10d) into Sons of Yesterday, a six-pitch 5.10b. After a successful ascent, the trio began to rap Sons with two 70-meter ropes. The climbers skipped an intermediate station, a bolted belay on the first pitch of Sons, to try to reach the final anchor atop Serenity Crack. This forces the climber, once near the ends of her rope, to tension hard right along a blank face to avoid a dangerous pendulum around a large corner out left. Two of the climbers tensioned right and reached the anchors atop
Serenity Crack. However, once the second arrived, clipped in direct, and removed his device from the rope, he let go of the rope and it swung back in line with the top anchor—and more importantly, out of reach.
The third climber, also the least experienced of the three, began the rappel. Near the bottom, he lost his footing, succumbed to the pendulum, and swung around the massive corner. Multiple such incidences have occurred at this location, sometimes injuring the party. Fortunately, this climber was unhurt. Once he’d stopped swinging, he decided to continue rapping—straight down to the nearest ledges where there was another anchor, separating himself from his party out of sight around the corner. He then pulled the ropes; however, the cords got stuck. Unable to extricate themselves, the climbers first called friends for a rescue, but they were hesitant to come due to afternoon rain and impending darkness (nice friends!). Later that evening, the trio contacted YOSAR.
Via phone, YOSAR instructed the third climber to fix one end of the rope, prusik up the other end, unstick the rope, then rap back to the ledge, unfix the rope, and ascend both strands up and around the corner to reunite with his friends. Due to his inexperience, the dark, and the rain, he was unwilling to fix the situation: He ascended only a couple feet up the rope before giving up ( see illustration, pp.
44–45). The following morning, YOSAR arrived and found the climbers safe on the ground (the party had not called with an update). In the end, their friends had come to help a few hours before YOSAR.
Analysis and Prevention
Never let the rope linger out of reach once you clip into an anchor and go off rappel. You can thread one strand—the side with the knot—through the next anchor to set up for the next rap or clove-hitch a rope end to yourself or the anchor. This will prevent you from getting stranded and guide the top climber to you if you’re rapping through traversing or overhanging terrain.
Gather information beforehand for best methods of descent. Understand when it might be safer to use an intermediate anchor even though the ropes can reach one lower down— more short rappels might be safer than fewer long ones. Also, look at the anchors you’re attempting to reach and assess the angle you’re about to create with the ropes: Is it safe? Is it worth the risk? What would happen to you or your ropes if you took the swing?
Self-Rescue: The numberone factor preventing many climbers from initiating a selfrescue is fear. Practicing and mastering skills before getting off the ground is vital. The climber had never prusiked and didn’t feel comfortable learning in the dark and in the rain. Although YOSAR instructed him, he instead chose to spend a miserable night out.
Self-rescue skills to master before leaving the ground: • Escape the belay • Ascend a rope with prusiks • Buddy rappel.