Lu­natic Fringe

Simul-rap­pelling ac­ci­dent caus­ing one fa­tal­ity and one se­ri­ous injury

Climbing - - CLINICS IN SESSION - Mi­randa Oak­ley has been climb­ing in Yosemite since 2006. Alexa Flower spends her sum­mers on YOSAR and win­ters ski pa­trolling in Colorado.

Joe and Mark were climb­ing Lu­natic

Fringe, a clas­sic sin­gle-pitch route at Reed’s Pin­na­cle. Joe led the route and re­mained at the bolted an­chor on top, 140 feet off the ground, to be­lay Mark up. They then set up to rap­pel, us­ing a sin­gle 80-me­ter rope and con­firm­ing that both sides just barely reached the ground.

The two men chose to simul- rap­pel, a tech­nique in which both climbers de­scend si­mul­ta­ne­ously on each rope strand, counter- weight­ing each other. Mark used a Gri­gri and Joe used an ATC with no hands- free backup ( e. g., a fric­tion hitch). As they rap­pelled, Joe trav­eled more quickly down the rope and was soon about 50 feet lower than his friend; he waited for Mark 15 feet off the ground on a small, slop­ing ledge. Then, as per the ac­ci­dent re­port at the web­site climb­ingyosemite. com, Joe “felt a sud­den change in the pull of the rope, the rope ‘ go­ing’ [ through his be­lay de­vice], and he started to fall.”

Joe fell 15 feet and Mark fell ap­prox­i­mately 70 feet. Af­ter the fall, Joe briefly lost con­scious­ness. Once awake, with a bro­ken leg, he crawled down the short ap­proach trail to get help. At the park­ing area, he flagged down vis­i­tors, who called 911. By the time YOSAR ar­rived, Mark was un­con­scious with no pulse.

Analysis and preven­tion Hands-free backup:

Al­ways use a hands-free backup when rap­pelling ( see Guide’s Tip,

p.40). This means cre­at­ing a fric­tion hitch with a prusik cord in con­junc­tion with your be­lay de­vice—the idea is that the prusik will “bite” down on the rope when you don’t ac­tively man­age it, ar­rest­ing a fall. Here’s one method: To tie a prusik, girth-hitch your cord around the rope at least three times. Dress it so the wraps are sit­ting neatly next to each other and not crossed. To test, clip the prusik onto the leg loop on your har­ness and weight it while still clipped into the an­chor. You can also use an au­to­block hitch: Wrap your prus­sik cord four or five times around the rope and clip both ends into your leg loop.

Avoid simul-rap­pelling:

Simul-rap­pelling is dan­ger­ous be­cause you’re re­ly­ing on your part­ner for your own safety, and vice versa. Only simul-rap­pel if nec­es­sary—say off the sum­mit of an an­chor­less spire. With a Gri­gri, Mark could only rap­pel on a sin­gle strand. To avoid any un­nec­es­sary risk, fix the rope for that per­son to de­scend on a sin­gle strand, then un­fix the rope and rap­pel both strands us­ing an ATC. In rare sit­u­a­tions where simul-rap­pelling might be use­ful, clip into each other with daisies or a sling to stay at the same level and eas­ily main­tain com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

Tie back-up knots:

Do so at both ends of the rope when rap­pelling. This would have stopped the rope from spring­ing up through Joe’s ATC, pre­vent­ing Mark’s fa­tal fall.

Al­ter­na­tives to rap­pelling:

By its na­ture of to­tal re­liance on the sys­tem, rap­pelling is in­her­ently dan­ger­ous, mostly due to user er­ror. If you can avoid it, do so. With an 80-me­ter rope, Mark could have low­ered Joe back to the ground af­ter Joe’s lead, and then Mark could have sec­onded the pitch on a sling­shot toprope. To close the sys­tem and avoid low­er­ing the climber off the end of the rope with this rope-stretch­ing pitch, the be­layer could have tied in ahead of time.


In Yosemite, we are for­tu­nate to have one of the most skilled and com­pe­tent SAR teams in the world. How­ever, the first and most im­por­tant step is to avoid hav­ing an ac­ci­dent. We all need to work to­ward ed­u­cat­ing our­selves about climbs, ac­ci­dent preven­tion, and self-res­cue tech­niques. It is much eas­ier and less painful to do things right in the first place. Fi­nally, and most im­por­tantly, do not un­der­es­ti­mate the dan­gers of rock climb­ing. Ac­ci­dents can hap­pen to any­one, in­clud­ing the most skilled and sea­soned climbers. Main­tain a healthy re­spect for the rock and the ad­ven­ture so that you can live to climb an­other day.

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