Forums: Climbing Information: Accident and Incident Analysis: Re: [knudenoggin] Gym Death- Knot Failure: Edit Log

Partner rgold

Apr 22, 2012, 10:08 AM

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Registered: Dec 3, 2002
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Re: [knudenoggin] Gym Death- Knot Failure
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KN, thanks for chiming in. There have been a number of detachment accidents in which no one knows what occurred that have been blamed on the bowline by investigating authorities who are more interested in facile "explanations" than in understanding what really happened. The result is that any detachment accident in which nothing is left on the climber's end of the rope is blamed on a "mistied bowline."

Why climbing pundits, who might be expected to understand the range of possible causes for an unexplained event better than, say, a coroner, insist on leaping on the mistied bowline hypothesis in the absence of evidence is a mystery to me.

Personally, I couldn't care less what knot a climber chooses to use, and fully agree that people who are not able to attend to the details of tying a properly finished bowline---every time they tie it---should most emphatically be using another knot. I also think, contrary to current popular opinion, that climbers should be checking their own knots and should not be delegating this most essential oversight to anyone else. Heaven forfend they ever have to do some roped soloing, either by choice or by force of circumstances!

Billicoe mentions that people switched to the retraced 8 because of the bowline coming untied BITD. This doesn't correspond to anything I can remember; I don't recall ever hearing about a bowline coming untied during the many years it was the only knot we used. Which is not to say it didn't happen, since a plain bowline without some appropriate finish is not a safe knot for climbing, and it is unfortunate that we are stuck in a semantic trap that relegates the enormous difference between finished and unfinished bowlines to modifying adjectives. But what I am sure about it that there was no wave of accidents that drove people away from the bowline.

I do remember at one point that, with the combination of the retraced-8 for tying in, a figure-8 on a bight for anchoring, and the Flemish bend for joining two ropes, it was said that climbers only needed to learn a single knot. I suspect that, as with much of climbing today, practices that were appropriate for guides were spread uncritically to the general climbing population, regardless of whether those practices were optimal in all situations for non-guided parties. And then of course, the gyms came and, for perfectly understandable reasons, cemented the deal with respect to the retraced-8.

Although I have no hard or even soft data, my impression is that there has been an explosion of accidents related to inattention. I suspect that, paradoxically, this is related to the increased knowledge of safety procedures and the vast improvement in equipment, some of which relieves the climber of the necessity to act on their own or their partner's behalf. For example, guide plates have made belaying the second just one of a constellation of multitasking activities.

Back in the day, I think we we more scared more of the time. We didn't have things that would lock, rappelling was potentially excruciatingly painful, letting go of the brake hand was an absolute death sentence for belayers and rappellers, and no one was going to check your knot and point out your errors. I'm not saying any of this was good and I'm not in the grip of any nostalgia for it. But I do wonder whether the aura of safety that surrounds climbing today isn't just a little too warm and fuzzy for the underlying reality.

(This post was edited by rgold on Apr 22, 2012, 10:14 AM)

Edit Log:
Post edited by rgold () on Apr 22, 2012, 10:12 AM
Post edited by rgold () on Apr 22, 2012, 10:14 AM

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