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Rappelling accident at Devils Tower
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bradhill


May 18, 2003, 6:46 PM
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Rappelling accident at Devils Tower
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It was my misfortune to be witness to a accident at Devils Tower this weekend. On Saturday, May 17th 2003, a climber rappelling from the Meadows station to the right of El Cracko Diablo lost control of her rappell, went off the end of one rope and fell over 300 feet to her death. :(

Please, don't take rappelling lightly. Always tie knots in the ends of your rope and use an autoblock when doing multi-pitch rappells. Climbing is dangerous, but we need not take unnecessary risks. This young woman's death, sadly, was entirely preventable.

I know we all forget or don't bother to do these little things from time to time when we're having a great day and everything seems routine and normal and an accident is the furthest possibility from your mind. Don't spoil your fun, but remember the potential consequences of even a small mistake can be profound.

My thoughts and condolences go out to this young woman's family and friends.


texasclimber


May 18, 2003, 6:56 PM
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In reply to:
My thoughts and condolences go out to this young woman's family and friends.

Same here. This is truely a sad mistake a fellow cli,ber made. I pray that we all learn from this and tie knotts on ALL of our rapells!


bradhill


May 19, 2003, 12:24 PM
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An article on the accident is here.


billcoe_


May 19, 2003, 12:45 PM
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Bradhill. Hope you're doing OK. I've been there 3 times and it's tough to take that whole bloody body, grey matter splatter and the wailing relatives thing. Seriously, it stays with you quite some time.

Side note: putting knots in the end of your rappel ropes may cause a bigger accident. It is totally situational. If you're coming off of a long climb and looking at doing 14 double rope rappels in the 45 remaining min. of daylight and neither you nor the other 3 idiots you are with has a headlamp 'cause you were all so concerned with going light and/or expected someone else to bring a lamp, you will not make it to the ground in time if you tie knots in the ends of your lines, and you will have another type of epic. Perhaps equally tragic.

Then everybody can critise you for being too stupid to carry a headlamp. Dohhh.

I thought the remarkable stat in the link was this:

"About 80,000 people have climbed the tower in its 100-year history. Weimer's death was the fifth fatality reported."

Wow-

Sucks that Weimar F**ed up. I'm sure her friends and family are hurting. Tie the ends if you can and need too, practice practice practice and use judgement would be better advice IMO. If a person can't do it correctly don't go climbing. Better to stay at home.

I might be sounding too callouse there, I hope not, its the way I feel and probably closer to the truth. Your statment "Don't take rappelling lightly" is great advice. Thanks for sharing the story and the link too.

Regards and take care:

Bill


neeshman


May 20, 2003, 8:53 AM
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No one ever loses that bad feeling no matter how many times they hear this kind of story. It really is too bad. And to be repetitive I hope her family is doin alright.

Ok billcoe, although you were correct when you said that every party needs headlamps, but you cannot say that tying stopper knots in the ends of your rope on a 14 pitch climb is a bad idea. I have limited experience with multi pitch climbs but I would rather see a group of people stuck at a belay station or at the bottom of a rope they were rapelling overnight than have all the members rappelling off the end f their rop in the middle of the night. Stopper knots are meant to keep things from falling off the climb, especially people.

Anyways, my prayers go out to the family and friends. It might be nice to have a memorial post put up in her honor, just a thought though.


gthornberg


May 20, 2003, 8:57 AM
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Bradhill,

Just wanted to say sorry that you had to witness that. I've seen a climbing fatality too and it's not easy (young inexperienced climber). Even when I worked 5 years as an EMT, fatalities were never easy to get use to.

I just wanted to say I agree to your "always tie knots" statement especially at the Tower. With all the ledges there, it's way too easy to forget that you're very high and to forget simple safety measures like tying an end-knot.

Compared to other places, it's good to know that Devil's Tower is a "safer" place to climb.


samshafer


May 20, 2003, 8:59 AM
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I climb almost exclusively @ the Tower and NEVER tie knots in the ends because that is a sure way to get a rope (& climber) hopelessly stuck. The Tower is a notorious rope-eater and the constant wind tends to blow ropes way off course and into cracks several columns away. I would maybe make an exception if climbing w/ a newbie and worried about him/her. Usually, I just twin-rappel with the two of us linked together so neither one can take off & leave the other. Sam


el_capitan


May 20, 2003, 11:34 AM
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I have climbed the Tower and have done multi-pitch climbs at many other areas but this story was a good reminder about tying knots. I know that this is something that I have taken lightly in the past and I recently nearly paid for it. Even though my situation was different, I stopped at a ledge about 15 feet from the ground and when I was about to go again I realized that one end of the rope was about to come through my belay device. It wouldn't have been deathly but it still would have hurt. I agree with taking rappelling very seriously and tying knots at the end of the rope.

I usually twin rappel but I have never done it with the two people tied together. I'm not really sure what
samshafer meant about this, but the way I understood it (two people rappeling down on the same rope using each other to counterbalance the weight, just using one opening of the belay device), if one person was to go off the end of the rope, even if they are attached to the other climber, the rope would slip through the anchor because the other climber's weight isn't on the opposing end of the rope and both would fall. The only way it would make sense for this to work is if they rappel the normal way, using both openings of the rappel and having the two rappel down, one on top of another while connected. But this doesn't seem that logical either. Could you clarity it samshafer?


spirefour


May 20, 2003, 1:27 PM
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In reply to:
I climb almost exclusively @ the Tower and NEVER tie knots in the ends because that is a sure way to get a rope (& climber) hopelessly stuck. The Tower is a notorious rope-eater and the constant wind tends to blow ropes way off course and into cracks several columns away.
I would have to agree with you here. I was on the Tower last Wednesday. We tied knots at the ends of our rap' ropes and while it wasn't windy, the rope did get caught below us while trying to haul it up so we could pull it from the anchors above. It added all kinds of risk to an already risky situation (rappelling after a long climb). Everything turned out ok but I don't think ALWAYS tying knots into the ends is a good idea. The best thing you can do is use your best judgement, always check and double check yourselves, and use an autoblock and/or a prusik to back yourself up.


felis


May 20, 2003, 1:56 PM
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The thread goes way off-topic here; forget the poor girl, let's talk about how to rappel properly:-(. I hope the thread will be moved to "Tech" soon.


el_capitan


May 21, 2003, 8:18 AM
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In reply to:
I would have to agree with you here. I was on the Tower last Wednesday. We tied knots at the ends of our rap' ropes and while it wasn't windy, the rope did get caught below us while trying to haul it up so we could pull it from the anchors above. It added all kinds of risk to an already risky situation (rappelling after a long climb). Everything turned out ok but I don't think ALWAYS tying knots into the ends is a good idea. The best thing you can do is use your best judgement, always check and double check yourselves, and use an autoblock and/or a prusik to back yourself up.

You make a good point even though I have climbed at the tower several times and never had this problem myself. I am still curious and confused about samshafer's post on twin rappeling and being linked. Can anyone explain?


goodcanuck


May 21, 2003, 9:06 AM
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Just an observation - but I didn't read that anyone mentioned using a prusik safety stopper - or whatever the "tech" name would be for it. You know beaner through your leg strap prusik around the rappel rope - auto stop if you let go of the rope. One of the first things I was shown before I rapped my first time.

Reading the openning discription sounds like it may have helped.

I'm a novice climber so maybe I'm wrong....but its quick and easy and makes me feel better when I rap since I don't use gloves.

Cheers
Nick


renobdarb


May 21, 2003, 9:46 AM
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In reply to:
You make a good point even though I have climbed at the tower several times and never had this problem myself. I am still curious and confused about samshafer's post on twin rappeling and being linked. Can anyone explain?

I believe he was refering to a style like this: two ropes are tied together and rigged to the anchors to rapp off. two seperate climbers rappell side by side on single ropes, but tie themselves together and rapp down at the same speed. The climbers usually have to be similar weight because they counterbalance each other, similar to but not the same as a "Needles" (SD) style rappel... is this what you were talking about, Sam?

-Brad


Partner rgold


May 21, 2003, 10:21 AM
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By far the safest way to deal with windy rappels (and perhaps the safest way for all rappels although nobody does it) is for the first person down to be lowered. All others can then be given the "fireman's belay" from below.

Some other observations:

1. A back-up pussik will stop a rappeller who lets go but will not prevent them from rappelling off the end of the rope.

2. Tying together two people who are rappelling simultaneously on single strands knotted together might be used for an experienced person to provide a little security for an inexperienced person. The experienced person must be rappelling on the strand that will not pull through the anchor so that if the inexperienced person goes off their end and falls onto the experienced person, the rappel rope will not pull through the anchor. Of course, if the experienced person blows it, both die, even if the other person is standing comfortably on a ledge. The real question here is, why would you ever do a stunt rappel with an inexperienced person?


el_capitan


May 21, 2003, 11:27 AM
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In reply to:

I believe he was refering to a style like this: two ropes are tied together and rigged to the anchors to rapp off. two seperate climbers rappell side by side on single ropes, but tie themselves together and rapp down at the same speed. The climbers usually have to be similar weight because they counterbalance each other, similar to but not the same as a "Needles" (SD) style rappel... is this what you were talking about, Sam?

-Brad

I understood that and thats how I normally rappel. I was just confused about rappeling being linked with an another person because you could both fall. rgold made a good point that the experienced person needs to be at the end that won't pull through (because of the knot) if the inexperienced person loses control on the rappel and then the experienced person will hold their fall by being attached. I'm still not sure if I like this idea of being tied to the other climber though. What should be stressed more is safe rappeling technique=proper technique, instruction, and using a back-up.


dirtineye


May 21, 2003, 11:38 AM
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There is a tandem rappel technique for rescuing an injured lead climber, but you don't tie to the climber, you tie to the rope. It's called a counterweight rappel. Basically the rescuer drags the injured leader down with him.

Here's a quote about knots in rappel lines and getting the rope stuck-- it goes something like this: Nobody ever died from an unplanned overnight stay on a ledge, but lots of people have died rappelling off the ends of their ropes. The whole quote is in the Fasulo rescue book.

THe saddest thing about uneven ropes rappel accidents is that they are so preventable. Evening the ends, using a rope with a pattern change at the middle, tying knots-- any of these would help stop the uneven rope ends troubles.

We can hope that more climbers will be more careful as a result of this accident. My sympathies to the victim's family and friends.


mike_gibson


May 21, 2003, 11:54 AM
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Alternative to knot in end of rope on multi-pitch.

-- 1st person down ties the ends of the ropes to himself and basically throws down a loop.

-- At next rappel station, the first person anchors in along with ends of ropes leaving enough slack for next person to rappel.

This way you cant fall off the end of the rope because it is secured, and you dont have knots to get jammmed in cracks.

While this adds a bit, it is easier than rescuing a rope stuck in a crack.


timstich


May 21, 2003, 10:00 PM
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In reply to:
Here's a quote about knots in rappel lines and getting the rope stuck-- it goes something like this: Nobody ever died from an unplanned overnight stay on a ledge...

...accept when they died of exposure or got hit by lightning. Kind of a strange quote, but those other issues not withstanding it makes sense. Inconvenience is better than dying.

As for rappelling, it's certainly worth practicing looking out for the ends of your rope constantly. So the rope got hung up on a lechugilla plant? Stop and look. Where's the other end? Ah, it's way below me. No rappell backup? Wrap both lines around your leg three times. Clear up that tangle and let it drop again. Both ends way below? Good. Continue. Just keep looking for those ends and that rap station. Don't want to rap below it now. So go slow. Rap station - rope ends - looking... looking...Ah, we're there. Plenty of rope left and I'm clipped into the anchor. Off rappell!

Keep safe out there.


samshafer


May 22, 2003, 1:36 AM
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Well, sorry to cause so much worry :roll: well, not really. Basically, Rgold pretty much summed up my method on the 1st page of this thread. It's all rather a mute point now. Heard from another local here in Gillette who got the word from a Tower guide that apparently she did NOT rappel off the end.
It appears that she was the least experienced of a group of 5 and was left to rappel last down the top pitch of a 2 pitch rappel (El Cracko, Climbercam you'll remember fondly and many others here @ RC)
Meanwhile, apparently the other 4 went on (with additional rope(s)) and left her to rappel & pull her own ropes, etc. After she arrived @ the anchors (and the 2" standing ledge) for 2nd rappel she yelled to ask them which rope to pull and they told her. When she pulled the ropes, she fell, hitting the ledge below and probably many more on the way to landing on the trail more than 2 full rope lengths below.
That is a very broken up buttress right below El Cracko & Solar with lots of bushes, ledges & crap and not even smooth enough to be used for an approved rappel, [though ClimberCam & I did find some hidden bolts (probably there for rescue evacuations) and took that shortcut to the trail.] Plus, that is the one area where the tourist trail goes right up against the Tower, and she apparently fell right onto the trail. Very sad. :cry:
I appreciated the news report that 80,000+ people have climbed the Tower and 5 have died. All were human error, by the way; no equipment failures or rock falls or any of that. I'm sure that many more of both tourists & climbers have died on the highways driving to The Tower than those 5 climbing it.


timstich


May 22, 2003, 5:07 AM
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Thanks for the update, Sam. That does change the nature of the accident considerably. It's indeed a very sad thing.


duracellbunny


May 22, 2003, 5:09 AM
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:( This is very sad...... :cry: :cry:
My condolences to her family. :cry:


gthornberg


May 22, 2003, 7:24 AM
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"Heard from another local here in Gillette who got the word from a Tower guide that apparently she did NOT rappel off the end. "

That would seem to make more sense since it takes a lot to fall out of control with over 50 feet of rope (double or single) pulling down on your rappelling device. Of all the accidents I have seen by people rappelling, all have occurred from a mistake made at the very beginning (e.g., not clipping in, clipping in to only one side of a double rope, slipping, etc.).

Regarding a knot at the end of your rope, I still think it's unnecessary to argue against it-- I've climbed for years at the Tower and had all kinds of stuff get jammed. The times my knots have been jammed I've rappelled to the end, unjammed it and climbed back up using the rope like a top rope (but without a belayer).

More often than not, it's the knot joining my two ropes ON TOP that have gotten jammed. Of the dozens of times my knot has been “nearly stuck,” I've used ascenders only once (I always have them). If you don't want to use a knot at the bottom, then don't--it's like whether you choose to climb with a helmet or not (I don't). To criticize someone strongly for not using one/using one, neglects to rationally balance all types of hazards in this world far more dangerous than neglecting a bottom knot (like hiking on large boulders).

I'm not bothered if you don't use a bottom knot, but it does bother me to hear people saying a bottom knot poses new “dangers” that do not exist. Just so you don't think I'm being judgmental. I do a lot of things other climbers don’t like: I've simulclimbed the Tower, used only two placements or one bolt as an anchor, climb regularly without a helmet and rappelled completely upside down just for fun. I'm not criticizing anyone! I just disagree when someone says a safe measure like tying a bottom knot is somehow dangerous.

Later!

GT


bishop


May 22, 2003, 8:00 AM
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Please people lets do the simple things that matter. It blows me away how many lives could have been save by doing something so simple as tieing a not in the end of a rap line. Lets look out for one another.

My thoughts and condolences go out to this young woman's family and friends.


burz


May 22, 2003, 8:19 AM
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So when she got to the anchors at the bottom of the second pitch she forgot to anchor to them? And then just fell off the 2" ledge after pulling her ropes?


bradhill


May 22, 2003, 10:23 AM
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Oh, great. "You're wrong! I heard from this guy who heard from this other guy who heard from somebody else..." (no Tower guides witnessed the accident)

I really doubt she was pulling her ropes.

I was there.

I watched her fall.

Although I didn't see the very first moment of the accident, I saw as much of what happened as anybody. As she fell past she still had her hand on one of the two ropes, in braking position, and the rope was still threaded through her device.

Her party was going all the way to the third station down from the Meadows (not the one adjacent to the Cracko Diablo P1 anchor) to finish with a one rope rap, so she was very near the end of the ropes.

It's possible she fell off the ledge as she was preparing to clip herself to the anchors (in which case a knot or autoblock still would have saved her), but I don't know anybody who would start pulling their ropes while they're still on rappell, or do so on a tiny, exposed ledge without being clipped in.

One of her partners, a two year YOSAR veteran who saw the accident and aftermath, also said she went of the end of the rope while on rappell.

Tie a knot in your ropes for multipitch descents. If it's windy, clip to the ends and throw down a bight OR carry the rope and flake it as you go OR be lowered. Secure the ends for followers and be ready to give a fireman's belay. Use an autoblock. It takes a couple extra seconds most of the time. Live to climb another day.

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