Todd Skinners failed harness - update


Discussion Topic

Return to Forum List
This thread has been locked
Messages 1 - 20 of total 119 in this topic << First  |  < Previous  |  Show All  |  Next >  |  Last >>

Topic Author's Original Post - Sep 20, 2012 - 01:45pm PT
Didn't see it posted but it's old news....not to me though. Todd Skinners harness failure wasn't due to any acid on the belay loop. It just gave up the ghost.

"No contamination on Skinner’s harness

Mercedes Huff & Associates
By Angus M Thuermer Jr.
September 15, 2007

An investigation of the climbing harness that failed and sent Lander, Wyo. climber Todd Skinner plunging to his death in Yosemite National Park last October found no signs of contamination that might have weakened the safety webbing.

The report by Yosemite ranger M. Faherty has been awaited by climbers worldwide who were stunned by the death of Skinner, a well-known pioneer, and the unusual failure of his safety gear. The Jackson Hole News&Guide obtained a copy of the report Friday through the Freedom of Information Act.

Climbers know that a critical part of the nylon webbing harness, a belay loop, broke and caused Skinner, 47, to fall 800 feet from the overhanging wall of Leaning Tower. At the time of his death, Skinner was descending the face after a day of climbing, sliding down a rope using a friction device linked to the belay loop.

Climbers also know that Skinner’s harness was worn, that his climbing partner, James Hewitt, commented on its poor condition, and that Skinner agreed the harness needed replacing.

Skinner was wearing an Arc’Teryx Targa harness. Tests of new belay loops similar to the one on Skinner’s harness, which were conducted by another climbing equipment manufacturer, showed them to be strong enough to hold body weight, even when cut most of the way through.

Climbers wondered whether Skinner’s harness might have been contaminated and weakened by a foreign substance. The Park Service report found no evidence of that.

Faherty wrote in his investigation that he sent the torn belay loop to Rhodia/Nexis Fibers in Switzerland for a chemical analysis. “On 06/15/07, I was notified by Rhodia representative Elman Ernst that ‘apart from the residues of the original spin-finish, no substances could be extracted from [the] analysed part of the loop’. ...” the report says

Also, Faherty’s report discounts the possibility that animals may have gnawed on the harness when it was cached. Skinner left his harness overnight at the base of the climb, stored in a bag. “There was no sign of tampering by animals or people,” Faherty wrote.

The report comes to no conclusion as to why the belay loop broke. Faherty makes several observations, however, that could lead climbers to a conclusion.

Skinner’s partner reiterated in interviews with rangers that he observed the loop “had been about 20 percent worn through three days prior,” to the accident. Faherty wrote that he, too, “also observed that the harness was extremely frayed and worn where the belay loop should run through the ‘swami belt’ and the leg loops.”

“The belay loop appeared worn near where it was torn,” Faherty wrote. “The actual torn section appeared frayed. I could see no fusing of Nylon fibers suggestive of a shock load...”

Faherty also found a sling girth-hitched to the broken belay loop, which Hewitt believed had been in place for some time and prevented the belay loop from rotating and absorbing wear evenly. “Also broken was the keeper strap on the leg loops,” ranger Faherty wrote. Loss of the keeper strap would free the leg loops to saw against belay loop, often in the same spot, given Skinner’s harness set-up.

Those observations support climber Will Gadd’s theory, published in a recent issue of Men's Journal magazine, that the sawing leg loops contributed to the belay loop’s failure."

Trad climber
Nevada City, CA
Sep 20, 2012 - 02:36pm PT
Thank you. I had not seen any updated information on this and the leg loop sawing action is totally new to me.
Jon Beck

Trad climber
Sep 20, 2012 - 02:40pm PT
When I first read about that failure I quit relying on a belay loop, tie in to the harness and rap on the harness. Of course I will never climb enough to saw through a belay loop, but scary anyhow.

RIP Todd

Technically expert, safe belayer, can lead if easy
Sep 20, 2012 - 02:45pm PT
Man, I wish the actual facts around Todd's harness failure would become more widely known. The initial, uninformed conclusion of 'belay loop failure!' is sooo pervasive...I constantly encounter climbers (of all experience levels) who don't know of the significant related causal factors around that failure. There's a lot of needless fear out there.

Spread the word...with facts. It's good for all of us.
Don Paul

Big Wall climber
Colombia, South America
Sep 20, 2012 - 02:47pm PT
I had assumed the stitching came undone. I'm surprised that the belay loop wore all the way through, it seems unlikely to break under body weight unless there was almost nothing left. I guess that's wrong. I feel bad about this and met Todd once, but I think the lesson is to tie in directly through waist belt and leg loops, and only use the belay loop for belaying. I know the gyms teach everyone else the opposite. On a wall especially, you don't need to untie from the rope quickly. I also tie into the haul line, might as well.

Once I was in a gym and a guy was just hanging there on the rope looking at the route, and his harness broke, just like that. His waist belt went up to his armpits, I guess he was tied into that also. I have no idea how that one happened.

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
Sep 20, 2012 - 02:49pm PT
It wouldn't seem too wise to even use the belay loop given that logic.
Pretty scary to think of that failing when yer leader is flying.

Trad climber
Bay Area
Sep 20, 2012 - 02:49pm PT
This report is also new to me.
Faherty also found a sling girth-hitched to the broken belay loop, which Hewitt believed had been in place for some time and prevented the belay loop from rotating and absorbing wear evenly.
I think this is the salient point.
I never girth hitch my belay loop. I sometimes girth hitch the waist band and leg crossover with a ready sling. And take it off again as soon as I don't need it any more.
RIP Todd

Technically expert, safe belayer, can lead if easy
Sep 20, 2012 - 03:10pm PT
Somebody should do a short video illustrating exactly how Todd's harness had been used, showing the girth-hitched sling, how this setup was used in working routes, how this creates the abrasive/sawing action. Showing the actual harness, with details of the failure and wear spots would be useful, too. I just don't think many people really understand the way that harness was being used.

Social climber
Wolf City, Wyoming
Sep 20, 2012 - 03:13pm PT
This has been discussed at length, as I remember it, the loop was imobilized by a sling he had perpetually girthed to it. As a result the loop couldn't rotate and all wear was taken in exactly the same spot, a saw-through scenario as has been mentioned. He was aware of it. He had a new harness on the way, maybe even waiting at general delivery. There are other details, but that's the gist.

This is not the same as saying that the belay loop is an inherently weak spot, as many have inferred.

A spooky add-on to this; Several years before I had an almsot worn out Whillians harness. One of the straps that hold the legloops up was almost worn through, non-critical, but nonetheless, a sign of an aging harness. Todd brought this to my attention.

"Jay, would you climb on a sling that was worn like that? You need a new harness."
mouse from merced

Trad climber
The finger of fate, my friends, is fickle.
Sep 20, 2012 - 03:56pm PT
We have all observed the effects of ropes pulling thru stacks of webbing at rap anchors. The heat generated thru friction by countless pulls is obvious. The heat generated by falls in harness equipage described above is not at all obvious. Several falls, generating heat in one spot repeatedly, being involved in eventual failure of the harness, is not surprising. I believe this is what the general idea is of the cause. Correct me if I've misread. I was as sorry to hear of the Cowpoke's untimely accident as anyone, FTR.

Trad climber
SeKi, California
Sep 20, 2012 - 04:51pm PT
I climb with a guy who's from the old days of yosemite climbing. He always wears a "keeper" sling on his chalk bag. I have one now too. An 8mm for the chalk bag tie in and its tied around my waist in a water knot. I tie in the rope through my harness and through the 8mm. This way the whole harness could blow and the 8mm would be my back up. What do you think??

Sport climber
Sep 20, 2012 - 04:53pm PT
That's good idea Radish.

When my buddy solo'd Bohica, he had a sling around his waste for a chalk bag belt.

He only had to use it to rap off.

Trad climber
Hodad, surfing the galactic plane
Sep 20, 2012 - 05:29pm PT
Evidently a replacement (harness) was on the way and he would have had a new one in a few days.

Trad climber
Bay Area
Sep 20, 2012 - 05:33pm PT
I frequently go through all my gear, slings, harness, cams, nuts, biners checking for wear and functionality. Generally after no more than 3 or 4 days of climbing. Anything questionable gets set aside.
Toker Villain

Big Wall climber
Toquerville, Utah
Sep 20, 2012 - 06:06pm PT
Said it before; just because belay loops test OK doesn't mean that there is any GOOD reason for adding another link in the safety chain when not needed.

Lake Tahoe
Sep 20, 2012 - 06:26pm PT
We think of these things being ridiculously over engineered....I guess they are not sometimes

Can't over-engineer something so that it works when it is broke. Maybe replacing things that are worn out is the important lesson here, not the issue of belay loops being under-engineered.

Worrying about adding a belay loop to the chain of things that can fail is like worrying about the diet cola that spilled in the back seat of your car a few days ago and thinking that it could cause a car crash. Sure, there is some odd situation where it could be a problem, like when there is now a thirsty bear in the back seat that you don't see until you are driving on the freeway, but the odds are in your favor that there will never be a problem.

You are in more danger driving to the crag than you are of belay loop failure. Remove that drive from your chain of potential failures if you want to be really safe.


Big Wall climber
los gatos. ca
Sep 20, 2012 - 06:32pm PT

Trad climber
Joshua tree ca
Sep 20, 2012 - 06:58pm PT
Piton Ron represents the wisdom of a proudly certified guide......

Todd unfortunately blew it.....sounds like the fixed sling did him in........ with a professional dirt bag harness........ don't be cheap old f*#kers.......

I seem to kill my harness about every year and a half......acteryx brand the last couple rounds..... where the leg loops meet the belay loop is a extremely high wear point. Its the beginning of weight distribution throughout the harness......Next time you are on TR sit in your harness and check out what's happening.....

Thanks Mr. Skinner for putting up so many rad routes!
Don Paul

Big Wall climber
Colombia, South America
Sep 20, 2012 - 07:21pm PT
I think Dave has a point. The belay loop isn't going to break unless it's sawed most of the way through like this one apparently was. The main motivation to tie directly into the harness, is that it's like you have two harnesses on - the waist, and the leg loops. Each are tied in. I prefer to be tied in than to be clipped in, even if its a locking biner. I guess I'm thinking long routes and big walls. I just don't want to have to worry about whether I'm going to get disconnected from the rope because of some mistake.
Toker Villain

Big Wall climber
Toquerville, Utah
Sep 20, 2012 - 07:41pm PT
Its not just a spilled soda if a friend of mine died.

I miss Todd's infectious smile, and it pains me that he failed to K.I.S.S. and clip right in rather than add a ratted loop to the chain.
Sure, the loop is good in theory, but in reality this incident shows it is just another thing to go wrong.
Messages 1 - 20 of total 119 in this topic << First  |  < Previous  |  Show All  |  Next >  |  Last >>
Return to Forum List
Our Guidebooks
Check 'em out!
SuperTopo Guidebooks

Try a free sample topo!

SuperTopo on the Web

Recent Route Beta