Climbing Death in Yosemite above the Awahanee

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Gene

Social climber
May 10, 2010 - 03:04pm PT
Many systems work, but I think Steve nails an important point here. Same with tieing in.

whatever system you are using, i encourage a ritualistic approach to setting up rappels, where one is in the zone, not talking to anybody, and making the system from start to finish without interuption.
Chiloe

Trad climber
Lee, NH
May 10, 2010 - 03:17pm PT
As for how to rap a single skinny line with ATC -- it works well to add a second biner alongside the locker, and also clip that into your harness and the rope coming through your ATC. With an extra-skinny line you could use 3 biners.

Depends also on how much weight you're carrying and how steep the rappel is, too. Sometimes I've found out in mid-rappel that I have less friction than I'd like. An uncomfortable but not life-threatening solution is to wrap it part way around your leg.
Rhodo-Router

Gym climber
Green Cove slabbage BITD!
May 10, 2010 - 03:18pm PT
Coz-
extending the belay device is no more likely to melt the sling than a non-extended device is likely to melt your belay loop. Extension prevents the autoblock from riding up into the belay device, which can prevent the autoblock from grabbing effectively.
HighTraverse

Trad climber
Bay Area
May 10, 2010 - 03:27pm PT
My heart goes out to Brian's family. And to his partner and the other climbers who were there.
I wish Zeth Kinnett all the best for being there for Brian and trying so hard to help.
I'm also thinking of the Rangers on the scene and YOSAR who have to deal with these tragedies.

DelhiDog started a new thread for the whole topic of rappelling, perhaps we can take the technical discussions there.
http://www.supertopo.com/climbers-forum/1165306/Rapping-rappelling-not-the-music-dufus

shipoopi's comments here are both intelligent and concise. Thanks Steve.
le_bruce

climber
Oakland: what's not to love?
May 10, 2010 - 04:18pm PT
Awash in sorrow reading this news. Wishing strength and condolences to everyone left in this awful wake.

Rest in peace, Brian.

le_bruce

climber
Oakland: what's not to love?
May 10, 2010 - 04:40pm PT
I have come close to being killed climbing several times for reasons others would have looked at after the fact and wondered how I could let such a thing happen. But I have been lucky.

Ksolem is right on. This goes for so many of us. Be safe out there one and all.
Japhy

Mountain climber
Kathmandu, Nepal
May 10, 2010 - 04:47pm PT
Dear friends and members of the climbing community,

Thanks to everyone for your thoughts, for your support, and for sharing your compassion for the tragic accident that unfolded.

Brian Ellis is one of my closest friends, and my main climbing partner for five years. We were descending from Sunset Ledge after completing the Serenity-Sons link up when the accident happened.

It has been incredibly difficult trying to process what happened, but I feel that it is important to learn from this tragedy, and to ensure that it never happens again.

Here is my analysis on the cause of the accident:



The system:

The rappel system we used is also known as the "Reepschnur" method, where the 6 mil tag line is used as a pull cord. The lead line was a 10.2 mil. At each rap station, the two ropes were joined together with an overhand knot ("EDK"). This was backed up by an additional overhand knot, nested and dressed cleanly right next to the primary knot, with long tails (always at least 12").

The knot was tied so that the load was on the 10.2 mm lead line (i.e, the knot was on the side of the pull cord). A backup knot - figure 8 on a bight - is just below the two overhands on the 6mm, and clipped with a locking carabiner to the lead line. This photo illustrates it perfectly.


Brian insisted on using his Cinch to rappel on. It was his favorite device. As others have noted, using the Cinch (or Gri-gri), you HAVE to do a single-rope rappel. He rappelled first with his Cinch, and after he clipped in to the next anchor, I remove the backup knot and carabiner (so that there's no carabiner whizzing in space towards us, and so that it doesn't get snagged while pulling). I rappel next with an ATC. This is basically our system. I have a few more words below regarding this system.


What caused the system to fail?

The primary cause of failure was that the knot passed through the rappel rings as Brian was mid-rappel on the single 10.2 lead line. This is something that is unthinkable to a lot of us. Anyone who has ever tied two ropes together to rappel knows this.

Still, the unthinkable happened this time, and it was critical that the backup knot with a locking carabiner was present to jam up against the rappel rings. Unfortunately, this is where the BIGGEST MISTAKE was made. When Brian set up this system and tied the knots (I was coiling the ropes in the meantime preparing for tossing), he forgot to tie the backup knot. When I checked the system for him, I too, committed the same mistake and only observed the main knot. He checked it a THIRD time, and made the same oversight.

The only explanation I have for this oversight is distraction and complacency. Brian MAY not have been 100% focused on the task (there were several things going on... party coming behind us and he was excited to take photos of the leader below... a few moments earlier on the last pitch, we were rudely and inconsiderately passed up by a speeding simul-climbing party; this bothered both of us considerably). I am equally guilty of the same distraction and complacency for not having noticed the absence of the backup.

 The accident was NOT equipment failure (the rope, Cinch, tag line, all performed the way they were supposed to).
 The accident was NOT knot failure (the knot was tied properly, with long tails).
 The accident was NOT anchor failure (the bolts, webbing, and rings - albeit a little larger than chains - were not faulty).

During every single rappel that Brian and I have done together with this system, we have tied the backup knot. The principle overhand knot had NEVER passed through the rings before. However, the one time it was forgotten, sadly, was when it was most critical.

You don't lose often when climbing, but when you do lose... you lose big. I'm just absolutely devastated by this harsh lesson.


Other thoughts:

Brian introduced this system to me several years ago after learning about it on the internet. We were both partly inspired by this video. When doing the research on this system, there are several issues that I didn't discover.

The first is that, although Brian was using the system properly for a single-rope rappel (yes, I know the backup knot was not tied when the accident happened), when I hopped on rappel with an ATC, I was using the system improperly. Although I'm rappelling on both the 10.2 line, and the 6mm cord, only the 10.2 line is properly rated to withstand the force temperatures that a friction device can create. Pull cords of that diameter have a much lower melting point.

The second is that there are variations in rappel ring sizes. The smallest ones (like rappel chains) are just about impossible to pass the knot through. However, the larger models, like the ones atop Sunset Ledge (or even things like Cold Shuts or Mussy Hooks), warrant that the knot is ABSOLUTELY never going to pass through. Additionally, the 10.2 line tied with an EDK to a 6mm cord makes a smaller knot than two 10mm lines tied together.

All of these factors make the rappel system more complicated, which means that more steps need to be taken to ensure that it is bomb-proof. If a system requires Steps 1,2,3, and 4, it is critical that ALL the steps are performed even though Steps 3 and 4 may only be back-ups. Simpler setups that require fewer steps, as a result, should be the ones that people should be using. There is less room for error in simpler setups.

Brian and I tested the knot atop Sunset Ledge and made sure that it wouldn't pass through the rings. When he started rappelling on the single line, he descended about 15 ft, locked off his Cinch and started taking photos of the leader on the P3 crux of Serenity for about 10 minutes. While he was taking photos, he moved a bit to the left, and then to the right to check out the climber. Then, after having spent about 10 minutes taking photos, he went back to descending the single line. This is when I heard a pop and the sound of the rope whizzing. I tried to grab it with my bare hands and held on tightly as long as I could. My instinct even tried to wrap it around my waist for an emergency brake, but the rope just burned through my hand.

The shock load that Jesse talks about is the result of the tag-line getting tangled up and getting jammed up on the rings. The heat generated on the rings then burned the 6mm line, and a clump of the tag line fell on the ledge where I was.

It is so ironic that the day we were climbing was the first time that I convinced Brian to bring along an ATC to do the rappels on. I never do single-rope rappels, and am scared of rappels in general, so I have tried for a long while to get Brian to rappel with a traditional friction-device. The ATC was in his backpack.

I have asked myself "what would I do differently?" so many times. It hurts so bad to think that this was preventable. I hope that we can take this lesson to heart and learn from it. When reading whats out there on the forums (RC, Mountainproject, Summitpost, etc.) the subtle factors that led to this system failure (knot passing through, variations in rap ring sizes, knot size for 10mm/6mm combo) are not discussed very thoroughly.




I have many thoughts about the accident, and am available if anyone wants to learn more. Please email me directly: japhyd[at]gmail[dot]com.

I want to extend a deep and sincere thanks to everyone involved in the rescue. My condolences go out to Brian's family, his girlfriend, his pet bunnies, and all of his friends.

Brian made the world a better place with his presence, and I miss him dearly.


 Japhy Dhungana
JohnnyG

climber
May 10, 2010 - 04:58pm PT
Thank you, Japhy. I'm sorry for your loss.
WBraun

climber
May 10, 2010 - 05:02pm PT
Japhy

Excellent write up. Thanks.

And all I can say otherwise is WOW !!!, was that something ......
survival

Big Wall climber
A Token of My Extreme
May 10, 2010 - 05:03pm PT
Thanks for posting this, during a very difficult time.

I'm sure that we all will take the extra steps to make certain this doesn't happen to those of us that are here reading.
Chiloe

Trad climber
Lee, NH
May 10, 2010 - 05:05pm PT
Japhy, thanks for writing this detailed analysis.

I suppose the design of an EDK could have been a contributing factor -- they are meant to roll and slide over obstacles, where a rounder knot like a fisherman's or trace-8 conceivably might have caught against the ring even if it was small enough to pass through.
Gene

Social climber
May 10, 2010 - 05:10pm PT
Japhy,

Please understand how much your post is appreciated. Thanks for the honesty and detail. I hope you soon find peace.

Best,
Gene
dustonian

climber
RRG
May 10, 2010 - 05:11pm PT
Sorry for your loss Japhy, and for Brian's family.

I often have the first climber rap on a grigri (especially of the next anchor is uncertain) as it is easier to go hands-free and pendulum around AND easier to reascend if necessary. However, I ALWAYS fix the line with a standard (or rabbit-eared) figure-8 clipped to the equalized anchor with a locker or two. The second climber can then untie the fixed knot and rap on both lines once the first climber locates the anchor and goes off-rappel. Works great on el cap/alpine routes/in the dark/bad weather etc., if you have a grig. There is no need to take the risk of jamming the knot into the anchor like that if you have a second climber to untie your knot and rap afterwards.
Ksolem

Trad climber
Monrovia, California
May 10, 2010 - 05:12pm PT
Japhy,

You do everyone a service with your honest and detailed account.

Thank you, you are a very brave young man. Obviously Brian new how to pick his friends wisely. Good luck to you, and honor your lost friend by living well.
Bill Sherman

Mountain climber
Culver City, CA
May 10, 2010 - 05:26pm PT
Japhy,

I greatly appreciate this thoughtful post and extend my condolences to family, friends, and all personnel involved.

Before this accident I had no clue what this system was and have always tried to keep it simple with double rope rappels on an ATC type device.

It was a learning experience for me and may add a tool that one day I will need. I only wish it was Brian teaching it to me in person rather than this way.

We are a very supportive group so if there is anything you or his family needs then please ask us for it.

Bill S.
Zander

Trad climber
Berkeley
May 10, 2010 - 05:29pm PT
Japhy,
I'm thinking about you and am wishing you all the best,
Zander
Jaybro

Social climber
Wolf City, Wyoming
May 10, 2010 - 05:38pm PT
Thanks, and condolences, Japhy.
F10

Trad climber
e350 / Bishop
May 10, 2010 - 05:38pm PT
Japhy,

Thanks for taking the time to share what happened,

Sorry for your lost, wishing you all the best,

By taking the time to share this accident maybe you will have prevented another.

James
Levy

Big Wall climber
So Cal
May 10, 2010 - 05:47pm PT
Japhy ~ I am so sorry to hear of this unfortunate incident & the demise of your friend Brian.

Thanks for taking the time to explain what really happened to those of us who were not there. This is a lesson for all climbers to learn from. In this regard his death will not have been in vain.

Once again, my deepest & most sincere condolences.

William Leventhal
JesseM

Social climber
Yosemite
May 10, 2010 - 05:47pm PT
Thank you Japhy. It takes a lot of courage to write about something like this. Everyone here can learn from this accident, and your detailed account is clear and well written. I look forward to having you back in El Portal, and having the opportunity to meet you.

I am so sorry that this happened to you, and that you lost a close friend. Be well. Namaste.

Jesse
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