Climbing Death in Yosemite above the Awahanee


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Brian in SLC

Social climber
Salt Lake City, UT
May 18, 2010 - 04:22pm PT
I can imagine a biner going through some sort of non-standard "rap ring" (e.g. like another biner).

Yeah. Happened in Zion a couple of years ago. Covered here:

Most canyoneer types who "biner block" tie the clove hitch onto the spine of a carabiner. Set against a ring or rapide its pretty stable.


-Brian in SLC

Social climber
Bend, OR
May 18, 2010 - 11:06pm PT
Knots, The AMGA instructors and other climbers that I know universally refer to the Euro Death Knot as the flat overhand. The flat figure 8 is also referred to but is generally acknowledged to be the weaker knot in spite of its more confidence inspiring appearance. There was some testing done (at Sterling, I think) that was written up in the AMGA Mountain Bulletin 3 or 4 years ago. When either knot fails it generally rolls off the ends of the rope. A blocker knot (one tail tied in an overhand around the other tail) is advised in high load circumstances (or for emotional security) although the knot is not recommended for anchor or lead fall duty. It is, however, more than adequate for rappel duty.
Super bummed to hear about the accident. A good reminder to be ever vigilant, as so many others have said.

Social climber
The internet
May 19, 2010 - 11:03am PT
Nice thread.

I've seen clove hitches jump out of non-locking biners, so I would roll with Clint's diagram over Russ's.

However, I think I'll stick with my standard 3x grapevine and 2 ropes. I rap with a 7, 9.4 and one of the newer reversos. Just a few weeks of use develops enough fuzz on a 7mm to pretty much eliminate slipping. The setup is very light. I can 2x over the 7mm and lead with it if I loose or stick my lead line. I've found no reason to do anything different. The systems here offer no advantage to me.

I'm sure most here have the experience to know the methods in this thread are only used by a small minority of climbers - and as such are not as well tested - as this death illustrates, IMO. There are too many things that can go wrong in climbing to always be screwing around with the latest way to redo something that has already been working fine for decades.

May 19, 2010 - 08:01pm PT
ihateplastic: i'm with you. i specifically still buy ovals just for rappelling (six carabiner brake). it's worked for 43 years now, so why change? it's proven and safe, only a slight hassle, and an insignificant amount of extra weight.
Tony Bird

Northridge, CA
May 19, 2010 - 08:40pm PT
i've read most of this thread, so i hope i'm not being redundant. brian was a graduate student in linguistics at UCLA. that field is known for attracting the "wildly intelligent," to use his partner's words. this loss is felt by many on campus.

a fellow i ski with is a total fan of franz schubert. we were driving back from mt. san jacinto earlier this year, listening to his favorite composer on the CD player, and he remarked, "if he had ONLY lived another 10 years--think of all the wonderful music we would have." i could only cite a well-known proverb, "whom the gods love, dies young". it seemed to settle the issue somewhat.

perhaps not so ironically, schubert wrote a tremendous piece of music, which i recommend to anyone in grief. the "death and the maiden" quartet deals with emotions you are surely feeling, and it takes you to a place beyond the terrible apparent injustice of it. it's one of the most powerful pieces of chamber music you will ever hear--the four instruments which play it have been likened to a full orchestra.

sorry i never had the pleasure of knowing brian.

Trad climber
May 19, 2010 - 10:57pm PT
I am old school and believe firmly that the weight of two 60 or even 70 meter ropes is the cost of doing business.

I always use an 11 mm for lead, and a 9.3 for a haul line (and for the second rope for raps.)

I tie the two dissimilar diameter ropes together with a classic "grapevine" knot with a half grapevine on each loose end. Each tail has at least 1-2 inches of tail sticking out.

It's sometimes hard to untie the knot after weighting of a rapp. But what the heck ... I like bomber belays and anchors anyways.

Sorry to hear of the accident and my condolences.


May 21, 2010 - 04:34pm PT
I wanted to share my somewhat extended personal experience with using a very large washer as a blocking device to keep the joining knot between a thick rope and a very thin rope from jamming into rap rings, it also prevents pulling the joining knot through rap rings. But, I advise do not use a washer for the purpose of blocking the joining knot from being pulled thru rap rings.

Some words within this thread (not direct quotes):

The washer is simply a way to enlarge the effective outer diameter of the knot, so that it will not pass through the ring.

If I was rappelling all the way down the Nose from the top, and I knew rings were in place, I might take a (2" outer diameter) washer. It does have the advantage of preventing any part of a knot from going through the ring, and it can't be "untied".


My story:

I wanted the blocker washer system to work. It seemed ingenious and simple. I used it on many outings one year, involving dozens of rappels. I tried very thin metal washers (hard to find washers that are thin but also that large diameter), I tried washers with sufficiently small inner diameters that somewhat gripped the thick rope they were threaded on. I carried and experimented with several washers.

When you pull the rope, there is a chance the washer will slide off the end of the rope, in one of several ways. It served its purpose, you were kept safe while rappelling. But now you may be faced with additional rappels but you have lost your washer. The only solution is to carry as many washers as there are expected rappels.This is not a light solution; these washers have a lot of heft to them.

The most common way I have personally experienced washers sliding off the end of the thick rappel rope is when the washer sticks or jams against something as Iím pulling the thin line. The washer can get stuck or jammed quite lightly, but just enough that it sits still while I am pulling on the thin line and the thick line is pulling thru the fixed washer. If I am aware of this then I give a hearty flick to the pull rope to attempt to unstick the washer. But sometimes I cannot know the washer is fixed, itís out of sight. Itís stuck, I donít know that, I keep pulling the thin rope. The thick rope pulls thru. When the washer is fixed, rarely will it remain fixed, rarely will it remain on the mountain, rarely will it be lost with me never seeing it again. This happened to me once. One time the washer evidently got stuck and the thick rope pulled thru. I got the thick rope pulled down, but the washer was missing, it never came down. The other times the washer got stuck it also became unstuck. Sometimes it became unstuck for no reasonable ascertainable by me. Sometimes it became unstuck when the thick rope was free falling from itís own weight. However the washer became unstuck Iíll tell you that itís position on the thick line was close enough to the free end of the falling thick rope that often the washer that was stuck and then became unstuck is now dangerously close to sliding off the end of the thick rope. If my testing of this blocking washer system had occurred on vertical rock with no ledges Iím sure that the washer, when it became stuck and then unstuck, would have more often that not, ultimately slid off the end of the thick rope. The less than vertical rock and ledgey nature of the alpine routes I was climbing prevented the free end of the thick line from hanging vertically in space and so I would find the washer slid down the rope, now the washer would be located somewhere along the rope. If the thick line had hung down a vertical rock face after pulling, then the washer could easily slide down the vertical thick line, and the washer would slide off the end and the washer would free fall to the ground. By the way, that could make a dangerous projectile.

Well, I came to a direct and simple solution to the washer sliding off the rope. I would tie an overhand knot in the rap rope. Here was my updated system, beginning at the end of the rap rope. The end of the rap rope is tied to the pull line. Then there is a big washer. This washer prevents the joining knot from jamming into the rap rings, it prevents the joining knot from going thru the rap rings. Then there is an overhand knot. This knot secures the washer on the rap rope. Now thereís no way the washer will come off the rap rope.

Two problems sprung up. First was that overhand could partially jam in the rap rings. If the rap rings were sufficiently small (Metolius and another type I forget) andn the rap rope was sufficiently thick, then the overhand would partially jam in the rings. This jam would make it difficult to pull out when yanking on the thin line. But the real problem was far worse.

Further, the washer can jam or stick in suck as way to prevent the thick rap rope from being pulled further. The presence of the washer can jam your rap rope. When I never yet used this system, but just thought about it, I didnít think the washer could be the cause of a jammed rope. I thought, hey, the washer is metal and metal slides across rock so easily, and the washer is round, and round things roll they donít get stuck. I never foresaw a reasonable risk that the washer could ultimately jam my rope.

The washer can jam in a constricting crack the same way a round rock jams in a constricting crack. And the washer can jam in a vertical orientation which causes sufficient retention / friction on the rope that the rope cannot be pulled through the fixed washer. And if you use an overhand knot to captures the washer so that it canít slide off the end of the rap rope, then this very same overhand will be the knot that fixes your rope when the washer changes basic nature from a safety device to a piece of pro in a crack.

I guess Iíll leave the washers on my bench in my garage, theyíre not for rock climbing.

That being said, when I rappel using a thicker rope (like a 10mm single rope) and a much thinner rope (like a twin rope) or a thin pull line (7mm or 6mm accessory cord) I donít enjoy using the heavily canyoneering tested rigging of a carabiner block (best to tie the clove hitch on the spine of the carabiner). I do use the carabiner block while canyoneering; itís a standard for single line rappelling, and all of the anchors are equipped with Rapide Screw Links / Quick Links. Though, in the recent 3 years Iíve gotten into ďghostingĒ newer canyons so no webbing and Quick Links are left behind; nothing is left behind of our rappels in these canyons.

When I rappel on different sized lines I join them with a flat overhand. I then take the tail of the thinner line and tie an overhand around the thicker line. I squish this right up against the primary knot. I believe there were some tests, though likely not nearly enough, on this exact rigging? I always put the thick line through the anchors. I rap on both lines using a tuber device, like an Omega Pacific SBG-II. And then I rig a carabiner brake on the thin line. This carabiner brake is rigged up rope from my primary rap device.

Iíve used this exact system on 10mm main rope and using any one of 3 thinner lines: 6mm cord, 7mm cord or 7.4mm twin climbing rope. Iíve logged over 50 full length rappels on this system and never had any rope creepage. The extra friction offered by the carabiner brake on the thin line allowed me to rappel comfortably, I did not need to apply extra hand gripping force to the thinner line. The thin line did not creep upward. The joining knot did not creep into the rap rings.

But I gave up on 6mm pull lines. Always tangling itself, tangling in the main line, tangling on bushes, tangling on rock features, and wind causes havoc. As well, they wear out fast! First I got 65 meters of 6mm, and eventually the sheath looked hashed. So I bought another 6mm 65 meters long. When that sheath / cord wore out I switched to 7mm. Oh! Pulling was much less crappy with a 7mm compared with a 6mm. And my buddyís 5mm I only agreed to use once, one day of rapping with his 5mm line and I told him I would never use that 5mm again; pulling is ridiculously stretchy and painful on the hands. But the 7mm still was not enjoyable. It tangled in all the same ways and was horrible in the wind. So I moved up to one of my 7.4mm Twin ropes. Behavior was better and I could use it to climb on by doubling it up.

Ultimately, I got a pair of Half Ropes 8.4mm in 1998 and thatís all I climb on. Itís been 12 years of no fooling around. Two ropes for increased safety in falls over sharp edges. Two ropes to easily mitigate rope drag on wandering alpine and crag routes. Two ropes to increase safety for the follower on traversing sections that are followed by a vertical section. Two ropes for full length rappels. Two ropes for increased safety in case rockfall cuts one rope.


Social climber
Berkeley, CA
May 21, 2010 - 04:39pm PT
Ok, I don't really understand this business about a washer. Can somebody take a picture?
scuffy b

Where only the cracks are dry
May 21, 2010 - 04:45pm PT
Is the main reason for these shenanigans the ability to take a light 2nd
rope, or is it being able to rappel using your single strand device?

Trad climber
OAK (nee NH)
May 21, 2010 - 04:49pm PT
'biner block


Social climber
Berkeley, CA
May 21, 2010 - 07:00pm PT
I get the biner block.

Where's the "washer"? I searched the whole page for the word washer, and I didn't see it.

Social climber
Berkeley, CA
May 21, 2010 - 07:06pm PT
I know - I'm just trying really hard to imagine some sort of hardware store washer tied somewhere to the rope (instead of a biner?) and frankly, my imagination is failing me.

Gym climber
May 21, 2010 - 07:11pm PT
Great question scruffy.

I think all this stuff is to make up for the fact that a super skinny 2nd line slides faster through a rap device than does a fat lead line. When you have ropes that are pretty close in size, there's no real need for all the shenanagans described here.

I usually take a decent-sized rap line as the 2nd rope if I know I'll be rapping. That said, I do have a 5mm that I carry on long routes, you know, in case of emergency.

I've always threaded both the skinny and the fat through my device when rapping, but with the clove-biner method, it seems you could rap the fat rope alone just as easily. Still, I hate having to pull that skinny cord first.

Gym climber
May 21, 2010 - 07:13pm PT
cleo, you thread the rope through the washer and it sits between the knot (where the ropes are joined) and the rap rings. The washer prevents the knot from passing through the rings. But, as mentioned above, there are problems with this method.

Trad climber
Santa Clara, Ca.
May 21, 2010 - 07:26pm PT
Cleo, the dude who brought it up also pointed out it's potential failings.

Let it go, don't try to visualize something that doesn't work. Especially when your rig is dependent on a 'hardware store' washer.

Bad idea!

Social climber
Berkeley, CA
May 21, 2010 - 08:58pm PT
cleo, you thread the rope through the washer and it sits between the knot (where the ropes are joined) and the rap rings. The washer prevents the knot from passing through the rings

Oh my gosh! People actually DO that, they carry hardware store washers around for rapping? I can already imagine a dozen ways that might cause problems, and I haven't even read the full post about it.

Trad climber
Western Slope of the Cascades
May 21, 2010 - 10:13pm PT
Totally Agree ... like I said before, 11 mm & 9.3 mm ... I like bomber belays, anchors and rappels ... Don't hear too many of these failing. The 8 or so pounds extra can be hauled up or the second can carry it ... it works ... quit the new fangled malarky and you will live another day!

Gym climber
Redwood City
Aug 22, 2013 - 12:23am PT
Ok, so here's maybe a dumb question/idea from a newbie like me.

To be clear, there are 2 rap rings here. One that you take up with you (#1) and the one at the top of the rappel (#2).

If you rap on a single rope with a tag-line, why not use a rap ring (#1) as the blocker on the fat rap rope? Maybe do a double twist through the rap ring and then back through the double overhand loop with the tag line tied into it. The rap ring (#1) being circular will never be able to pass through the rap ring being used to rap off (#2). The rap ring (#1) will also be the first in the fat rope to hit the rap ring for rapping off (#2). Obviously the rap ring (#1) you tie in as pro must be a bigger diameter then the rap ring being used for your rap rope (#2).

This is similar to the Petzl ideal using a blocking biner. Problem with biners is that they are heavy and not symmetrical.

Personally I don't like this idea as much a EDK with 2 ropes. However this idea can also be used for the 2 rope deal too.
'Pass the Pitons' Pete

Big Wall climber
like Ontario, Canada, eh?
Jan 3, 2016 - 10:40am PT
Just a New Year bump for an extremely important analysis of a fatal rappelling accident recently in Yosemite.

Have a read, understand, and live to tell the tale.

Cheers and Happy New Year, eh?
PtP Pete

Trad climber
Santa Cruz
Jan 3, 2016 - 11:39am PT

What is the knot you use to join to ropes in this picture?

Is it supposed to be a double fishermans?
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