Subject: Low-Load Climbing-Gym Fall Results In Rope Rupture


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Trad climber
Davis, California
Topic Author's Original Post - May 21, 2006 - 10:57am PT
At approximately 1:15 pm, Saturday, May 20, 2006, at an indoor climbing gym in California, a climber was taking his "lead" test, which consisted of lead-climbing an indoor, slightly overhanging route of about 35 or so feet, clipping the pre-placed quickdraws, and then, taking a short fall from the top of the climb.

The climber, a young male, in the vicinity of 6 feet tall, of relatively thin build (weighing an estimated 155 lbs), had successfully climbed the route to its top, and had his hands on the top hold of the climb. His rope was clipped through a steel, key lock carabiner approximately 3.5 to 4 feet below his waist tie in point. The rope appeared to be properly clipped. The quick draw, and the clipped carabiner (that was about to take the load from his fall) hung out from the gently overhanging wall so that the carabiner did not come into contact with the wall. The climber, and his partner, were being observed by a gym staff-person who was evaluating the climber to determine whether the climber would pass his lead-test. In addition, several other climbers had gathered to observe the test.

Pursuant to the requirements of the lead test, the climber intentionally let go of his holds and proceeded to fall. It was not clear from my vantage point exactly how much slack the belayer had fed out at the time of the fall, but it appeared the climber fell perhaps 6-7 plus feet before the rope tightened and began to catch his fall. The climber had fallen approximately 2 clip points (perhaps approxiately 10 or so feet) below the loaded carabiner, and his fall appeared to be substantially arrested, when the rope ruptured, and the climber plummeted to the deck. From a (very rough calculation), this appeared to be a very "low-load" fall. With the climber falling (including rope stretch before the break) about 10 feet (and perhaps up to 12 feet), before the break, it would appear that by an equally rough estimate that this 10-12 foot fall occurred on about 35 feet of rope (between the belay and climber). This fall would appear to produce a modest "fall factor" of say, around .333 (compared to the UIAA fall test of "fall factor" 2.)

The rope broke at the loaded carabiner. It was obvious from the pattern of the break that the rope broke in an "exfoliation" pattern, with the nylon strands on the outside of the bend breaking first, and then the strands immediately underneath them, and so on. To repeat, the rope appeared to feed through the loaded carabiner properly, and so the whole length of the "active rope" appeared to be available to take up the energy of the fall. The carabiner had no sharp points, or edges, and was of standard diameter. The rope was not pinned against the wall by the carabiner.

I performed (an exceedlingly) informal examination of the severed rope. According to the rope's owner, who was the partner, and belayer of the climber who fell, his rope was about three years old. He reported the the rope had previously experienced several "light" falls, and, additionally, one 20 foot fall, which, according to the rope's owner, had occurred with much of the rope "out" to absorb the shock of the fall.

The rope appeared to be in good shape. The rope's sheath had almost no wear. I pulled the length of the rope through my hands: no obvious core irregularities were detectable. There were no detectable stains or other markings on the rope. In short, if the information reported from the rope owner was true, and there were no significant omissions, this appeared to be a rope that many climbers, including myself, would lead on, and indeed, had experienced less wear and tear than many gym lead ropes that I see employed on a daily basis. Of course, clearly, I am not in a position to know the whether the history of this rope was accurately reported.

I have never heard of a rope breaking from a low-load gym fall, nor, in fact, from any gym fall. Unlike outdoor falls, all the factors in this fall were controlled, and visible. It does appear very unlikely that there were any "external" fall factors that exacerbated the typical loading force on this rope where is passed over the loaded carabiner.

It is the fervent hope of everyone who observed this incident that the rope will be examined and perhaps some conclusions from such examination shared with the climbing community.

Until then, although I have been climbing for several decades, and have heretofore cleaved to the popular belief that unabused ropes don't break extreme under extreme duress, until someone examines this rope and provides an explanation for the failure which suggests an external weakening agent, I am re-evaluating my faith in the popular opinion regarding the reliability of ropes.


Trad climber
Gunks end of country
May 21, 2006 - 11:09am PT
What was the weight of the belayer? Was belayer lifted into the air? What type of belay device was used?

May 21, 2006 - 11:15am PT
condition of rope? brand? i bet the folks at the QA lab at black diamond would love to see the severed cord.

Karl Baba

Trad climber
Yosemite, Ca
May 21, 2006 - 11:39am PT
Nothing can be manufactured with zero defects over years of production. Sooner or later, some company, sometime, will screw something up. I'm guessing that's likely to be the case here.

Either that or the rope was subject to accidental exposure to some chemical over it's lifespan.

There have been several cases where tubular webbing failed at low loads. Later it was discovered that the webbing failed where one run of production stopped and was basically taped to the next batch and nobody noticed the splice in the climbing shop where it was purchased off the roll.

That's just one example of how wierd stuff happens

getting the name of the maker of the rope would be a great idea. The question is where to get the rope professionally examined and tested. The maker might want to test the rope and examine the failure but can they be trusted not to coverup?



Trad climber
Poughkeepsie, NY
May 21, 2006 - 12:17pm PT
I've heard of one other incident like this, in fact even worse---the rope broke on an upper-belayed fall. I heard that the rope was examined by the manufacturer and determined to have suffered chemical damage. Since then I've been extremely careful about how and where I stow my ropes. In particular, I try to never let them come into direct contact with someone's trunk or pickup truck bed. Of course, many people now use rope bags and this should alleviate the contact problem.

East of Seattle
May 21, 2006 - 12:30pm PT
What happened to the guy who fell? Is he okay?

Amazing about the rope, Never heard anything like it. Would be interesting to get a full report after the rope's been tested.


Gym climber
berkeley, ca
May 21, 2006 - 12:51pm PT
So much for my "ropes don't just break" mantra. Is the climber OK?

Social climber
The West
May 21, 2006 - 01:18pm PT
Ever since the Diving board jump, I've pretty much believed that ropes don't break though they do get cut.

It will be interesting to see how this works out.

I have broken ropes pulling cars.

Sport climber
Central NC
May 21, 2006 - 01:24pm PT
Generally, I think it's safe to say that properly manufactured and cared-for ropes don't "just break". If this thing snapped in such a manner, I'd be suspicious about its history. There are a lot of things that can do unseen damage to a rope.
Professor Fate

Big Wall climber
May 21, 2006 - 01:59pm PT
Cat urine can cause such a situation. I would bet there was chemical damage.

Social climber
The West
May 21, 2006 - 02:39pm PT
Areas like from one end to the other?

Trad climber
the south
May 21, 2006 - 02:51pm PT
Hmmm, first post a lu-lu, no real supporting details that can be checked out, no info about this anywhere else I can find, how about a little proof that this is not just a hoax?

Trad climber
May 21, 2006 - 03:23pm PT
The starting post is spot on of what happened. I was watching the lead test from the start. A few more details. Belayer was using an ATC. The climber was taken to hospital with back and hip pain. Have not heard how he is doing. He fell right on his back. I strongly suggested to rope owner that it be sent to the rope maker/ supplier for testing.

Gym climber
berkeley, ca
May 21, 2006 - 03:35pm PT
How much info would you expect to find on the internet about an accident that happened yesterday?
Russ Walling

Social climber
Same place as you, man...... (WB)
May 21, 2006 - 04:16pm PT
troll or sulfer tri-oxide damage. rope and car batteries = LEB. If real... wow and recover soon.

Mountain climber
Bay Area
May 21, 2006 - 04:21pm PT
I need to do some testing with ropes, when are you coming to Cali, I could surely use you as dead weight

Social climber
The West
May 21, 2006 - 04:25pm PT
which gym?

Trad climber
the south
May 21, 2006 - 04:41pm PT
I would expect posts on, and other sites, and the name of the gym, and possibly the brand of the rope, maybe a name or two of the posters at least, and some other verifiable facts.

Why would someone ONLY post on ST about this?

Ragmeat might not weigh enough, you might have to fatten him up a little.

Gamma Quadrant
May 21, 2006 - 05:14pm PT
As an engineer for one of the major climbing rope manufacturers I can say with absolute certainty that this is not a case of manufacturer defect. The average 10mm rope is made up of more than 300 individual strands of nylon yarn. It is statistically impossible for enough of the fibers to be defective in precisely the same spot to cause the failure described. The rope was either cut or was previously damaged in some way.
'Pass the Pitons' Pete

Big Wall climber
like Oakville, Ontario, Canada, eh?
May 21, 2006 - 10:09pm PT
Impossible for a three-year-old rope to have failed under those conditions!

The rope was either damaged somehow, or it was an incredible manufacturing defect. The latter is unlikely, since it sustained several other falls.

I repeat - IMPOSSIBLE.

But it happened.

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