Anyone know any details on a fatality in Yosemite yesterday?


Discussion Topic

Return to Forum List
This thread has been locked
Messages 1 - 53 of total 53 in this topic
Heloise Pendagrast

Trad climber
Tahoe City
Topic Author's Original Post - Oct 31, 2015 - 06:55pm PT
Friends are calling from Colorado to try and obtain details ... Any info is appreciated. Apparently family has been notified.

Social climber
Oct 31, 2015 - 09:23pm PT
hey there say, oh no.... :(

Nov 1, 2015 - 08:57am PT
Yes. There was a fatal rappelling accident on Washington Column on October 30th.

Big Wall climber
Terrapin Station
Nov 1, 2015 - 09:49am PT
Sorry to hear this.
ß Î Ø T Ç H

Boulder climber
Nov 1, 2015 - 09:49pm PT
uh oh -- condolences to the family and friends

Big Wall climber
Terrapin Station
Nov 2, 2015 - 09:02am PT
Any news released on who this was, or what happened yet?

Spiny Norman

Social climber
Boring, Oregon
Nov 2, 2015 - 09:02am PT
That's terribly sad. Condolences to friends & family.

And for those still here, check your rig and check your buddy's rig. Then check them again…

El Presidio San Augustin del Tucson
Nov 2, 2015 - 09:09am PT


Trad climber
No. Tahoe
Nov 2, 2015 - 09:18am PT
Sorry to hear.

Social climber
Nov 2, 2015 - 09:22am PT
.......... :( ...........bummed. Don't know what to say....

Thanks for the link jefe. Cool write up

Big Wall climber
Terrapin Station
Nov 2, 2015 - 09:24am PT
Thanks for posting that Jefe.

Fixed line that just ended out in nowhere?

Social climber
Wolf City, Wyoming
Nov 2, 2015 - 09:24am PT
RIP Ethan Gillett.
Condolences to all

Mountain climber
Colorado, Nepal & Okinawa
Nov 2, 2015 - 09:28am PT
The first fatality among the close knit professional climbing community in Yosemite in the 1960's occurred on Washington's Column under similar circumstances. Sad that it's still happening. RIP.
steve s

Trad climber
Nov 2, 2015 - 09:33am PT
RIP Ethan. Condolences to family and friends.
Please be careful out there.

Trad climber
Santa Cruz, California
Nov 2, 2015 - 09:33am PT
We hear stories of accidents unfortunately often. We are climbers, we are all cut from the same cloth and when this happens it hurts us all. When it happens to our core, our family, it’s a hard reminder that the risks we take are real, with real consequences. And for this reason, it’s worth saying what happened.

Ethan rappelled off the end of a fixed line. He was the most solid, careful climber I knew, and yet this happened. Maybe it was the fatigue of a long ascent up Washington Column, maybe something else: it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that you, everyone, be safe. Please be safe. There is always time to double-check the system, to pull up the line and put a knot in the end. There’s always time for that.

And to you, Ethan, may you shine, shine, shine upon the mountain tops. For now we all have another reason to reach the summit: to be closer to you.

Beautifully said and all of our collective reality.

Nov 2, 2015 - 09:40am PT
As far as I know, there was a fixed line on pitch 6 of the South Face (fixed at top and bottom of the pitch), and one or more fixed lines going from the bottom of pitch 6 to dinner ledge. It appears he rapped off the few feet of tail at the bottom of the line on pitch 6. Please be extra careful when rappelling everyone! Especially when rappelling at night, when you can't see the end of your rope because it's dark or below an overhang, when tired, and/or when rapping on somebody else's lines. Take your time to get things right.

Trad climber
Davis, CA
Nov 2, 2015 - 09:49am PT
Also worth mentioning that on the occasion I have had to leave a tail/leftover end on a fixed line that there is the possibility of someone else using, I still tie a knot in it just in case I/someone else mistakes it for the next line.

Trad climber
It ain't El Cap, Oregon
Nov 2, 2015 - 09:56am PT
Sad. But these sort of accidents are 100% preventable and should NOT be happening!

Trad climber
Nov 2, 2015 - 10:55am PT
So sorry to hear about this. Darkness, being tired, it's so easy to make a simple mistake.

Condolences to all involved.

Trad climber
Fresno CA
Nov 2, 2015 - 11:01am PT
Terrible news, yet again. There, but by the grace of God, go I. Condolences to friends and family. We all feel the pain.


Trad climber
Chamonix, France
Nov 2, 2015 - 12:44pm PT
Sad. But these sort of accidents are 100% preventable and should NOT be happening!

Hang on, accidents are just that. Accidents. And they happen.

Trad climber
Northern California
Nov 2, 2015 - 12:48pm PT
Condolences to Ethans family, friends and partners. He was obviously a bright light to want to pass on his love of nature and climbing to kids.

Social climber
san joser
Nov 2, 2015 - 01:16pm PT
Also worth mentioning that on the occasion I have had to leave a tail/leftover end on a fixed line that there is the possibility of someone else using, I still tie a knot in it just in case I/someone else mistakes it for the next line.

Worth mentioning again.

It is very easy for anyone to attach to the wrong end at a busy belay station or in the dark. The first opportunity to knot the end of the short line lies with the rope fixer. After that, every other person who passes through has the same opportunity. Takes about 15 seconds.

In construction we put safety caps on rebar that sticks up our of the foundations/ decks. What are the chances of someone tripping and falling at just the right place and angle to get impaled by a rebar? Pretty slim, but it does happen. The caps cost next to nothing and are installed as fast as you can pull them out of the box. I feel the same way with knotting mid-cliff short-end ropes.

Nov 2, 2015 - 01:18pm PT
RIP Ethan.

Trad climber
Nov 2, 2015 - 03:53pm PT
Is there any possible advantage to omitting the knot at the end that might help explain why this problem is as common as it seems to be?

Social climber
Nov 2, 2015 - 04:16pm PT
hey there say, ... my deep condolences to the family and loved of ethan... :(

prayers for them, as they have to move forward in life, without him, now...


Gym climber
Nov 2, 2015 - 04:28pm PT
Ethan gave up a PhD in the final years to live in his van and climb. And, damn, was he good.

Go with the wind.

How close have I come, so many times. So many times, just a flick, and safe! This time though, not safe, out. Over, and out.

That is painful, for friends, and for brothers in sport. Ethan, looks like a fellow I'd been happy to have known.
Heloise Pendagrast

Trad climber
Tahoe City
Topic Author's Reply - Nov 2, 2015 - 05:00pm PT
Ethan's family and friends need to get his car out of the Valley and back to Boulder. I realize it's a long shot, but if anyone in the Yosemite area is willing to do this, please send me a message and I will put you in contact with someone coordinating the effort. It's likely your gas will be paid, and possibly a flight back. Tricky logistics though ... Thank you.

Social climber
An Oil Field
Nov 2, 2015 - 05:05pm PT
In sailing, the end of the anchor line is called The Bitter End. You don't want it getting loose, or you will be screwed. The end of a climbing rope should also be called The Bitter End, because it seems to kill more climbers than anything, including letting the lead line snake through the belay device and dropping a lowering leader. It is preventable, but happens with some regularity.

Please tie fat knots onto the end. I know that it can get hung up, but it is there for a reason. Also, I never rapped a line on a wall without a jug on the line as a backup, or a simple prusik knot.

Sorrow for the friends and family. It is just such a simple and common mistake. It has been happening since the first multi-pitch routes went up, probably a century.
Steve Hickman

Norwood, CO
Nov 9, 2015 - 11:06am PT
A knot on the end is not sufficient. It can work through a brake bar or biner brake. That's what happened when Madsen died years ago on El Cap. God bless. Steve Hickman

Boulder climber
Nov 9, 2015 - 12:20pm PT
These sort of accidents are 100% preventable

If we just remember to not make mistakes then we won't make mistakes. Remember to remind yourself to not make a mistake.

But we're human. If we can't remember to not make a mistake, how will we remember to remind ourselves not to make a mistake?

We could take a step back and stay inside and watch football instead, but then our brains would beat ourselves up for living an inauthentic life. No joy there, depending on which neural pathways we've so carefully carved in our brains.

We all make choices, even if we aren't really the ones doing the choosing.

My condolences to family and friends.

Trad climber
from Kentucky, living in St. Louis
Nov 9, 2015 - 12:56pm PT
A knot on the end is not sufficient. It can work through a brake bar or biner brake.

Good point, but how often do we use a biner or a brake bar? (I'm not referring to rescue scenarios or sport-rappellers, but most rock climbing scenarios.) I never do, but that's just me.

My question is, and I do want to learn from you all who have way more experience- if the knot in the end is not sufficient, what is best practice so we can all up our game of safety here?

RIP to Ethan and much love to his family. Awful news :-(

Trad climber
Nov 9, 2015 - 01:18pm PT
Assuming the "higher" fixed line is long enough, why not connect it to the lower rap anchor with a re-threaded '8' instead of just putting a stopper knot on it?

This would certainly prevent anyone from rapping very far on it (knotted or not).
'Pass the Pitons' Pete

Big Wall climber
like Ontario, Canada, eh?
Nov 9, 2015 - 01:40pm PT
Rappelling is DANGEROUS! It is arguably the most dangerous thing we do up there. Remember the guy who died in the rappelling accident on The Nose recently?

It happens, it can happen to you - BE CAREFUL.

RIP Monkey Brother Ethan

Trad climber
Monrovia, California
Nov 9, 2015 - 02:08pm PT
I hate hearing about these terrible accidents. One moment everything is beautiful and the next all you want is to turn back the clock. I offer my heartfelt condolences to Ethan’s family and friends. I never met Ethan, but we climbers have a lot in common and every death sends waves through the community.

I don’t mean to criticize Ethan in any way. But I want to back up the comments about knotting the rope ends with a personal experience.

We had climbed the good pitches of Magical Mystery Tour on Tahquitz and were rappelling off. We had double 8.5mm ropes. It was windy and we chose against knotting the ends so they would not hang up if they blew around. I went first. As I descended I saw a buddy climbing to my right. He was just back from Nepal and I wanted to hear his stories. We were yelling back and forth making plans to meet later. I was distracted and rapped right past the anchor. When I noticed this I stopped and looked down. I was less than two feet from the “bitter ends.”

I had made this same choice many times without incident. Never again.

Big Wall climber
Fort Collins Co
Nov 9, 2015 - 03:20pm PT
How many times do we read about climbers repelling off the end of a rope. Guessing that it is close, if not the #1, cause of fatal climbing accidents. Always sad; tie ends and if windy,access the AMGA on how to rap with the rope on your side.

Boulder, CO
Nov 9, 2015 - 03:21pm PT
Accidents may, or may not be 100% preventable, but to the degree that measures can be taken to reduce or minimize risks, habitually skipping such steps appears to be the final causative decision in the process, prior to the tragedy du jour. In spite of the strong connection between seatbelt use and surviving serious vehicle accidents, thousands die annually because they chose to skip this simple step.
Successfully surviving a thousand rappels before has no bearing on the safety of the next one, yet familiarity breeds contempt. Most climbers I know have lucked out at least once, but might have become the statistic had the dice rolled another way. Accepting errors as human insults our ability to learn, to revise our decisions, and to decrease the risk factors we actually can control. I stopped climbing with folks who displayed poor judgment in routine situations, because I foresaw an eventual dice-roll with me as an unwilling partner. Only we can learn from another's fatal mistake.
Practically, a quasi-fixed rope scenario would seem to call for routinely anchoring the bottom with a few feet of slack. From above, pulling would quickly reveal the probability that the lower end was attached, therefore automatically knotted as well, providing redundant measures to prevent rappelling off an end, as well as preventing wind-blown rope tangles, twists, and such.
Habitually shortcutting safety measures, especially evident in speed ascents, is a recipe for tragedy. I once calculated that the time I spend securing each belay station would, cumulatively on the Nose, equal the total time of the current record. The mindset that prides speed over safety trickles down to making unconscious tradeoffs even when no time savings is relevant to the moment. Every one of these preventable accidents should be a wake-up call, but will soon wear off until the next go-round. Some things never change - only the names. R.I.P.

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
Nov 9, 2015 - 03:34pm PT
Accidents, by definition, are impossible to avoid, but you can avoid having an accident. If you are a climber develop unchangeable good routines for rappelling, belaying and lowering. Climbers do these things so often they sometimes forget that the slightest miscue can be fatal.


Nov 9, 2015 - 04:53pm PT

The British Medical Journal has banned the term accident in regard to injuries Because the term accident implies the event was not foreseeable. I can't think of anything that is unforeseeable.

For many years safety officials and public health authorities have discouraged use of the word “accident” when it refers to injuries or the events that produce them. An accident is often understood to be unpredictable—a chance occurrence or an “act of God”—and therefore unavoidable. However, most inju­ries and their precipitating events are predictable and preventable. That is why the BMJ has decided to ban
the word accident.
BMJ VOLUME 322 2 JUNE 2001

On the evening of October 31, I was in Lower Pines with a bunch of friends. The sunset lit up Washington Column like I've never seen it before. Most of us walked down to the river to see and snap photos. It's really sad hear that this happened. It could happen to any of us no matter how careful we think we are.

Trad climber
Nov 9, 2015 - 05:06pm PT
I read the link to the story of this man. It sounds like he was a great guy, Loved by all who knew him. His passing as a result of this accident is a great loss to many, or rather to the entire climbing community. He sounds like he was the guy you wanted to tie in on the other end of your rope. I pray his family and many friends find peace and hope in his passing and may he rest in peace.

Trad climber
Nov 9, 2015 - 05:19pm PT
Delhi Dog

Good Question...
Nov 10, 2015 - 03:57am PT
What Abissi said.
Sincere condolences.
Floyd Hayes

Trad climber
Hidden Valley Lake, CA
Nov 10, 2015 - 12:32pm PT
I seldom tie a knot in the end of a rappel rope, but when I do I CLIP THE KNOT INTO MY HARNESS rather than tossing the end of the rope down, so it is impossible to rappel off the end of the rope, it is impossible for the knot to go through my belay device, and it is impossible for the knotted end to get stuck somewhere.

Trad climber
from Kentucky, living in St. Louis
Nov 11, 2015 - 10:00am PT
Floyd's idea sounds ideal- not sure why I've never done that.

I guess you'd have a big loop out that could get hung up... but no way you are going off the end.

I have wrapped with the ropes on me as I go down, but I'm definitely not too good at this, need to review the AMGA method mentioned previously in the thread.

The reason this is so alarming to me is I usually do not put knots in if I know where the anchors are. In unknown territory, or dark I *usually* do... that "usually" part is what gets the best of us some time :-|


Trad climber
Davis, CA
Nov 11, 2015 - 10:19am PT
Remember, this accident sounds like it was a fixed rope situation with both top and bottom anchor fixed. It was the left over tail from the bottom anchor that was rapped off. My understanding is that he mistook this end for the next fixed line. In this situation, you are probably not going to rap down with that free, bitter end attached to you. It just isn't always practical or possible, especially if you are not the one who fixed the lines. Prevention is the first key here. Don't leave a free end below the bottom anchor on a fixed line! Fix that end back to the anchor or at the very least, knot the end very well. When transferring to the next in a series of fixed lines, make sure you are on the strand that actually goes to the next anchor.

I completely understand how this can happen. Last fall I was coming down the EC East Ledges raps. One of the fixed lines ended in the middle of the rap! It did not continue to the next anchor. Luckily, the end had knots in it and We noticed before we got there anyway and were able to get to the adjacent line. But it was still a shock that a fixed line would be left that basically went to nowhere.
Charlie D.

Trad climber
Western Slope, Tahoe Sierra
Nov 12, 2015 - 06:01am PT
It could happen to any of us

It's the sad truth, this summer I was rapping with a friend as I was preparing the ropes and he was tying himself off to the anchor. I glanced down to see his locking biner tied into the figure eight instead of this harness, he had just untied from the rope and was about to lean back onto the anchors. I immediately shouted out and he proclaimed, OMG I can't believe I almost did that. He's been climbing for 50 years or more and a 5 time El Cap veteran. Accidents happen, let's watch out for each other.

My sincerest condolences to the loved ones of Ethan.

Charlie D.

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
Nov 12, 2015 - 07:08am PT
I like Floyd's idea. It seems especially good for windy conditions (Patagonia) where ropes can be blown around and caught.
Bottom attention!

Trad climber
Carson City, NV
Nov 12, 2015 - 08:28pm PT
Man, always so terrible to hear of this type of accident. Condolences...

I agree with all the what should be done as far as knots and rap routes go for some redundant safety. What I do not understand is how does one make the mistake of clipping a rap device in to a short tail as it is so so much lighter than a full length rope? An experienced climber would have to notice that and double check. Even if your partner is pulling up the rope to un weight it for you, you would think they would notice. I have to believe there is more to the story.

Double check for your partner as well as your self!


Nov 12, 2015 - 08:34pm PT
Every conditioned living entity MUST make mistakes.

There's no escape .....

Social climber
Nov 12, 2015 - 08:36pm PT
check and double check. weight the rope on rappel before undoing your tether. fix ropes at both anchors fuhcryinoutloud.

It ain't ever robot-city out there.

Mountain climber
Berlin, Germany
Nov 15, 2015 - 11:25am PT
My sincere condolences to everyone who knew Ethan. I was on the wall the day this happened, and in fact it was our fixed line that he most likely rappelled off from. Me and my climbing partner are indescribably saddened by this and it took us quite a while to soberly reflect on the events that night. At first I didn't feel like discussing this online. But like with any accident, it's important to learn from it and avoid repeating mistakes - more so if they can have such drastic consequences.

First off, what happened? We were the first team going up that day and made good progress, which is why we decided to not only fix a line from the top of pitch 5 to dinner ledge (as most parties do), but also another line for the pitch after that. The upper fixed line was fixed to anchors 5 and 6, with a loose end (maybe 20 yards) trailing off. This is likely where he rappelled off from unfortunately. It's fair to say that we will never again leave a trailing end hanging in space. However, we also never expected someone to use these lines (except for ourselves, to jug up the next morning)! We were not even aware that there was a team above us, since we could not see or hear them the entire day. The first "contact" was about an hour after sunset, when we were preparing food on dinner ledge, and someone shouted down asking whether they could use our fixed lines. All teams on the ledge (3) confirmed that they could. About 20 minutes later, the accident happened. I can only imagine that a combination of several unfavourable factors (darkness, tiredness, stress...) led to this.

For me, the lessons to take away from this are the following:

1) Please, please, PLEASE watch your rap line below you. This should make you able to stop a fall before any knot would.

2) Be very careful with rap lines that you didn't set up yourself. Rap slowly (especially in the dark) and do sanity checks (How heavy does the rope feel when lifted? Is the rope attached from the end?)

3) Do not leave loose ends trailing when setting up a rap line, even if you think noone will use it.

I never had the chance to get to know Ethan, but from what I gathered he was a very competent climber. This is a sad reminder that this can happen to all of us.

Rest in peace.

Social climber
An Oil Field
Nov 15, 2015 - 01:41pm PT
CNO, don't beat yourself up. The accident was not your fault, even if it were your rope. Responsibility belongs to the climber when it comes to this.

As PTPP said, rappelling seems to get more climbers than rockfall. It is dangerous, so be careful.

Trad climber
Nov 16, 2015 - 02:54pm PT
my biggest mistakes happen when I;m in the biggest hurry,,,It;s getting dark,,dam,every second seems to count,,now getting old and spacey adds a whole new element,,peace and love ,,take the time you still have,,
Messages 1 - 53 of total 53 in this topic
Return to Forum List
Our Guidebooks
Check 'em out!
SuperTopo Guidebooks

Try a free sample topo!

SuperTopo Videos

Recent Route Beta