Fatality on Snake Dike 11/8/15


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Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
Dec 2, 2016 - 06:53pm PT
There are often multiple contributory factors (aka causes) in an accident.
So I wouldn't assign 100% to a single factor.

However, I think it's often still useful to think about decisions made, and if there were alternative choices that would have reduced risk.
If there is one choice which made a very big difference, it could be called the primary cause.

Big Wall climber
Dec 3, 2016 - 10:47am PT
I see folks doing this PAS thing often. Just last week in Red Rocks, my girlfriend was doing the single PAS to anchor in and with no secondary tie in. When I pointed this out to her she replied "I'm OK with it", to which I said " I'm not taking you off belay until you're tied in with your rope into the 2nd bolt".

Later that same day, same route, a guy arrives at the belay station I was at, clips in with his PAS once, and calls down to his belayer that he's off belay. I quickly set him straight.

Redundant anchors and redundant points of attachment to the anchors are a must.

As a group we should be vigilant about checking our partners setup. I see no harm in giving a little scrutiny to each other's safety system.

Trad climber
Dec 3, 2016 - 12:41pm PT
No need to place blame or find fault. Instead, we can derive some lessons that might make future climbs a bit safer. Such as:

- Use redundant tie-ins at any anchor point
- Test them (at least by weighting them) before unclipping from the rope
- Assume that any significant shortage of sleep is an additional risk factor, calling for extra care

Trad climber
Dec 3, 2016 - 12:53pm PT
My heart breaks for the family and friends of this lovely young person.
I know the grieving will last forever in some degree. I stopped climbing before many of the gadgets folks use nowadays. I always thought the simplest approach was the easiest and safest. Knots I can inspect, carabiner breaks
I know how to use,a simple belay plate, if I untie from the rope, tie in and back it up before
I untie. Check my partners setup and have him check mine. It was a system I used over and over and over.
No disrespect but gravity never takes a break, when I was off the deck, neither did I.
Ward Trotter

Trad climber
Dec 3, 2016 - 02:00pm PT
Deepest sympathies to family and friends.

Social climber
Ridgway, CO
Dec 3, 2016 - 05:42pm PT
Redundant anchors and redundant points of attachment to the anchors are a must.

Levy sums it up nicely.

My best to Angela's loved ones.
Charlie D.

Trad climber
Western Slope, Tahoe Sierra
Dec 4, 2016 - 07:28am PT
What a sad story and profound loss.

As a total aside and for what it's worth tying in at the 35 m mid point when a party of three has a single rope on a run out route can be asking for trouble. I've done plenty of routes with parties of three on a single rope particularly on alpine routes. We typically tie the middle climber close to the end of the rope above the last climber allowing the lead climber to reach the belay before any follower starts climbing. It's been decades since I've done SD, perhaps with a 70 meter rope the lead climber does reach the belay in a mere 30 + meters???

Anyway something to keep in mind, my sincerest condolences to family and friends.

Trad climber
Poughkeepsie, NY
Dec 4, 2016 - 11:01am PT
A sad and terrible tragedy, but also a flawed analysis in that redundancy is a red herring.

Climbers connect to anchors with a single strand of the climbing rope---so much for redundancy as an operative principle. If potentially large belaying loads are not in the offing, there is nothing the matter with a PAS, sling, or other tether attachment, which is all most climbers ever use on rappels.

Of course, you do have to use your tether correctly and make sure all the locking carabiners are properly done up. It appears that a gate held open by the locking screw allowed the merely threaded tether to release completely. Complicating the tether by adding a second sling clipped to the tether with a locker makes the system more complex and sounds to me like a bad idea from the outset. While on the climb, long tie-ins could always have been managed with the rope.

Many climbers test their rappel device set up by weighting it while still tethered in. The climber in this scenario could have tested her anchor set-up by weighting it while still tied in to and belayed by the climbing rope.

Like many things in climbing, small details matter and the consequences of not attending to them can be catastrophic. Sometimes the solution might be some kind of doubling up of the system, but I think very few climbers are going to carry and employ double tethers for anchoring when unroped, and no technical account that I know of recommends this in rappelling situations. The analysis that recommends this as a solution is simply not going to be followed by the majority of climbers.

One of the more experienced climbers appeared to have noticed that something was peculiar about the victim's anchor set-up. Had he said, "you might not be attached to your anchor---don't weight it and check your system please!" all would probably have been well. From the armchair, this failure to warn looks like a lapse that contributed to the tragedy, but no one who was not on the scene can tell whether such an intervention could have happened.

Condolences to the party and family, who no doubt are still grieving this terrible loss.

Cumberland Plateau
Dec 4, 2016 - 01:28pm PT
The redundancy argument is somewhat like "if you can't tie a knot tie a lot".
Bad Climber

Trad climber
The Lawless Border Regions
Dec 4, 2016 - 03:18pm PT
Thanks, rgold. My thoughts, too. If you're tied in, you're tied in--PAS or not. Sadly, this woman wasn't.

High Fructose Corn Spirit

Gym climber
Dec 4, 2016 - 05:10pm PT
"Many climbers test their rappel device set up by weighting it while still tethered in."

I am one. Without fail. Every single time.

Regarding redundancy I employ it in several areas of my climbing system, I'd hate to have to climb without it.

Dec 4, 2016 - 08:44pm PT
I agree with rgold-- the problem wasn't redundancy in anchoring, it was about not testing the anchor prior to going off rappel.

Aside from that, there are a lot of details about the event that... leave me a bit bewildered.

The Good Places
Dec 4, 2016 - 10:11pm PT
test their rappel set up by weighting it while still tethered in

this is worth your while.

Gym climber
Dec 21, 2016 - 10:53am PT
I was just notified of this through the SuperTopo monthly email...

My heart lept with hurt readying about this. I wish to convey my condolences to the friends and family of Sarah.

As a father of 2 girls I cannot fathom what this loss must be like to the parents. I think I would have a heart attack and die myself.

To the folks on the team I cannot imagine the sight and sound of seeing your teammate fall to their injury/death. I'm sure it will haunt dreams for years to come. I hope that you are able to find peace through family, friends, church, nature, etc.
the Fet

Dec 21, 2016 - 12:58pm PT
As mentioned multiple factors led to this accident no need to place blame.

The primary factor was not double checking the tie in to the anchor before weighting.

I agree that two tie ins to the anchor is not always needed. To me redundancy at the anchor means being connected to at least two bolts or pieces of pro. A bolt could have been over torqued during installation and be ready to shear off. So I think you need to be connected to both bolts. Usually I'll use sling(s) to create a master point and clip into that with the rope or a sling girthed to leg and waist loops.

You should connect to a mid point of the rope with two biners reversed and opposed. A fall on a cross loaded single biner can approach its rated strength. Plus even locking singles can come undone.

And I don't like the idea of lowering a climber to to anchor and leaving them there without the rope. If the wind picked and and you couldn't get the rope there or if another member of the party got hurt you would leave that person stranded there.

Social climber
Mountain View/Boulder
Dec 21, 2016 - 11:37pm PT
I agree with rgold on this one. Redundancy is used to potentially prevent an accident if there is some sort of failure in the system. By failure I mean a bolt breaking or a carabiner breaking or a sling breaking. Something has to 'break.'

It appears in this accident that nothing broke. The climber did not clip their tether into the anchor correctly.

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
Dec 22, 2016 - 07:41am PT
Unfortunately a post mortem of any accident will show that "by defintion" something went wrong....equipment failure or human error. It is helpful to publicize these events to help educate the public but, accidents will continue to happen.

Trad climber
Portland, Oregon
Dec 22, 2016 - 08:26am PT
rgold: ...small details matter...

Kind of sums up most accidents - it isn't necessarily the big and obvious things, but rather the small and subtle details that can be easily missed, overlooked and / or escape notice. The redundancy that really counts lies in checking all the details more than once.

Boulder climber
Dec 22, 2016 - 09:24am PT
Exactly donini.

Our survivor biased retrospective thinking, especially when applied to our own beliefs/behaviors, just leads us to believe that accidents can't happen to us, because so far we've done everything right.

Even when we talk about the dumbest thing we ever did climbing, we tell it (and hear it) as if we're action heroes, bat-manning up the rope, excercising our prodigious strength and self-diagnosed "insane strength of mind" to reach the summit. We don't really see it as dumb, and others don't see it as dumb - we see it more as an un-"imasculated" version of ourselves, while railing against society "imasculating" us.

But it's usually not the cause that we identified that's the issue, but the cause of the cause of the cause. And that's tough for us to compute.

Social climber
An Oil Field
Dec 22, 2016 - 10:26am PT
I read about her, and it sounds like she was an amazingly good person. All fatalities are tragedies, but a young and kind person would have gone on to do much good in the world, and now that has vanished.

The loss of a young person is always bitter, and the more experienced should take note. These types of accidents happen to the best climbers as well. Through history we have seen many good climbers die like this, from the simple things.

I wish that this young woman would have lived to be old. She was a terrific person, and now that young life is gone. Somehow, I did live to be old, and did do good things with my life. She was better than me, so the tragedy is the years of her life that she and the rest of us will never see happen. The good things that would have affected many people. The family that she never got to create nor the good things that would have affected many.

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