Accident in the Owen's Gorge yesterday


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state of being
Jun 17, 2018 - 07:49pm PT
And the witnesses didn't warn when they noticed 20ft of rope coiled on the ground?

(hint: the scenario does not add up)

Jun 17, 2018 - 08:06pm PT
The only scenario that I can imagine is if the climber is moving quickly on easy terrain, then suddenly slows down. If the belayer isn't paying attention (at all), but simply paying out slack quickly, it seems possible to end up with the scenario described by Whitney.
i'm gumby dammit

Sport climber
da ow
Jun 17, 2018 - 10:08pm PT
^from her post
What could have been a small slip on a cool-down climb became a 35 foot ground fall. Because of the amount of rope in the system, my gear didn't have a chance to catch, and the rope never went taut.
I think i misread this to be a a cool down-climb rather than a cool-down climb, as whitney posted.
Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
Jun 18, 2018 - 03:36am PT
I am so glad you made it through okay,
Wise words about selecting your belayer carefully.

Jim Henson's Basement
Jun 18, 2018 - 05:43am PT
It's really quite a remarkable recovery all things considered. Already back on the rock a little- that's awesome!

I don't think the exact details really matter- this whole scenario really drives home the importance of paying attention while you are belaying anyone.

Social climber
Sierra Madre, Ca.
Jun 18, 2018 - 06:55am PT
Which is a point that really shouldn't need to be driven home...
Glad you're doing well, Whitney!

Trad climber
Upland, CA
Jun 18, 2018 - 08:29am PT
Whitney, I am so glad to hear you are doing better.
Your description of your “belay” is horrifying.
peter croft

Jun 18, 2018 - 08:44am PT
Wonderful to hear Whitney is recovering so well.
While this is the most important thing I also think it is also important to get the actual scenario straight in order to learn what we can - and to avoid placing blame where it doesn't belong.
As I've mentioned before I was close by when this happened. Since I knew the route (that Whitney was on) was funkily bolted and teflon slippery I was keeping tabs when it became clear that she was having trouble. At no time did I see the "20 feet of rope coiled on the ground". Following the incident a number of us locals agreed that the route needed to retrobolted - there had been previous ground-falls on it - and this was done soon after. If it was purely belay error that caused the accident this would not have even been discussed.
In my view the primary reasons for Whitney's ground-fall were inadequate bolting and slippery, polished rock. And if thanks are being handed out to the rescue and medical teams then they should certainly be given to her belayer. No one tried harder or suffered more to help the fallen. When stuff had well and truly hit the fan she rose to the occasion like a champ!

Jun 18, 2018 - 08:53am PT

^^Well spoken Peter and good on you all for fixing it^^ My best and congrats on the recovery Whitney!

"Due to witness accounts, the accident was caused by belayer error due to lack of experience and attention. I was very, very lucky that I was wearing my helmet that day, and that I was in the presence of such competent first responders. My take-away lesson is to choose your climbing partners wisely, wear your helmet, and to hold your community accountable. I vet my partners much more closely now, and I watch other climbers around me closely for errors without fear of offending them or stepping on toes. If I had noticed and corrected the behavior earlier, my day would probably have had a much different outcome."

Great advice for all of us. Thank you.

Social climber
The internet
Jun 18, 2018 - 09:04am PT
No arguement on partner screening, however IMO good partners check on each other 100%, such that if anything ever happens it’s pretty much accepted as a 50-50 split on fault. If I’m headed into a section I might fall on, I would check the slack situation and/or say “watch me”. If I trusted them enough to not verify or to catch a possible surprise fall, it would be based on numerous prior falls and a crystal clear acceptance of their belay habits. I’m very reluctant to climb with people who blame things on their partner without accepting a portion of the blame themselves.

Jun 18, 2018 - 09:15am PT
thanks for the clarification peter croft.

it sounds like the route was bolted in a way where falls at certain spots had a high risk of ground fall, especially without a perfect belay.

Given your description of the accident, I'm a bit surprised the extent to which Whitney's description of the accident disparages her belayer-- her account casts the belayer as grossly incompetent, perhaps even negligent.

Social climber
Moorpark, CA.
Jun 18, 2018 - 09:19am PT
So happy your alive!!!! 🙏

I remember reading about this and thinking “how the F could this happen?”

And the story of the rescue, the cooperation and help from strangers, is just what one can expect from climbers.

Thank you for finishing the story.... for now.

Keep climbing and heal up.

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
Jun 18, 2018 - 09:26am PT
Belay failure/lowering accidents usually happen in cragging areas with closely packed routes and a lot of other climbers...primarily in sport climbing areas. I think there are several factors at play.
*The experience climbing is for many the next step in a process that began in the gym and many climbers have less experience then you would find with a multi pitch trad team although I am well aware that many sport climbers have a tremendous amount of experience.

*Letting your guard down...cragging, especially sport, appears to be safer then multi pitch and some climbers have a tendency to become less focused and more casual about how they do things.

*The social factor...cragging, like bouldering, tends to be quite social with many climbers side by side in a confined area. This sometimes leads to kibbitzing and a general lack of attention.
High Fructose Corn Spirit

Gym climber
Jun 18, 2018 - 09:33am PT
Peter, tfpu.


Trad climber
Jun 18, 2018 - 10:00am PT
Thank you Peter Croft!

Trad climber
Los Angeles, CA
Jun 18, 2018 - 10:09am PT
One minor detail that was huge, she fell into a shrub, may well have saved her life, just some cushioning effect
August West

Trad climber
Where the wind blows strange
Jun 18, 2018 - 11:04am PT
If you are going to deck, it is worthwhile to choose a soft landing spot.

Mountain climber
Anchorage, AK
Jun 18, 2018 - 12:00pm PT

Glad you are recovering and in rehabilitation. Best wishes on the rest of your recovery.

She impacted the ground with her head neck, left shoulder and back. She was wearing a helmet that did not crack or have visible damage though her head seemed to impact a rock. I feel strongly that her outcome would have been different had she not been wearing a helmet

I had two large sub-dermal hematomas, three contusions (two on my frontal lobe), and a severe concussion.

This accident would be a good one for the helmet industry to look into.
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