Two climber dead, Rappelling anchor failure


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Mountain climber
Bay Area
Topic Author's Original Post - Nov 5, 2008 - 05:36pm PT

Two rock climbers found dead Tuesday evening in the Red River Gorge area fell about 50 to 60 feet after frayed, discolored webbing "blew out," officials said Wednesday.

Benjamin E. Strohmeier of Hebron and Laura Fletcher of Brownsburg, Ind., both 18, were found off Ky. 11 at Emerald City, a climbing area near Natural Bridge State Park in western Wolfe County.

Crews returned to the area Wednesday morning, inspecting equipment they hadn't seen on the rock the day before, said John May, a member of Wolfe County Search and Rescue.

There was webbing, a type of strap climbers use, on an anchor bolt, and the webbing "essentially tore in half, and as a result the climbers fell," May said.

The climbers probably died from the impact, he said.

"That's the best information that we have, and that's what it looks like happened," May said. "Unless you were there and actually witnessed it, you can't say 100 percent."

Both teenagers were experienced climbers. May said crews initially thought their deaths resulted from something more than a climbing mistake.

Two climbers inspecting the area Wednesday rapelled down the climb Strohmeier and Fletcher were on and found a piece of frayed webbing about halfway down, May said.

May said the webbing probably was left on the rock by other climbers and used by Strohmeier and Fletcher. Their other equipment was in good condition. It's not uncommon for climbers to leave gear behind because of the difficulty of the climb.

Investigators say Fletcher was discovered at the bottom of the cliff, and Strohmeier had gone over another ledge and was suspended by his rope.

Both climbers were in their harnesses.

State police are investigating, but have said foul play is not suspected.


Mountain climber
Nov 5, 2008 - 05:38pm PT
What a drag...condolences

Toker Villain

Big Wall climber
Toquerville, Utah
Nov 5, 2008 - 05:39pm PT
Please take that extra moment to double check the entire anchor when you rig.

Trad climber
Joshua Tree Ca
Nov 5, 2008 - 06:07pm PT
my sincerest condolences to family and friends of the fallen...


like RON said...


Trad climber
Nov 5, 2008 - 06:13pm PT
Yeah that is really sad.
Hardman Knott

Gym climber
Muir Woods National Monument, Mill Valley, Ca
Nov 5, 2008 - 06:24pm PT
I hate hearing about stuff like this - it happens too often.

I hate rappelling, and avoid it whenever possible.

Condolences to their families and friends.

Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
Nov 5, 2008 - 06:33pm PT
It does not appear to have been a rappelling anchor failure; more a general anchor failure. Maybe a "lowering anchor failure", but that is speculative.

The exact cause is still under investigation, but apparently she was tied in, and he was belaying. They were on a two pitch climb.


Posted: Wed Nov 05, 2008 6:42 pm

climbers of the red,

I hate to bring the news from miguels. The two passed at global village around monday. Ben left Miguels monday with Laura. Their plan was to climb white-out and lower to the ledge to climb " The Man Behind the Curtain". Tuesday afternoon Jordan and Kobes drove by the parking lot and realized Ben's car was still there. Worried for their friend, they hiked up to the wall. They found Ben and Laura dead at the base of the cliff. They quickly ran down and called 911. At the scene Ben had Laura on belay and she was tied in. Ben was farther down the hill than her. Today Dan and I rapped in from the top to discover what happened. It appears that they climbed "white-out" and then lowered to the ledge half way up the wall. This ledge is the belay for the 11a "Man behind the Curtain". From what we could tell, they decided not to climb it........there was no chalk.... The anchors on the ledge were two rusty bolts with webbing run through them. At the ledge we found the webbing was broken. On the ground we had found a rap ring with blood on it.
They must have put the rope through the rap ring and started lowering Laura. The webbing broke, pulling Ben with her. There was no gear on the anchors, so we think he went in direct to the sling that he was lowering her with. The webbing was completely white. Where the webbing was against the bolt there was a faint color of its original color, dark purple. We assume they didn't notice the poor condition of the webbing. Please keep your opinions on what happened to your self.....this is what we think happened. a funeral has not been set.........thanks climbers.

Dario Ventura

Goodbye Ben & Laura thread:

If the rap ring was found loose on the ground and was not threaded onto the rope, perhaps it just fell when the sling failed. If it was unthreaded, I'm not sure why it would have blood on it, unless it happened to touch down at their bodies. If it was threaded on the rope, it may have been handled during the body recoveries, then came off the rope during the recoveries. Either way, it's probably irrelevant, as the sling failed and Ben was not clipped directly to a bolt hanger.
'Pass the Pitons' Pete

Big Wall climber
like Ontario, Canada, eh?
Nov 5, 2008 - 06:39pm PT
Arg. Not again.

Right. What happened? So none of us makes the same mistake.

Condolences to friends and families.
Jerry Dodrill

Sebastopol, CA
Nov 5, 2008 - 07:01pm PT
Oh criminy. That's a real bummer. Sorry to read this. Peace to the family and friends.

Trad climber
Denver, CO
Nov 5, 2008 - 07:11pm PT
Too young... just way too young.

So sad.

Trad climber
new york, NY
Nov 5, 2008 - 07:15pm PT
Sad. climb/rest in peace.

Trad climber
El Portal, CA
Nov 5, 2008 - 07:16pm PT
If they found the rap ring and torn webbing, I think something like this may have happened (red lines being the failure points for the webbing).

I can't get the image to show up, so just click the link:

There's plenty of webbing in that condition in Yosemite. Climb safe, everyone.

So, SO sad.
Toker Villain

Big Wall climber
Toquerville, Utah
Nov 5, 2008 - 07:19pm PT
I started installing rap chains on routes I tended to repeat a lot in Zion and Snow Canyon beginning in the 80s after crunching the numbers (at the third sling replacement the chain begins to pay for itself), but soon appreciated that there were ancillary safety benefits.

Today I often see young climbers who don't even CARRY replacement/rap slings. Some say they can always abandon draws, but I suspect that the financial incentive is such to cut corners possibly even trusting one anchor.

C'mon people, BE PREPARED and watch yer butts.

Trad climber
primordial soup
Nov 5, 2008 - 07:46pm PT
not wanting to speculate at all, but it just seems screwy-

if they were at the ledge to do another climb they'd have at least had draws, what guy would lower a girl he was dating on a shitty sling, and not even bother to clip in direct? you don't have to put BOTH climbers at risk, even if you are unwilling to leave booty to get off the rock.

i admit that i sometimes take risks and whatnot (untie on a ledge, free-solo, run it out, simul-rap), but i NEVER put my wife at risk. honestly i think it even kinda bugs her, but why risk the single most important thing in your life? no way.

this story makes no sense to me at all.
the guy was young, but apparently experienced as heck- climbed since he was 5 or something.
Fat Dad

Trad climber
Los Angeles, CA
Nov 5, 2008 - 07:52pm PT
Very sad, especially at such a young age.

I can remember lowering or rapping off things like a single stopper at age 14 or 15 or prevent leaving gear behind. I cringe at the thought now. I wish those two had some of that dumb luck that kept me from getting hurt.

climber's near nevada...
Nov 5, 2008 - 07:52pm PT
Both 18. That is so painfully sad that I don't know what else to say...

My heartfelt condolences to the families and the friends.
May you find strength to get through this and eventually, peace.


Trad climber
Santa Clara, Ca.
Nov 5, 2008 - 08:32pm PT
May they rest in peace.

Lesson here is inspect bail slings if you're not leaving your own (better).

Also, clip into what's available around you, anchor yourself properly. If you ,the belay, fails...everybody goes down. This really never has to happen.

God bless 'em, this really sucks.

Trad climber
San Francisco, Ca
Nov 5, 2008 - 08:41pm PT
This is awful.

I know the white webbing danger from doing lots of backcountry AZ climbing. It can be pretty deceptive if you don't know to look for it.

I think it's obvious that they could have set things up in a safer manner. I did some dumb a$$ stuff when I was an "experienced" 18-19 year old climber, so I won't pass judgment.

Rest in peace.

'Pass the Pitons' Pete

Big Wall climber
like Ontario, Canada, eh?
Nov 5, 2008 - 08:41pm PT
Was the busted sling a single sling [indicating an American Death Triangle] through the bolts, or were there two separate slings?

So sad, so sorry.

Mountain climber
San Diego
Nov 5, 2008 - 08:51pm PT
Condolences.....So sorry to hear this. Just brings up Rappel danger AGAIN..

If this was just a piece of webbing blowing out from the anchor as it seems, it makes it even worse. I don't know how many times I've finished a trad climb to find an old sun bleached, weathered sling around a tree/chockstone. Allways hits me in the stomach to think of parties rappeling off this with no second thoughts. In the day and age of bolts, anchor chains and spectra sewn slings being the norm, don't forget the simple things!

Extra tubular bail webbing (If you think ahead put a date on it)
The waterknot
Rappel ring or bail biner

And for christ sake bring a Knife and cut the trash slings that have been worked all season!

Whats the cost of a 3ft. sling compared to a life...

Sorry for the rant.........Condolences again if anyone knew these folks.
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