Sad News, Death Involving Pro-Traxion


Discussion Topic

Return to Forum List
This thread has been locked
Messages 1 - 20 of total 110 in this topic << First  |  < Previous  |  Show All  |  Next >  |  Last >>

Trad climber
Topic Author's Original Post - Mar 16, 2009 - 11:40am PT
On October 17, 2008, James Welton fell to his death while climbing the Touchstone route in Zion National Park. The National Park Service subsequently conducted an investigation into the cause of the accident in cooperation with the Washington County Sherriff’s office. Their findings have been released. The three-person climbing party had climbed three pitches (approximately 180 feet) without significant event. When the member leading the fourth pitch had reached the pitch’s top anchor, he tied the end of a rope into it. The climbing party’s gear, weighing 104 pounds, was attached to the bottom end of this rope, which was to be used as a haul line. The climbing partner then ran the haul line, which was also Welton’s ascending line, through a Petzl Pro-traxion device, a pulley which incorporates a cam allowing for rope capture as rope is hauled in. The climbing partner pulled 15 feet of slack through the Pro-traxion prior to Welton starting his ascent. The group planned to haul the gear to the top of the fourth pitch after Welton, the second climber, had completed his ascent. The third party member planned to ascend a second rope, the leader’s lead climbing rope. Welton’s fall occurred when the Pro-traxion failed soon after he started to ascend the haul line. The Pro-traxion operates with a cam and pulley mounted to a fixed plate. A sliding plate allows a rope to be inserted into the device. When the sliding plate is properly closed, a button locks the device together. NPS investigators were able to reproduce the failure of the Pro-traxion during informal tests when the device was closed improperly. They noted that the device could appear to be properly closed (but not truly closed) if the device was weighted prior to the side plate sliding into place. When improperly closed, the device can deform when weighted, causing rope to move rapidly past the cam in the unintended direction. When the Pro-traxion failed, the 15 feet of slack ran rapidly through the device, causing Welton to fall this distance while still attached to the rope by his mechanical ascenders. The force generated by the fall transferred to Welton’s ascenders, which severed the rope, resulting in Welton’s tragic fatal fall. [Submitted by Ray O’Neil, Plateau District Ranger]

Trad climber
The state of confusion
Mar 16, 2009 - 11:51am PT
That's a terrible thing.
Such a loss.
Ryan Tetz

Trad climber
Flagstaff, AZ
Mar 16, 2009 - 11:53am PT
Eww 15 feet of slack into the rope being jugged can sever it?!

Doesn't build confidence cleaning those sketchy aid traverses or lower outs.

That sucks big time..

Mar 16, 2009 - 11:59am PT
Sad. I wonder if the 104 lbs. of gear at the end of the severed rope was the critical difference.

Trad climber
A place w/o Avitars apparently
Mar 16, 2009 - 11:59am PT
I'm with Ryan on that. Anyone know the rope size, age, type, etc?


Boulder climber
Salt Lake, UT
Mar 16, 2009 - 12:05pm PT
A fifteen foot fall generates a pretty significant amount of force. I could certainly see one of the toothy ascenders (like Petzls) wreaking havoc on a rope when loaded with that much force. Certainly not what they were designed for.

Trad climber
Mar 16, 2009 - 12:06pm PT
very tragic.

Though i feel the protraxion is a fine hauling device, i would still never consider jugging on one. also, the button is not mean to be anything except a convenience, petzl is very clear that you need to have a biner in the bottom to lock the plates.

wish me luck, i'll be hauling on a pro-trax in zion next week....

(but no plans to jug on it)

I'm hurtin . . .

Ice climber
land of cheese and beer
Mar 16, 2009 - 12:07pm PT
Really sad, my condolences to all involved.

Why a jugging line would not be directly off the anchor is beyond me.
The Alpine

Big Wall climber
Tampa, FL
Mar 16, 2009 - 12:14pm PT
This is terrible news. I had an almost duplicate experience:
I was acting as counterweight for a haul on the NA Wall when my buddies screamed down for me to get off the haul line and on to the lead line we were using as my backup. Apparently, when they set up the pro-traxion it was not properly closed (though it looked like it). The little snap thing did not seat into its corresponding groove so the pulley wheel side began to bend and angle down... The rope was about 1 mm from jumping off of the wheel. I can't remember if we had a safety biner clipped into the bottom of it, but I don't think we did.

I've heard of others experiencing this as well. I am not a fan of the pro-traxion. Surprising that the genius that is Petzl has not addressed this yet.

Mountain climber
Mar 16, 2009 - 12:18pm PT
perhaps the haul/jug line was a static rope? that would increase the shock load by many fold. Yea, biner in the bottom of the pro-traxion - duh. although even if the plates didn't separate, any way the teeth could lose grip would result in same 15 foot whipper. It seems if you are going to jug a haul line you need to be extra careful and not rush things. would have been easy enough to clip in the upper tail above the protraxion but without the slack.


Bishop, CA
Mar 16, 2009 - 12:26pm PT
That really sucks. Worst nightmare scenario. Condolences to any and all involved with the fallen climber.
Double D

Mar 16, 2009 - 12:27pm PT
As I recall, the rope was a static line.


Trad climber
Mar 16, 2009 - 12:30pm PT
"Surprising that the genius that is Petzl has not addressed this yet."

i don't mean to belittle the tragic loss that this accident has caused, but as is usually the case, there is an element of pilot error involved.

petzl's instructions are pretty clear that the device is not safe without a biner locking the plates.

see page 2.


Big Wall climber
Mar 16, 2009 - 12:31pm PT
Bummer. Really sad news.

Add this to the number of reasons I don't use a ProTraxion.

Big Wall climber
So Cal
Mar 16, 2009 - 01:50pm PT
Sad news, It would be illuminating to know what type of ascender he was using.

Not trying to be callous here, but isn't the act of jugging a weighted haul line, not backed up directly to the anchors, called a "suicide haul"?

I've heard this term for years and personally would never jug a haul line weighted with 100 extra lbs. Especially when the anchor is a hauler & not directly clipped into the anchors.

Trad climber
Mar 16, 2009 - 01:54pm PT
For whatever reason, I never realized that Petzl required the use of a bottom biner to lock the two plates togather. Makes sense in retrospect and would have prevented this accident. So if some good can come out of tradedy, this would be it~ Use a bottom biner on your Pro Traxions and prevent a similar occurence.
Previously, I used a back up biner and sling in case the pulley imploded but using this biner on the bottom would prevent that, right? On do you think a back up sling is still in order?

Trad climber
The 7th Pin Scar on Serentiy Crack
Mar 16, 2009 - 02:07pm PT
With the old Wall-Haulers, you could fix and let the 2nd jug the pigs line. Once they're done, to haul you clip the pulley around the rope, bend rope over the pulley, engage cam. This way the climber jugs directly off the anchor and only has the risk associated with not tying in short. Can you do this with a Pro-Traxion (I still use an old Wall Hauler)?

It sounds like at best a Pro-Traxion must be engaged first, not holding weight until the climber has jugged to the anchor.

Big Wall climber
Mar 16, 2009 - 02:09pm PT
Yeah Tim, a biner clipped into the bottom hole is critical!! I have jugged on the pro trax, but not unless I have to and my prartner and I ALWAYS back it up into the anchor, by that I mean take the excess slack of the rope and tie it off into the anchor. I also tie a prussik (sp?) with just a tid bit of slack on to the weighted side just in case the teeth on the pro-trax shred the rope.
sometimes when you haul the pro-trax the teeth will not catch, so you have to move around and get a different angle so the teeth catch, even then sometimes the teeth don't catch so you have to close the teeth manually. Anything above a 10.5 rope will not work so well in the pro-trax, the bigger the rope the more often the teeth don't catch. I have also had the rope come off the pully and slide over in between the housing and the pulley. Fikin scarry!
The pro-trax in my opinnion was made for walls in Europe like the Drew, not for huge loads like we haul on some of the harder routes on el cap.
I finally broke down and bought the Kong Block roll, it is way more burly than the pro-trax.

Really the safest hauling device in my opinion is a fat ass high quality pulley and a ascender, I bought the block roll for convenience.
I have bent a pro-trax before hauling monster loads, ( and the old rock exotica hauler) and have heard of others trashing them under heavy use. I am not saying that the pro-trax is jingus, It's just that it's not made for the loads we haul, same goes for the mini-trax.

To answer your question studly, if the second is going to lower out with the pig and jug the line you should back up the rope into the anchor no matter what device you use.

And unless you are hauling light loads I would ditch the Rock exotica wall hauler, and I would never jug on it!

Trad climber
The 7th Pin Scar on Serentiy Crack
Mar 16, 2009 - 02:10pm PT
Jugging an engaged/weighted pro-traxion is a "Suicide Haul". You're letting an effing CAM hold yer weight. Clipping a biner on the bottom means that the hauler cannot fail one way, but it is still biting your rope.

Big Wall climber
Mar 16, 2009 - 02:21pm PT
I concur MR.T. I would not advise others to jug on any kind of device that has teeth. with that said it doesn't mean that us valley regulars don't do it from time to time. Like I said earlier, I like to have a prussik on the weighted side just in case.
Messages 1 - 20 of total 110 in this topic << First  |  < Previous  |  Show All  |  Next >  |  Last >>
Return to Forum List
Our Guidebooks
Check 'em out!
SuperTopo Guidebooks

Try a free sample topo!

SuperTopo on the Web

Recent Route Beta