Vail ice climber survives 72-foot fall


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nick d

Trad climber
Topic Author's Original Post - Mar 30, 2009 - 12:51pm PT
Saw this in the Denver Post, guy was very lucky to survive. Good objective rappelling lesson, NEVER put the rope through webbing alone! Glad this dude lived to tell the tale to his kid.

By Edward Stoner
The Vail Daily

Posted: 03/30/2009 10:10:08 AM MDT

Chris Boratenski, shown with his ice climbing partners, sustained nine broken vertebrae, a collapsed lung and a broken nose in his 72-foot fall. (Courtesy

Chris Boratenski was suspended 72 feet above the ground when he felt a pop. A second later, he felt another pop.

Then he went into a freefall.

He watched the rope that was supposed to be supporting him coil like a snake at his side as he fell.

"The only thing that went through my mind was envisioning my wife and my son, who just turned a year old two days ago," Boratenski said last week. "I just said, 'I'm sorry. I'm sorry that I wasn't going to be there for him.'"

Boratenski, 31, of Evergreen, and two friends were climbing the Designator, a massive, vertical ice formation that hugs a cliff near East Vail, on March 21.

As Boratenski will readily admit, his own mistake caused the accident.

He was the

This photo shows Chris Boratenski climbing the designator ice feature March 21 in East Vail. Boratenski would later free-fall 72 feet after an anchor broke. (Courtesy one up that morning, using a technique called "lead climbing" to ascend the ice. At the top, he prepared a rope for a different technique called "top-roping," in which a rope runs from a person at the bottom, through an anchor at the top, and then back down to the climber.
At the top, Boratenski found nylon cords as well as a metal carabiner. He used the nylon instead of the metal as an anchor, something he now knows was a terrible mistake.

"It was a major oversight on my part in that friction caused when rappelling off the top rope is going to burn through those anchors," Boratenski said.

His two friends both used the rig to climb up and down the Designator. By the time it was Boratenski's turn again, the nylon was primed to snap. Which is exactly what happened.

He doesn't remember the impact.

Based on photos, he and his partners later calculated that the free-fall was 72 feet to the nearly-flat ground below. His friends told him that he landed on his back and tumbled another 30 feet.

Apparently, he slowly began to regain consciousness about 30 seconds after impact.

It took rescuers 30 minutes to reach him, and two and a half hours to get him down to the ambulance.

Boratenski said he didn't expect to survive the fall. He came away with nine broken vertebrae, a broken rib, a collapsed lung, lacerations to his face and a broken nose. He was released from Vail Valley Medical Center on Wednesday.

Doctors believe he'll make a full recovery, though he'll have to spend eight weeks in a back brace.

"I consider myself extremely lucky," he said. "I'm so thankful that it was me that fell. I can't even fathom if I was the one to set those anchors and (his climbing partners) Oscar or Charlotte ... ," Boratenski said, his voice halting with emotion. "If those guys had been ... ."

Boratenski said he's been ice climbing since 1999 and has done big climbs in Ouray and Banff, Alberta. He's done much more difficult climbs than the one in Vail that almost took his life, he said.

"That very well could have been a big part of the problem, that I was overconfident and too comfortable in my surroundings up there," he said.

He said he plans to ice climb again.

"I can't blame ice climbing for what happened up there," said Boratenski, who works as a mobile technology consultant. "All I can blame is my own lack of oversight in taking the right precautions and doing the right things.

Ice climber
Ashland, Or
Mar 30, 2009 - 01:02pm PT
dumbass, glad he's ok though!

Trad climber
Lee, NH
Mar 30, 2009 - 01:07pm PT
I'm glad for the climber and his family that he survived!

From the description it sounds like toproping and lowering, not rapelling as stated, is what weakened the anchor cord.

Ice climber
Pomfert VT
Mar 30, 2009 - 01:10pm PT
Its amazeing that anyone stills makes this kind of error?? It is just unthinkable that someone would set up a yo, yo TR and not beef up the fixed anchor and use at least 2 biners.......

Here in the north east we regulerly rap from Vthread anchors constructed with both webbing and cord without useing biners. Lowering through the same anchor will kill you pretty darn quick............
nick d

Trad climber
Topic Author's Reply - Mar 30, 2009 - 01:13pm PT
Chiloe, you are correct in your a*#esment. I think many do the same thing while rappelling, I know I have on many occasions. This guys event just reminded me what a bad idea it really is to do it anytime. Seeing it actually happen kinda drives the point home.

Ice climber
Pomfert VT
Mar 30, 2009 - 01:24pm PT
When we climb multi pitch up at the lake etc there is allmost never leaver biners on the V thread rap stations. The Tree anchors at the top allmost allways have biners/rings etc. Part of it is that the thread anchors melt out or freeze over quite often so they get redone or beefed up regulerly. I allways inspect for burns where the rope is pulled but rarely see any of that kind of evidence. The fact that these anchors exist at the most for 3 months and often only a day or so makes this practice acceptable to me.

Trad climber
The state of confusion
Mar 30, 2009 - 01:25pm PT
I'm glad to hear the climber is okay.
But one NEVER uses cord over cord.

Ice climber
Pomfert VT
Mar 30, 2009 - 02:05pm PT
Never use cord against cord to lower. It is safe enough for rapells but should not be done at permanant fixed anchors. For that matter permanant fixed ancors shold not have any cord or webbing used in their construction if at all possible INMOP

Mountain climber
Monrovia, CA
Mar 30, 2009 - 02:09pm PT
This just highlights the pathetic state of education in this country. The inability to think logically, let alone understand the coefficient of friction. Guess they never rubbed two boy scouts together.

Trad climber
Lee, NH
Mar 30, 2009 - 02:11pm PT
BITD, people routinely would bail from webbing or cord-only anchors. If you came across one already established, you'd check it carefully for signs that previous rope pull-throughs had burned the nylon. It often seemed prudent to add another wrap of your own, leading soon to a big mess of fixed slings until somebody came along with a knife.

It did not seem to be very likely that one rappel (unlike repeated pull-throughs) would melt the webbing, unless you let it saw through while rapping two ropes that slipped through your rap system at different speeds -- and we watched out for that.

Although sling-anchor rappels were common, I don't recall ever *not* understanding that lowering or belaying through slings could cut them. So how does one get good enough to lead Rigid Designator without this basic knowledge?

Ice climber
Pomfert VT
Mar 30, 2009 - 02:18pm PT
That was bugging me. That thing looks like its 5ish. Could be a case of strong arms, weak mind?

Trad climber
Iss WA
Mar 30, 2009 - 02:31pm PT
Little scary to hear of it this way but the results could have been worse.

I know all three involved and have to say I am surprised that Oscar let alone Charlotte and Cri (not Chris) missed the anchor.

God's speed to a quick recovery...shit happens when you aren't paying attention.

Trad climber
Mar 30, 2009 - 03:09pm PT
Never trust a v thread made by another climber unless you can see the whole rig and know it is good. There was a fatality a few years ago near Banff when a visiting climber used a v thread set up earlier in the season. It turns out the thread had a long loose end. When ice built up around the cord the good thread was covered and the loose end was frozen so all the climber saw was a loop coming out of the ice with no evidence of the V. it popped when he weighted the rope.

Trad climber
Mountain View, CA
Mar 30, 2009 - 03:11pm PT
The Rigid Designator is the most famous ice climb in Colorado. Couple that with the fact that leading ice is way harder than following (the gap is much larger than in rock climbing) and lots of times you have a situation at the Designator where you have one experienced leader being the rope gun for a lot of less experienced or less competent ice climbers.


ps - having said all that, what the climber did was a pretty rookie mistake.

Trad climber
Mountain View, CA
Mar 30, 2009 - 03:15pm PT
I wanted to make this a separate post, but here is another no-no that might not seem obvious.

Years ago, my partner and I were rebolting a route at Pinnacles National Monument (Long's Folly). We had two ropes doubled through the anchors one on top of each other as we each worked on portions of the climb. When it came time to pull the two ropes, we pulled his rope first because it was on top of my rope.

You can guess the result. His rope was fine, but the one spot, right at the bend at the anchor, where his rope slid across mine, wore through to the core. We should have pulled both ropes together rather than one at a time.


Trad climber
Santa Clara, Ca.
Mar 30, 2009 - 03:16pm PT
Dude's very lucky...hopefully he's less careless in the future.

Ice climber
Los Altos, CA
Mar 30, 2009 - 03:16pm PT
I was standing 15 feet from Cri when he landed...

I don't think it is so much about knowledge or education. As Cri said in the above referenced article, he felt very confident during the climb and made a mistake by leaving out the most important part of the anchor while threading the rope for his initial double rope repell. We all repell off softgoods all the time - may be he didn't think that this would also be a jo-jo anchor... He doesn't know himself. But, if asked before hand if it's ok to use only softgoods for a TR anchor, he very well knew that doesn't work.

Here's my three learnings:
-I could have asked him "Cri, how did you thread the anchor" once he came down on his double rope. That would have prevented the accident since I would have led up an re-done it.
-Both me and my wife Charlotte followed on TR, however neither one of use climbed the last 5 feets up to the anchor and double checked it.
-I used the same anchor when I led the climb the day before the accident (yes, I used the biner). However, I wanted double back-ups so I used a 6mm cord (spectra/nylon) as a second backup. The anchor now had the sling w. the biner, a 1/2" sling as back-up and the 6mm cord. Now to my learning: The 6mm cord burt off in Cri's fall and hence didn't at all work as a backup.

Think about it... do you always check others TR anchors? You do? Good for you. I didn't. Did you know that cords make really back back-up's? Good. I didn't.

You live and you learn.



Mar 30, 2009 - 03:20pm PT
Another recommended tip when rapping off a v-thread : back it up with an ice screw (or two) for the first person(s) down. Make a new one if there is any doubt at all.

Sad to hear of this accident, but glad it is not more serious.

Social climber
The internet
Mar 30, 2009 - 03:25pm PT
I'm pretty sure I could get hurt doing something stupid too - it just won't be running a rope through webbing for a TR.

Kind of sounds like someone was too stingy to add a biner to the anchor.

Give the guy a point not setting a TR through 1 biner.

Curious - did you booty the 1 biner that was there?

Social climber
Mar 30, 2009 - 03:28pm PT
hey there all... very very good that he survived and his family did not lose him...

also, thanks for sharing and warning others, and most important--good to know that he will share what this mistake does...

for folks that climb, you all set out really strong important infor here at supertopo---i know, you all have constantly said (as you shared) that it is stuff folks should know, but folks being individuals and having their own mind-set, may not listen (as you all have also learned)... so keep up the good work..

say, i was coaching and teaching some kids once, and still do, but not as a public school teacher, etc---but i have learned that every one learns differently, and sad to say, some learn only by constant repitition of the results set before their eyes (in differnt ways) (and sometimes in adverse ways), as they seem to think that they already know all the facts and that nothing will fall out of line for them.... and in truth, they may know such---but they dont always know the "what happens if..." can strike anyone (and when it comes and upsets what "normaly may be okay" one is in dire trouble)...

well, what i'm trying to say, is---people are just grown up kids, and we can always keep learning and adding more to our plate of knowledge... especailly, when there are other 'catalyst' that have adverse effects on certain foundations...

you folks are really great here, at sharing so much...
climbers have a vast chest of knowledge from you all...

*did NOT mean any of this, agains the man and his fall....just sharing as in general to how people are always like kids, in some way.... needing a guiding hand, and more facts, than they may at first realize...
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