American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Colorado, Near Morrison

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1951

Colorado: (1) near Morrison. On 22 April 1950 Jack Scudder, Walter Wilkinson and E. D. Woodring, all of Denver, were climbing among the Turkey Creek rocks, 12 miles southwest of Morrison. Scudder and Wilkinson were demonstrating rock climbing techniques which Woodring was photographing for instructional purposes. At one point Scudder was demonstrating an overhang rappel, using a figure 8 rope seat sling and karabiner, through which 7/16-inch nylon rappel rope passed. On the way down, his shirt front and collar were pulled by the rappel rope into the karabiner, making further descent impossible for the moment. In an effort to free the shirt from the karabiner, by cutting the cloth with a knife, Scudder severed the rappel rope and fell to a pile of rocks 100 feet below, breaking nearly every bone in his body. He was quickly taken to the Denver General Hospital, where he died 14 hours later. His death was the result of a series of obscurely motivated events in which carelessness apparently played the dominant role.

Source of information: Colorado Mountain Club.

Analysis. From the technical standpoint, the lesson to be learned is the insidious danger of the so-called karabiner-rappel - - namely, that anything loose around the climber’s waist, such as the tail of a shirt, sweater or jacket, can easily become entangled in the karabiner by the running of the rope, which tends to drag such loose material along. Many of us have seen climbers get caught this way on low practice cliffs, and it is easy to imagine how Scudder could have become excited over his predicament and cut through his shirt and into the rope.

The following might be added: (a) Any use of mechanical methods in climbing may lead to unexpected difficulties in various ways. The climber should study the possibilities carefully and pay close attention while using these methods, (b) If one gets into a difficult situation, it is most important to keep calm and to plan the next move with full consideration of the situation Scudder could have rescued himself easily enough from this situation.

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