American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

New Mexico, Organ Mountains—Cuevas Rocks

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1958

New Mexico, Organ Mountains—Cuevas Rocks—On the day in October 1956 when the accident occurred the weather and climbing conditions were ideal. A group of South Western Mountaineers were out for a short afternoon of rock climbing, they were finishing the climb with a series of rappels that ranged in length from 100 to 80 feet. The accident occurred when the last climber was making the last rappel. They were using manila rope, which although three years old exhibited no external sign of excessive wear.

The rope broke before Kenneth Olhausen (21) had dropped two feet on this last rappel and he fell 80 feet into brush and rocks. His injuries were a fractured pelvis and a broken wrist.

Source: Kenneth Olhausen

Analysis: (Olhausen). Inspection did not reveal any additional abrasion of the rope immediately before it broke, but subsequent tests have revealed that manila rope in the dry environment of the Southwest is subject to what we believe to be some type of dry rot and is not to be trusted for even a year. The rope broke a few inches above my hand and not at the rappel point.

The judgement of the party was faulty in using a manila rope of this age even for rappelling.

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