American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Washington, Index Town Wall

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1969

Washington, Index Town Wall. On 5 October John Svensson (28) and Steve Swinburne attempted some direct-aid climbing on the Index Town Wall, some 60 or so miles north of Seattle. Svensson led a direct aid pitch, and they then started up a very difficult free pitch. Shortly after connecting this second pitch, they decided that they didn’t have enough time to complete it, and started down again. Swinburne nailed down to an old fixed pin they had encountered on the way up, and proceeded to rappel down from there, after first fixing the belay rope through a half-inch nylon sling attached to the fixed pin (it was driven in too far to enable them to put a carabiner through the eye). He successfully reached the ground and prepared to belay Svensson down as he pulled the pins. After lowering the equipment to the ground, he proceeded on A3 back toward the fixed pin. He had just unclipped from the second pin over from the fixed pin, when the 3/4 angle on which he was standing shifted abruptly downward. It held for a second, but before he could clip back into the last pin, the piton pulled completely. He fell 40-50 feet straight down, immediately breaking the ½ inch hero-loop through which the belay rope passed (and thus eliminating any possibility of his partner’s arresting his fall). Upon striking a slanting rock ledge, he broke his left ankle, badly sprained the right one, and tumbled some 20-30 feet further down the hillside in an unconscious state. Due to Swinburne s alacrity in summoning help, and the assistance of the townspeople of Index, Svensson’s evacuation was speedily effected.

Source: John S. Svensson.

Analysis: The half-inch webbing is apparently at fault in this case; it does not seem to be strong enough to hold under the conditions of such a precipitous fall. Since the belay was from below, once the rope was no longer held by the hero-loop, there was no possibility of arrest short of the ground. I recommend 1 inch webbing in rappel-anchors as a safety precaution.

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