American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Colorado, Eldorado Springs Canyon

  • In Memoriam
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1973

Colorado, El Dorado Springs Canyon. On 24 November Mark Schemmer (18) was rappelling off the “Rosy Crucification” at dusk when his hammer became slightly tangled in his rappel rope, after having already cleared a rope tangling problem. His rappel sytem was a swami seat and brake bar, and he had a fully independent chest harness with prussik safety to one of the rappel ropes. To free the hammer, he let his weight be taken by the prussik and chest harness, but the latter slipped up under his armpits and upper arms; his weight was supported by his upper arms only. As circulation was reduced in his arms, they became useless. At this point on the rappel, the rock face was overhanging slightly, and he was dangling completely free from the rock. Schemmer’s partner, Rod Black, who had already rappelled off with some problems of rope tangling, was unable to use the rope to pull Schemmer to the rock for weight relief, and Schemmer did not work a hitch in a rappel rope around a boot to take his weight and relieve his arms. With Schemmer isolated and helpless, Black descended the rest of the route for assistance. Rescue was accomplished later. Victim was lowered to a litter and evacuated. Victim also suffered from hypothermia. Several weeks after accident he still had some paralysis in his hands.

Source: W. G. May, Rocky Mountain Rescue Group.

Analysis: Schemmer had the technical ability to climb this difficult route, but on his rappel he lacked the experience and insight to, first, take precautions that would have prevented the minor problem of the hammer getting tangled, second, recognize that allowing his weight to go to his safety would make continuing the rappel difficult when hanging free, and third, have knowledge of a technique to transfer his weight off his safety and back to his brake bar. He had adequate equipment to perform selfrescue.

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