American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Rappel Failure, Inadequate Equipment, Colorado, Twin Owls

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1979

RAPPEL FAILURE, INADEQUATE EQUIPMENT

Colorado, Twin Owls

On June 30, at 2:45 p.m., Diane Russell (23) fell vertically 25 to 30 feet down a rock face while lowering herself down a rope. She sustained a compression fracture of a vertebra, bruised right foot and a sprained right hand as a result of the fall. Park personnel responded and evacuated Russell on a spine board to the Twin Owls trailhead where she was taken to the Estes Park hospital by ambulance.

According to Russell and Mike Babowicz (her climbing companion) Russell had reached the top of the first lead on the Wolfstooth route on Twin Owls. Finding that Babowicz could not follow the route, he untied from his end of the rope and Russell began to lower herself using a top anchor as a pulley and holding onto the rope as it passed up through the anchor and down to her. As she lowered herself, the end of the rope going up through the anchor came up to her sooner than she expected and slipped out of her hands. Babowicz could do little to help cushion the fall but did prevent Russell’s head from hitting the ground (rock) which may have prevented serious head injuries, as Russell was not wearing a climbing helmet.

Babowicz convinced Russell to lie still and then called for help. Tim Weiswas- ser, another climber in the area, went to Twin Owls to report the incident. Rangers Sauer and Logan were notified at 3:08 p.m. by ROMO Dispatch, as were trail crew personnel in the area. Sauer and Morgan were dispatched with the medical pack and radio to the scene. Logan organized the carry out team and proceeded to the scene. Russell was treated for back injuries, splinted on a backboard and lowered down the rock and slopes using “scree evac” techniques.

Russell was turned over to the Estes Park Ambulance Service at 5:30 p.m. at the trailhead. At that time she still had feeling and movement in all extremities. Her condition was stable. (Source: Charles E. Logan, Rocky Mountain National Park)

Analysis

This particular form of descending accident has not appeared, fortunately, with the regularity it did in the previous decade. Perhaps a knot in the end of the rope would have helped, but Russell still would have had to reascend, it appears. (Source: J. Williamson)

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