American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Rappel, Improper Technique, California, Joshua Tree National Monument

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1987


California, Joshua Tree National Monument

On December 9, 1986, at 1400,. Ellen Hoffman (26) was rappelling down the face of Intersection Rock from a climb called “The Flake,” when her rope became tangled. She stopped about six meters from the bottom to untangle it, letting go of the rope with her belay hand. She fell to the ground, landing on her lower back.

An ambulance was dispatched to the scene when the incident was reported at the request of the reporting person. She refused the ambulance transport when it arrived, because of the cost. The Para-medic from Joshua Tree Ambulance and myself explained the possible consequences of transport in a private vehicle without neck and back precautions. Hoffman signed a release from JTA and left at 1700.

On December 17, I contacted Hoffman by phone. She stated that she had sustained a mild concussion from the fall and was seeing a doctor about lower back pain. There were no broken bones. (Source: Kip Knapp, Ranger, Joshua Tree National Monument)

(Editor’s Note: The victim must have disconnected her rappel rig, too. This is a rare accident these days, especially with most climbers using a prusik loop back-up or being belayed. We could call this “failure of the rappeller” rather than “rappell failure. ”

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