American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Rock, Rappel Device Detached, California, Yosemite Valley

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1989

FALL ON ROCK, RAPPEL DEVICE DETACHED

California, Yosemite Valley

At 2209 on September 19, 1988, Alksander Lekic, of Celje, Yugoslavia, reported that Dragan Rogic (28) of Zagreb, Yugoslavia, had been killed in a fall to the ground from the Aquarian Wall on El Capitan. Rogic was rappelling at the time of the accident. He fell approximately 130 meters to the ground when he somehow became detached from his rappel device while attempting to pass a knot joining two ropes. The specific reason for the incident could not be determined, but Rogic was carrying all the equipment necessary to safely perform this maneuver. (Source: John Dill, Ranger, Yosemite National Park)

Analysis

Here is a case where a very experienced climber seems to have tried a maneuver involving muscle rather than technique in a situation that is not uncommon when rappelling.

According to his partners, Boris Cujic and Srecko Meic, Rogic’s Figure 8 was attached to the non-locking carabiner. Rogic was attempting to hoist himself up to loosen the loaded ascender, and may have been holding onto the Figure 8 for security and stability. As the ascender was freed, he may have inadvertently rotated the Figure 8, causing it to open the carabiner gate and slip out. Body positioning rather than manual manipulation could have caused the same result.

Rogic’s Figure 8 was large enough that the knot should have slipped through without problems and without needing to rely on the ascender. Were the Figure 8 too small, however, or were some other problem to occur (a common and harmless situation), Rogic should have followed the following procedure:

Stop rappelling just above the knot.

Attach ascender to rope above rappel device close to harness and put weight on it.

Derig rappel device and rerig below knot.

Attach second ascender (or prussik) below the rappel device; put weight on it.

Remove unloaded upper ascender.

With rappel device under manual control, remove the lower ascender or prussik and continue rappelling.

Both Cujic and Meic identified several factors which may have contributed to the incident:

Rogic was considered to be stubborn and occasionally an unsafe climber with a large ego. They felt that he would not listen to suggestions by them;

Rogic had been known to rely on his considerable strength to “muscle” himself out of trouble;

they thought Rogic might have been tired at the start of the day, and that he seemed nervous while climbing; and

Rogic was an experienced free climber but may have lacked the experience on long routes, use of ascenders, and in passing knots. Passing a knot while on rappel is not a difficult or uncommon procedure, and he had all the gear needed to perform this maneuver safely. (Source: Kim Aufhauser, Ranger, Yosemite National Park)

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