American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Rock while Rappelling, Miscommunication, Arizona, Flagstaff, Takes a Thief

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1992


Arizona, Flagstaff, Takes a Thief

On November 11, 1991, Tim Reid (31) was climbing with Rachel Perch (39) when the following accident occurred:

After completing a lead I clipped off two anchor bolts and called off belay. I untied my rope and threaded it through the anchor chains. I then lowered the end to the ground, 60 feet below. I asked my belayer to anchor his end to his belay device as I would be rappelling my end to the ground. He answered okay. I put myself on rappel and advised my belayer that I was rappelling and requestioned him as to his end of the rope being anchored. He answered in the affirmative. I began to rappel and fell approximately 40 feet before my belayer stopped his end of the rope. My belayer, in answering affirmatively to my questions, had been under the impression that I was asking if my end of the rope was touching the ground.


My partner and myself have 40 years of comprehensive climbing experience between us. This accident was definitely a freak occurrence, taking place despite both party members following strict rappelling protocol and commands. If it can happen to us, it can happen to anyone. My advice is to leave nothing to chance, and be redundant, redundant, redundant. Make sure both party members are conversant with rappel procedures to be used, in particular any unusual procedures. (Source: Tim Reid)

(Editors Note: There is a lot of climbing activity in Arizona now, especially with the growing popularity of sport climbing competition. The climate and route opportunities provide a good training location for this activity.

The reports for SAR Specialist Ken Phillips, stationed in Grand Canyon National Park, indicate that climbing—intentional and otherwise—is becoming popular there, too. In 1991, there were two incidents of individuals who had become stranded because they got themselves from a hiking situation into a climbing one.)

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