American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Rock, Inadequate Belay, Cut Rope with Knife—Panic, Inadequate Experience, Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, North's Cliffs

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


Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, North’s Cliffs

On May 11, 1991, at 1530, an accident occurred while the Grand County Search and Rescue Team was practicing at Adams Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park. The team was practicing a vertical raising of a “victim” and rescuer out of the falls. They had been raised 25 feet when the prusik safety on the haul line locked. Rescuer #1, the victim attendant, cut the haul line with a knife, and the stream team fell into the water and floated downstream about 60 yards until stopped by the belay line. Rescuer #1 freed his victim, Rescuer #2 (41), and they crawled up on a rock, where they were pulled up to safety by bystanders. Rescuer #1 had contusions of right knee and left elbow; Rescuer #2 had contusions and abrasions of left hand, wrist, shoulder, and right ankle. Both persons were able to walk to the trailhead with the assistance of other group members.


Raisings are among the most complicated of technical rescue maneuvers. In this case, the team was not very experienced with raisings and could have chosen a safer location for the practice of techniques. They experienced problems with the haul line because they did not have enough members present to do the hauling, or enough equipment to increase mechanical advantage, or edge rollers or similar device to decrease friction at the edge. The belay device used as back-up and why the belay paid out so much rope before stopping the team is unknown. Rescuer #1 says he knew better than to cut his rope away, but did so anyway, possibly caught up in the terror of the moment. A better strategy for freeing the stuck prusik would be to attach another prusik backup to the haul line and below the stuck prusik. Haul to remove tension from the stuck prusik so that it can be loosened or disattached. Pulleys can be used in place of biners if additional mechanical advantage is needed or one is out of pulleys. If it does ever become necessary to cut a line, EMT scissors should be used so only the desired line is cut. Finally, remember that rescuers can have bad days too, and need to constantly check each other. (Source: Jim Detterline, Ranger, RMNP)

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