RAPPEL ANCHOR FAILURE, INADEQUATE PROTECTION
Washington, Mount Shuksan
On July 7, Duane Morrison (34) set out with eleven other climbers of the Seattle Mountaineers to climb Mount Shuksan in the North Cascades National Park. The route was the Sulfide Glacier Route. Seven in the party had never climbed before.
After a slow ascent due to the inexperience of one of the climbers on his rope team, the summit was reached at 1230. To expedite the descent, the decision was made by the leader to rappel off the summit pyramid, although most of the other climbing teams that day were using snow chutes and ice ax belays to get down.
Duane completed the first rappel uneventfully and had just started the second rappel when the rock horn that had been used for the rappel anchor fragmented. This was after five other climbers had successfully used the same anchor. Duane tumbled backward down a 70 to 80 degree slope. The fall was estimated to be 180 feet. Duane came to a stop on a narrow ledge in front of another cliff 200 feet high. Suffering only from a badly scraped knee, bruised hands and a sprained ankle, Duane was capable of walking six miles back to the parking area. He was wearing an external frame pack during the fall, which he credits with having prevented him from serious injury.
Here is a summary of what Duane said regarding his accident: “My instincts in this situation clearly said this was an easy downclimb with many easy ledges and boulders. I owe the limited nature of my injuries to physical conditioning, the use of a helmet, the external frame pack and good luck.” (Source: From a letter written to Fred Stanley)
Rappel anchors should be checked after each rappel. Natural anchors can be deceptive and should be backed up when possible. If rappelling can be avoided in down climbing, it ought to be considered. (Source: Dean Engle)