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Inadequate Belay—Rope Passed Through Belay Device, Overconfidence, California, Yosemite Valley, Pat and Jack Pinnacle


California, Yosemite Valley, Pat and Jack Pinnacle

In the afternoon of September 29, 1994, Grant Farquhar (27) and Clare Carolan (25), both from Scotland, were climbing at the Pat and Jack Pinnacle area. Farquhar had climbed the bolted route Knucklehead and was being lowered by Carolan, who was belaying at the base.

When Farquhar was most of the way down, Carolan's end of the rope suddenly slipped through the belay plate, and Farquhar fell about three meters to the ground. Marcus Brown, an EMT climbing nearby, assessed Farquhar's injuries; they seemed limited to a laceration on the back of his head. Brown had another climber maintain C-spine control while he went to the Cascade housing area to call the NPS.

When rescuers arrived they confirmed Brown’s assessment, packaged Farquhar in the full-body vacuum splint and litter, and carried him down the scree slope to the road. At the clinic his injuries were found to be limited to a few cuts and bruises and he was released shortly.

Farquhar and Carolan were climbing with a 60 meter rope. They usually tie the belayer’s end of the rope off when top-roping, but didn’t do so this time. The route appeared to be less than 30 meters long so they figured that both ends of their rope would easily reach the ground. Apparently they were so confident of the distance that they forgot to check the rope during the climb. (Source: Mark Harvey, NPS Ranger)