American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Rappel Error — Rope Tangled, Stranded, Inexperience, Darkness, Inadequate Equipment — No Head Lamp, Alabama, Pelham

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1998

RAPPEL ERROR—ROPE TANGLED, STRANDED, INEXPERIENCE, DARKNESS, INADEQUATE EQUIPMENT—NO HEAD LAMP

Alabama, Pelham

On March 2, Chad Lovelady (23) and Eric Langwager (17) decided they would go rappelling that evening on rocks behind the building where they work. Around 9:00 pm, Chad began the first rappel. About mid-way down, he noticed an overhand knot in the line. Rather than remove it, he forced it through his figure eight, continued to the bottom, and then asked Eric to remove it before descending. Eric untied the knot, tossed the rope down and began his rappel, with Chad on belay. Since it was dark and they were using a black rope, neither one could see that the rope had tangled about 60 feet from the bottom. Eric stopped just above the entanglement and tried to remove it with one hand. Due to his inexperience, he did not know how to lock off, so he tired and quickly slipped closer to the jam. This forced Chad to tighten the belay, which cinched the entanglement even more.

Rescue was called around 8:30 pm by a third party. After a basic pick-off, the climbers went on their way.

Analysis

Chad had about six years of experience, but Eric had only one month. Chad felt the entanglement was attributable to the fact the rope had been twisted by his figure-eight ring on the first rappel, and to the lack of attention when the rope was tossed off. The inability to correct the problem was also the result of rappelling at night without headlamps. (Source: Matthew Mobley, Pelham Fire Department)

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