American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Stranded — Forgot to Untie Safety Knot in Rappel Rope — Jammed in Anchor, Stranded, California, Yosemite Valley, El Capitan

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

STRANDED—FORGOT TO UNTIE SAFETY KNOT IN RAPPEL ROPE—JAMMED IN ANCHOR, STRANDED

California, Yosemite Valley, El Capitan

On July 3 Chris Donharl (17), Ben Beezley (17), and Mike Haig (about 25) hauled their bags to Sickle Ledge from the ground but then decided to cancel their climb of the Nose. They had de-rigged their fixed lines during the ascent, so Mike and Ben rappelled first with the haulbags—four rope lengths on a blank wall east of the climbing route. And Chris followed independently with two ropes and the hardware.

When Chris pulled the ropes after his first rappel, he forgot to untie a safety knot he had tied in the free end of the rope. The knot jammed in the anchor on Sickle Ledge, leaving him stranded at a bolt station in the middle of the face.

Since Chris had most of the hardware, Mike and Ben tried to find other parties who might lend them gear to re-climb the route. When they failed, they decided to contact the NPS.

Two NPS team members began climbing the pitches to Sickle (5.11a) at about 1500. They freed the jammed knot, rappelled to Chris, and all three reached the ground at 1725.

Analysis

Chris and his partners had each been climbing regularly for three to five years, including multi-pitch routes, although only Mike had wall experience.

Crack systems to the west offered a possibility of escape. If he could pendulum to them with his remaining rope he might have been able to make half-rope rappels, leaving gear behind, or possibly solo-aid back to Sickle. However he could not see the cracks very well from his anchor, so he stayed put. The wall was featureless in all other directions and he had no bolt kit.

Chris could have had Mike and Ben fix their ropes on the last rappels as a backup in case something happened to him. He also could have explored the cracks to the west. He could have pendulumed on his remaining 60-m rope, looked the cracks over, and gone back to the bolts if he didn’t like what he saw. If he decided to commit to the cracks, he would ultimately have to double his rope so he could pull it. How easy this would be depends on the distance to the cracks, the angle of the face, and his gear and experience.

Another possibility would have been to climb up the jammed rope, hoping the knot would hold. A desperate option, to be used only in the face of otherwise certain death! At least rig some sort of belay to the lower anchor. (Source: John Dill, NPS Ranger, Yosemite National Park.)

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