Fall on Rock, Rappel Ropes Knot "Unraveled," Wyoming, Grand Teton, Guide's Wall

Publication Year: 1998.


Wyoming, Grand Teton, Guide’s Wall

On September 13, Karen Turk (32) Matt Goewert (33), and Carrie Dagher were descending Guide’s Wall when this incident occurred. Goewert and Dagher stated that the party of three had climbed the Guide's Wall route to within two pitches of the top. At this point, Turk elected to remain while Goewert and Dagher finished the route. In preparation for their descent, Goewert tied both their ropes together using an overhand knot, leaving about six to eight inches of tail. One rope was 10mm in diameter and described as new, the other rope a 10.5mm in diameter was described as used. Goewert and Dagher each rappelled down to Turk’s position, then the three of them each rappelled once down to the next station. At this point, Goewert started to untie the knot by loosening it (for a single rope rappel) then decided to keep the ropes tied together as the final rappel would be another long, double rope rappel. Goewert re-secured the knot by pulling on all ends to tighten, which he demonstrated. The ropes were threaded through three rappel rings which were secured by multiple pieces of webbing tied around a tree. Goewert then rappelled approximately 80 to 90 feet to the next ledge. When Goewert finished this rappel, Dagher said that she and Turk moved the knot about twelve inches forward, but did not adjust it. Turk then proceeded to rappel. When Turk was approximately 30 feet above the ledge, Dagher states that she watched the knot “unravel,” causing Turk to fall. Turk fell about 15 to 20 feet, struck her back against a rock prow, then fell another ten to 15 feet onto the ledge, landing on her back.

Goewert said that Turk never lost consciousness, but was in significant pain. In conducting a physical assessment of Turk, he found a large laceration across her lower back, with exposed spine, but no other significant injuries. His treatment included care and comforting of the patient and monitoring vital signs. Dagher reported the incident via Goewert's cell phone.


Goewert, an experienced lead climber, said that he’s been using the overhand knot for a couple of years, but has always been a little uncomfortable with it. He added that it’s a knot used by a lot of climbers he knows. He’s not sure why the knot came untied. It had held multiple rappels and, after having been loosened, had been re-secured by himself and rappelled on once again. Goewert added that he would no longer use this knot.

In a phone interview with Turk on the morning of September 13, she described herself as fairly new to climbing, having started in May of this year. She said she has climbed a lot in Illinois, but this was her first “alpine” route. She could offer no additional information surrounding the nature of the accident, but added that Dagher had made a comment about the knot, to the effect that “it looked pretty weird” and she wasn’t clear how it could hold. This comment was made at the last rappel station. Turk said she was aware that Goewert had adjusted the knot at this station but did not see him do so.

Turk described her injuries as tissue only, with no fractures. The wound (approximately four inches long and one inch wide) had been surgically cleaned and sutured, but she was unsure as to the number of sutures required. (Source: Mark Magnuson, SAR Coordinator)

(Editor's Note: This method of tying the ends of two climbing ropes together started to appear recently, being referred to as a “Euro-guide knot. ” One theory behind the use of the knot is that it does not snag as easily as other choices. Another theory is that it is easier to untie than a double fisherman's or figure of eight after the strain of several rappellers. This later theory certainly appears to be true!)