American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Rappel Error—Anchor Sling Knot Came Undone, North Carolina, Pilot Mountain State Park

  • Accident Reports
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  • Publication Year: 1999

RAPPEL ERROR—ANCHOR SUNG KNOT CAME UNDONE

North Carolina, Pilot Mountain State Park

On February 1, Joel McSwain (21) fell in the Amphitheater area while attempting to rappel after setting up a top rope anchor. According to his climbing partners, he was beginning his descent when the web sling securing his rappel rope to the anchor “failed.” He fell approximately 60 feet to the ground. He sustained extensive trauma, including head injuries, two broken arms, and broken ribs.

Analysis

A self-equalized anchor is only as good as the webbing, cordalette, etc., connecting all points. In this case, the knot (presumably a water knot) securing the webbing came undone. (It was either tied improperly or not tied completely.) Water knots that are used to connect webbing should be checked every time a tied sling is used in an anchor set-up. Water knots have a reputation for loosening themselves. A three-inch tail is considered minimum for this knot.

Consider keeping slings untied when storing them; tie them when needed. Get in the habit of inspecting knots (visual and hands on check). BARK: Before leaving the edge, check your harness: Buckle to be sure it is secure and backed through properly; next check your rappel Anchor, then your Rappel/ belay device (making sure it’s attached correctly and the rope(s) run through it properly; finally, check the Knots securing and anchor and belay components.

Anchors can also be tested by stepping into a sling clipped into the master- point and bouncing on the anchor. (Make sure you are clipped into a secondary anchor when you do this test!) Also consider using sewn slings for anchor applications or construct a pre-equalized anchor. (Source: Aram Attarian)

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