American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Rock, Equipment Failure—Gri-Gri, Texas, Barton Creek

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1999


Texas, Barton Creek

The climbing accident concerning the failed Gri-Gri occurred on October 3rd at the cliffs along Barton Creek, near Austin. The climb is called Cyborg, and rated 5.11c; however, I was beyond the crux when I fell. My thigh slammed into a tree 20 feet below the overhang from which my fingers came loose. Blood poured from the numb area as I tried to determine whether my femur was broken or not. I was fortunate that my belayer sacrificed his right palm to slow me down and eventually break my fall. I was also lucky that the cliff overhung beyond the large horizontal ledge, which would have been much more damaging, perhaps even fatal, than the near vertical tree trunk.


I am 39 years old and I have been climbing since 1993, with regularity. The one time I spoke with my belayer afterwards, he said later he inspected the Gri-Gri, and he found the rivet to be loose. He suspects this was the cause. I am always very meticulous about double-checking everything, and I remember carefully checking to make sure the Gri-Gri was threaded properly. What went wrong? The Gri-Gri failed. My belayer got a huge rope burn from tightly clenching the rope, and he eventually got the device to lock-up. No bones were broken, and a prescription of Hydrocordon eased the pain, but some lessons were learned.

The more parts there are in a device, the more things that can go wrong. If dirt gets into the Gri-Gri while climbing, it can hinder some of the device’s mechanisms. If latch gets snagged in the open position, the rope can slide through. If a part get worn, bent, or cracked, the weakness may not be visible.

No belay device is completely safe. But when I begin climbing again, after I quit limping, I will never again allow anyone to belay me with a Gri-Gri. (Source: Seamus Munroe)

(Editor’s Note: This is recorded as Equipment Failure, but it should be noted that I have not received any reports of this device failing until now. There have been reports of individuals using Gri-Gris “upside down, ” but there is a diagram drawn on the device now.)

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