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Rappelled Off End of Rope – No Knot and Miscalculation, Darkness

On February 18, M. C. and D. G. (ages unknown) began an ascent of Moonlight Buttress (V 5.9 Cl). They planned to climb three pitches to the “Rocker Block,” fix lines to the ground, then finish the route the following day. As a result of a late start, they didn’t get to the anchors until dark. M. C. fixed their first 60 meter rope and rappelled with the second 60 meter rope, stopping at the first set of anchors he came to and well before the end of his line. After fixing the second rope, he began his rappel, expecting to reach the ground. About 50 feet above the ground, he rappelled off the end of his rope. He hit the ground, losing consciousness for three to four minutes. D. G. then rappelled farther down the first rope and fixed the second rope to the next set of anchors, continuing to the ground to assist M. C. Amazingly, M. C. suffered only minor bruises and scrapes and was able to walk away from the incident. The team did, however, retrieve their gear the next day and abandon their climb.

Analysis

Darkness was clearly a factor in this incident, since M. C. could not see the next (correct) anchors on his first rappel nor could he see that his rope didn’t touch down on his second. However, the accident could have been easily avoided had the topos been consulted, as many of them clearly show three distinct sets of anchors. (It is possible to reach the ground using three 50 meter ropes or two 60 meter ropes.) This combined with the fact that he had too much rope left on his first rappel should have tipped him off to the fact that he was not at the correct anchors. Finally, a simple knot at the ends of the ropes would have averted the incident entirely. (Source: Tony Thaler, SAR Ranger, Zion National Park)