American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Rappel Error — Slack in Rope, Fall on Rock — Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, Twin Owls

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 2000


Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, Twin Owls

On June 25 Todd Burke had led the first pitch of Organ Pipes (II, 5.6) on the Twin Owls formation. He then pulled the rope up through all pieces of protection and threw one end of the rope down to Claudine Perrault (29). The plan was for Perrault to attach their packs to the rope so that Burke could pull them up rather than return to the base to get them or carry them up die route. However, when Burke tossed the rope, it snagged, leaving the lower end 20– 30 feet above the ground. Perrault climbed unroped to the rope end and pulled on it, causing a length of slack to come free and the rope end to fall to the ground. Perrault then attempted to rappel, assuming that the slack was out of the rope. But it was not. She fell 30 feet, sustaining a concussion and minor spinal injuries.


The accident itself is the immediate result of failure by both Burke and Perrault to test the rappel adequately by pulling slack out from both ends. However, the underlying and ultimate cause of the accident is the faulty tactical planning by the leader. Acceptable alternatives to the tactics include 1) climb while wearing packs; 2) take just bare necessities; 3) take an extra rope, light weight 7–9 mm, as a haul line; and/or 4) take the extra time to return to the base of the route to pick up non-essential equipment left in packs. (Source: Jim Detterline, Longs Peak Ranger)

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