American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Stranded, Inadequate Belay, Utah, Big Cottonwood Canyon, Bumblebee Wall

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 2002

STRANDED, INADEQUATE BELAY

Utah, Big Cottonwood Canyon, Bumblebee Wall

On July 21, “Pat” (31), successfully led Perseverance Bulge, a two-pitch 5.9 route on Bumblebee Wall, near the Storm Mountain Picnic Area in Big Cottonwood Canyon. He sat on the ledge at the top of the second pitch and put “Betty” (22), on belay, but he did not set up an anchor or tie in. Betty began following the pitch but soon took a fall, which forced the rope into the crack and jammed it. The two climbers were unable to hear each other from their positions. The leader was unable to pull rope up and the follower was unwilling to climb up with slack in the rope, so she waited on a small ledge with her weight partly on the rope while he attempted to free the jam. After about 30 minutes, they yelled for assistance to people at the nearby picnic area.

SAR team members hiked around to the belay ledge at the top of the climb. The first step was to secure the unanchored belayer to a nearby tree. One rescuer was then lowered to Betty, did a pick-off, and lowered her 200 feet to the ground. With her weight off the rope, a second rescuer working at the location of the jam was able to pull the rope out of the crack.

Analysis

Pat’s most serious mistake was trying to free the stuck rope while standing at the edge without being tied in. Had he succeeded, he would likely have been pulled off his stance. Even if his top piece had held, the 30-foot fall would almost certainly have caused him to let go of the rope, and both climbers would have fallen to the ground.

If Pat had set up an anchor at the top of the pitch, either climber could have attempted to solve the problem safely. The two climbers were about 100 feet apart and the jam was about 40 feet below the belayer. If the follower had been more experienced, she could have prusiked up the rope to the jam and attempted to pull the rope out of the crack. Or, since the jam was only 40 feet below the belay ledge, the belayer could have tied off the rope and rappelled down on the free end to work on it. Or, he could have prusiked down the taut side of the rope. Although neither climber was carrying prusiks or a cordalette, they were carrying slings, which could have been used to tie a Kleimheist hitch to ascend or descend a taut rope. All of these options, of course, assume that the leader can construct a solid anchor. Since he did not, yelling for help was probably their best option.

The leader described himself as a 5.12b climber with 15 years of experience. The follower described herself as a 5.8 climber on her first multi-pitch route. (Source: Tom Moyer, Salt Lake County Sheriff’s SAR)

(Editor’s Note: Similar to the above, on July 25, two climbers were top-roping a short climb just a few yards from the road in the Birches area of Big Cottonwood Canyon when their rope became stuck. One was left hanging in his harness about 20 feet from the ground. None of the climbers present knew how to assist him, so they flagged down a sheriffs deputy on the canyon road.

A pair of prusiks and the knowledge of how to use them would have allowed the climber to solve his own problem in minutes instead of needing to call for a rescue.)

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