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Rappel Error, Rope Failed—Inadequate Equipment, Utah, Millcreek Canyon


Utah, Millcreek Canyon

On August 16, “Jim” (28) and “Kirk” (32) set up a sport-rappel at a small crag in Millcreek Canyon. They used an old cotton rope from Kirk’s toolbox and tied off natural features at the top of the crag for an anchor. About halfway down, Jim bounced hard during his rappel and the rope broke. He fell about 20 feet, crashing through a small tree on the way and glancing off his partner at the base of the crag. Kirk was able to grab him at that point and stop him from tumbling farther down the slope.

Jim was secured in a bean-bag vacuum splint and lowered two pitches down steep scree to the Millcreek road. He is lucky to have escaped with only a broken ankle, abrasions, and lacerations.


Kirk was watching the rappel from the bottom when the rope broke. He was certain that it did not break at an edge. We later tested the tensile strength of the rope at Black Diamond Equipment. The rope was one-half-inch in diameter (13 mm) and in poor condition. Nine pull-tests were done unknotted— over three-inch drums. Failure loads ranged from 304 to 378 pounds, with an average break strength of 352 pounds.

A rappeller can easily generate rope tensions around double body-weight with only a moderate amount of bouncing. It is extremely fortunate that the failure did not happen earlier in the rappel. (Source: Tom Moyer, Salt Lake County Sheriff’s SAR)

(Editor’s Note: It’s nice to know that “old cotton rope" can do even this well. Whether the two fellows had much climbing experience was not revealed. Let’s hope they didn't)