Fall while Descending-Inadequate Equipment (Climbing Rope, Rappel Device, Harness, Brain Cells), New Mexico, Jemez Mountains, Yoyo Pit

Publication Year: 2003.


New Mexico, Jemez Mountains, Yoyo Pit

On May 16, a man and his girlfriend were on an excursion in the Santa Fe National Forest, which had been closed due to extreme fire danger. Yoyo Pit is a popular spot for vertical rope work as the pit is straight vertical until about half way down where it bells-out and turns to complete free- hang. Formed by a large gas bubble while the volcanic flow was cooling it is approximately thirty feet in diameter and has much lose rock.

The man apparently dropped his cell phone into the 170-foot pit. He decided to get some equipment from his vehicle and rig a descent with a tow rope, a come-along, a pulley, and two ropes not rated for rope work of any kind. The tow-rope was girth hitched to a sturdy tree and the come- along was wrapped once around the tree and clipped back to itself near the end of the tow rope. This is where he had a pulley clipped to the come- along with the descending rope running through the pulley. The tie-off was with five half hitches and the then the rope went down into the abyss. The end of the first rope was tied to the second rope in order to reach the bottom. The two ropes were tied together with a series of half-hitches.

The man told his girlfriend that he knew what he was doing and that he had done this type of thing before. He used two sets of gloves to grasp the rope with but did not have a harness of any sort and did not use any sort of friction device to slow his descent. He merely went hand over hand down into the pit, according to his girlfriend. She also said he made it about half way down before the bell of the bottom (estimated at approximately seventy to eighty feet), and then he lost his grip and fell backwards. She reported that he was laughing on the way down.

After he hit the bottom he apparently continued to laugh and stated that he thought he broke his arm. A minute later he said he could not move and could not feel his back, that all was numb. The girlfriend went for help to Santa Fe since there was no cell phone. She managed to get to a pay phone to call 911. Fire Department and Search and Rescue were activated. By the time rescue personnel made it to the scene the man had died.

There were rope burns on the man’s gloves and his arms. He had bilateral leg fractures, a broken arm and died from internal injuries, either internal hemorrhage or neurogenic shock. (J. Marc Beverly, PA/Paramedic, Albuquerque Mountain Rescue Council)


While this is not considered to be a “legitimate” climbing accident, it illustrates how quickly people with no experience can get in trouble trying to become climbers. In addition to the technical mistakes here, it seems this fellow appears to have been a few tools short of a full box.

Unfortunately, the press will portray an incident such as this as proof that climbing is a dangerous sport. (Sources: J. Marc Beverly, PA/Paramedic—Albuquerque Mountain Rescue Council, and Jed Williamson)