American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Falling Rocks—Pulled Loose by Climbing Ropes, Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, The Diamond

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 2008


Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, The Diamond

Around 2 p.m. on August 7, two climbers (ages unknown) retreated from the Dunn-Westbay (V 5.10 C3). One of the duo was rappelling to Green Pillar Ledge, a bivy platform at the end of pitch-two, while the other climber waited at the anchors above him. Approximately 25 feet above the ledge, the rappel ropes snagged behind a flake, and above the rappeller. The rappeller pulled harder and harder to free the rope. He eventually succeeded, but the flake also tore loose and hit him on his helmet. Knocked unconscious, the climber plunged down the ropes and slammed onto Green Pillar Ledge, where he stopped—a miracle, as the ends of the ropes were not knotted.

Back at the rappel station, the second climber heard nothing from his partner and pulled on the ropes, and felt weight on them. Fortunately, there was just enough slack in the rappel lines for him to attach his device to them and rappel to his partner, who after seven or so minutes was regaining consciousness. After assessing his groggy partner’s injuries, the uninjured climber lowered him to Broadway Ledge, then lowered him down the Lower East Face to Mills Glacier at the base.

Fortunately for the climbers, a massive crew of rescuers was already in the Longs Peak area, having spent much of the past week searching for a missing park ranger, whose body had just been found the day before. Other climbers who were also descending the Diamond reported the accident to rangers at nearby Chasm Shelter. Less than three hours after the accident, two rangers met the climbers on Mills Glacier. The injured climber, now coherent, was evaluated by the rangers but refused medical treatment. He did agree to a helicopter evacuation and was choppered out to Estes Park Medical Center. He was reported to have sustained a broken clavicle and several broken ribs.


Ropes often jam when the rappel features vertical to slabby faces. When the ropes jam below, one must naturally pull them free to continue the rappel. However, when the ropes jam overhead and out of reach and you are not the last person down the ropes, leave the jam for the next rappeller to free.

It is often easier and safer to free the ropes from just above, where you can easily inspect the jam. Freeing the ropes from the top down also eliminates the chance of dislodging a rock, although there is still the risk knocking rocks onto anyone below. Also, resist the temptation to yank aggressively on the ropes to free them. In most cases, tugging on the ropes will only set the jam even tighter, or, as evidenced by this accident, dislodge rock. Carefully finesse the ropes from above. (Source: Edited from an article in Rock and Ice, #148, by Duane Raleigh, Editor)

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