FALL OR SLIP ON ROCK, MISCOMMUNICATION
Colorado, Eldorado Canyon State Park, Wind Tower
On May 4, Lon Abbott (45) and Avery McGill (25) were climbing Recon (5.6) on the Wind Tower. Both men were experienced climbers and wearing helmets. They had been leading, then rappelling all day. During the afternoon Abbott fell from the anchors on top of the first pitch, stopping about 20-30 feet below the belay ledge. Reports suggest that Abbott was tied into the rope while it was under tension from the anchor at the top of the first pitch as it passed through the chains (or the injured climber’s gear), down and through a few more pieces, then down to the base of the climb. Abbott had called, “Off belay!” and was not on belay when he fell.
At the on-set of the fall, McGill thought there was rockfall and took shelter underneath an outcrop. When he realized Abbott was falling, he tried to grab the rope but couldn’t hold on to it. He suffered a hand injury, suggesting that Abbott fell onto his hand.
Luckily for Abbott, the rope got caught or twisted in the first piece of protection on the pitch, which appeared to “arrest” the fall keeping him from tumbling further down the 4th class slope.
Quick action from climbers in the area saved Abbott’s life. He was air lifted to Denver Health Medical Center where his injuries were assessed and included two broken vertebrae, broken ankles, five broken ribs, a broken shoulder blade and a concussion. He is expected to recover.
Experienced climbers will often keep the leader on belay when he reaches the top of a pitch, even if he says, “Off belay.” This is followed by giving a few feet of slack and then tying a knot in the rope on the brake side of the belay device until it becomes evident that the leader is tied off to the anchor.
Since Abbott and McGill had been leading and rappelling all day, they may not have talked about changing what they had been doing. Instead, McGill may have assumed that they would continue, which leads to the speculation that after leading the pitch Abbott, decided to lower instead of rappelling, but forgot to communicate this with McGill.
There is also some speculation that the “off belay” command did not come from Abbott, but from another party in the immediate area. Whatever happened, it’s a good time to remind us all that we should always communicate with our partners. (Source: Edited from entries on mountainproject.com and a rockymountainnews.com websites)