Fall on Rock — Rappel Error (Uneven Ropes), South Dakota, Needles, Moonlight Ridge

Publication Year: 2009.


South Dakota, Needles, Moonlight Ridge

Another climbing legend passed on today. On June 24, Paul Duval (71) died of injuries sustained when he rappelled off the end of an un-equalized rope at Moonlight Ridge.

Paul was a very humble and gentle man. His contributions to rock climbing were numerous. We will miss him.


Paul had set up a rappel using someone else’s rope that had multiple markings, including markings about 20 feet from each end. Paul was not familiar with this latest in rope-design. It appears that he short-roped one side due the selection of the wrong rope marking, which he apparently assumed was the middle mark. He had passed the first marking on the rope and then went all the way to the next mark, which was actually an end ‘alert’ mark, about 20 feet from the end of the rope. The center mark was faded and difficult to see. The short end of the rope was over a small overhang and Paul was facing in the opposite direction looking over an adjacent route off his left side. The overhang and short rope were off to his right side. He was also talking to the people who were on the ground and farther around toward the opposite side of the rock. Neither Paul nor the people on the ground ever saw or noticed that there was a short rope side to the rappel set-up and a very long side, because both ends were around a corner and behind Paul to his right. (Source: Peter Lev)

(Editor’s Note: There are ways to ensure one has found the middle of the rope. The old fashioned way, guaranteed to work, is to grab both ends and slide back until reaching the bight of rope, which is the middle. Another method is to knot the ends of the rappel rope together so that it will jam in the rappel device.

Another reason the middle mark can be wrong is if one of the ends was cut off due to damage or some other reason.)