Fall on Rock, Inadequate Belay — Improper Use of Belay Device Wyoming, Sinks Canyon, Killer Cave, Elmo's Fish

Publication Year: 2009.


Wyoming, Sinks Canyon, Killer Cave, Elmo's Fish

At 2:55 P.M. on November 23, Kelly Rush (29) fell from Elmo’s Fish, a climb in the Killer Cave area of Sink’s Canyon. She was on lead at the time and was not wearing a helmet.

Darran Wells, who was climbing nearby, said, “Stacy and I were between climbs on the right side of Killer Cave at the Main Wall in Sinks Canyon. We heard a loud crash followed by screams from about 200 yards South along the main wall (climbers left of Killer Cave.) I ran there to find [the patient] lying on her back on uneven rocky terrain at the base of Elmo’s Fish. She was still tied into the rope and had apparently fallen from 20 to 25 feet and landed in the position I found her (on her back with her head hanging off the edge of the rock). I immediately stabilized her head and asked her not to move until we could determine if she had injured her back. At that point, I yelled across the cave for someone to call 911. She was alert and oriented (A&0x4) and denied any loss of consciousness. She had two friends with her (including the belayer) who were both visibly shaken up and standing nearby. She had apparently bitten her tongue on impact and blood was coming from her mouth. She complained of lower back pain and said that she had taken a lead fall near the third bolt.

About that time, Andy Blair (thankfully) arrived and began a thorough patient assessment and vitals while I maintained cervical spinal immobilization. Chris Agnew arrived just after Andy and wrote a complete SOAP note as Andy was taking vitals. After a few minutes, a woman (who’s name I forget) arrived who said she was a PA at the hospital. Several others arrived to help. After Andy did a full patient assessment, a group of six of us lifted and moved her (BEAM technique) off the uneven rocks and onto a foam pad on the trail. We covered her with coats to keep her warm. After a third or fourth set of vitals, Deb (EMT) arrived with O2 followed by SAR and Fire dept and Sheriff’s office personnel with a stokes litter and wheel. Deb applied a neck brace and supervised moving Kelly onto a backboard. Andy administered O2 with a nasal cannula, and we moved her into a Stokes Litter with a single wheel for transport down the hill to the ambulance. Kelly remained conscious and in good spirits throughout.”

Word on the street was that Kelly was discharged from the hospital the same night with no major injuries.


Stacy talked directly with the woman who was belaying Kelly at the time of the fall. The belayer said she was grabbing the Grigri to pay out slack at the time that Kelly fell. She did not have a hand on the brake. When Kelly fell, she did not have the presence of mind to release the Grigri, so without a hand on the brake line, the rope just sailed through the device.

This is not a new problem, but certainly a critically important one for belayers using a Grigri to be aware of. (Source: Darran Wells and John Gookin)