American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Inadequate Belay, Climber Lowered Off End of Rope, Inadequate Equipment — Rope Too Short, Colorado, Clear Creek Canyon, Highlander Crag

  • Accident Reports
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  • Publication Year: 2010

INADEQUATE BELAY, CLIMBER LOWERED OFF END OF ROPE, INADEQUATE EQUIPMENT — ROPE TOO SHORT

Colorado, Clear Creek Canyon, Highlander Crag

On December 20, 2009, a 35-year-old man climbing with his girlfriend fell 20 to 25 feet. They were climbing in Clear Creek Canyon on Herb-a-Veg- A-Matic. Joe Pierzchala, climbing on a nearby route, witnessed the fall and gives this account:

The climber was being lowered after having led the route, draws still in place. Suddenly he was free falling! After lowering my partner, we observed the climber tied into his end of the rope, but that the belayer’s end was now 35-40 feet up the route. We concluded that the climber was lowered off the end of the rope. We checked the guidebook, which indicated that the route was 102 feet in height, and concluded that the party must have been using a 50m rope. The fall distance corresponds to the distance a 50m rope would have come up short. The fallen climber landed on his back, narrowly missing a very large rock that could have caused more serious injuries. It appeared that the climber did land on a smaller rock, however, which likely caused injury to his back/pelvis/hip.

Analysis

Climbers are encouraged to: 1) read the guidebook re: the length of the route; 2) know the length of one’s rope; 3) make sure one’s equipment (rope, protection, etc.) is sufficient to climb the chosen route; 4) tie a stopper knot in the belayer’s end of the rope, tying into the rope or tying off the end of the rope; and 5) ensure better communication between partners. Two other important ingredients are research and experience.

Clear Creek Canyon is well known as a predominantly sport climbing area developed for use with 60m ropes and is also well known for having a number of routes that require a 70m rope. Using a 50m rope in Clear Creek Canyon is a major oversight on equipment selection. (Source: Joe Pierzchala, Denver, CO)

(Editor’s Note: There was one fatality in the Boulder Falls area in September but there are not enough details to provide a full narrative. What we know is that a man (40) fell while being belayed on the route Empor. Neither the climber nor belayer was wearing helmets. We think this might be yet another case in which the belay rope is not long enough and it goes through the belay device.

Another fatality was reported by Tim Kline on Mountain Project web site. Kline and his partner were climbing Lovers Leap when they spotted a body at the bottom of the cliff. The unidentified free-solo climber had been dead for a day or two. No further information was available, but the key ingredients—climbing alone and unroped—warrant reporting here.)

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