Fall on Rock, Lowering Error — Rope (Too Short) Slipped Through Belay Device (Grigri), Utah, Pine Creek Canyon

Publication Year: 2010.


Utah, Pine Creek Canyon

On May 9th, rescuers responded to a climbing accident near the Zion- Mount Carmel Tunnel. A 27-year-old man was on a route known as “Feast of Snakes,” which is located on the Pine Creek Canyon wall directly below the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel, when the fall occurred.

He had placed an anchor at the top of the route and was cleaning gear while being lowered by his partner, who was using a Grigri, at the bottom of the climb. The rope was too short for the slingshot belay technique and the end of the rope went through the Grigri, dropping the climber 20 feet onto his neck and back on a ledge below the route.

Due to the steep terrain and loose footing, along with the mechanism of injury, rescuers called for a helicopter to perform a winch extrication. The rescuers had to do a technical lowering first to move the climber from the ledge. An additional low-angle technical raising, followed by a low-angle lowering, were performed before carrying the patient to an open area away from the canyon walls. A Blackhawk from Nellis Air Force Base extricated the man and flew him to a waiting ambulance at the Coal Pits heli-spot. He was then taken to Dixie Regional Medical Center, where he was diagnosed with C-l, T-l, and T-5 fractures along with a lacerated spleen. About 25 park personnel were involved in the rescue. (Source: From a report by Therese Picard on the NPS Morning Report, May 14, 2009)


This is one of several incidents like this during 2009—and for the last several years. It is hard to understand why so many climbers do not have the proper length rope for these situations.

There are those who believe that the Grigri is designed in such a way that it will lock off under these conditions. But obviously that is not so. It is likely that rather than using friction by a good angle with the brake hand, the belayer was using the “clutch” to regulate the speed. This is a common error with the Grigri. (Source: Jed Williamson)