Fall on Rock, Inadequate Belay Anchor/Lowering Error — Nylon-on-Nylon, California, Yosemite Valley, Royal Arches

Publication Year: 2011.


California, Yosemite Valley, Royal Arches

On May 21, Curtis Rappe (24) climbed a single-pitch route near the base of Royal Arches while being belayed from below. At the top he threaded his rope directly through the nylon webbing slings of the anchor. As his partner lowered him, the friction of the rope melted through the slings and he fell about 20 feet to the ground.

Rangers responded to Rappe’s 911 call. They found him complaining of pain to his hip, lower back, and chest. After carrying him to the road, they transferred him to an air ambulance that flew him to Doctors’ Medical Center, Modesto. We don’t have a final diagnosis, but he recovered fully. Analysis

Rappe’s prior climbing experience is unknown. It may have been minimal, since it is common knowledge that when nylon moves over nylon (or over any thermoplastic) with pressure between the two surfaces, the heat of friction building up on one spot can melt the fixed piece quickly. The rope must always be fed through a rappel ring, secure carabiner (locked or doubled), or other metal hardware designed for the purpose. (Source: John Dill, NPS Ranger) (Editor’s Note: We are continuing to see this kind of problem associated with rappelling and lowering. It’s time for climbing stores and manufacturers of climbing ropes, slings, devices, and other paraphernalia to include some of the warnings that come out of these incidents.)