American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Stranded, Poor Rappel Technique, Colorado, Flatirons

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 2011

STRANDED, POOR RAPPEL TECHNIQUE

Colorado, Flatirons

During the morning of On December 28, Kevin Mines (53) and his son (16) started climbing the Third Flatiron. Later in the day while descending, Kevin injured his back rappelling and was unable to hike out. He called for assistance via cell phone at 10:16 p.m.

Kevin recounts his misadventure: “We roped up and started climbing about 10:45 a.m. I had climbed the Third Flatiron four times before, the last time in 1998. My son had limited climbing experience but was willing to try the Third since the forecast predicted good weather. We talked about swapping leads, but after the first pitch, my son decided that he’d rather second the entire route.

“We made slow and steady progress and reached the top of our climb by about 4:45 p.m. By now it was getting dark and we had been dealing with strong cold winds that picked up during the late afternoon. We decided to skip the final summit pitch and instead tried to maneuver our way through the boulders up to the base of the first standard rappel and the start of the second rappel. On our way we encountered a large, smooth, 12-foot boulder. My son was able to surmount this obstacle by using my back and shoulders for footholds. He in turn belayed me up the obstacle.

“By now it was dark and with headlamps on we began our descent. The prospect of rappelling in the dark was a bit frightening, especially for my son. On the 50-foot rappel to Friday’s Folly Ledge I found myself descending too fast and somewhat out of control, but made it OK. My son followed with perfect form. We spent some time here deciding between the 75-foot rappel around the corner or the 140-foot rappel from where we were. We decided on the longer rappel.

“For this rappel I switched from a standard ATC to a Guide ATC which has a high friction mode. During my rappel, I was concentrating on the friction and trying to descend at a slow, safe speed. Suddenly, my feet went out of control and I flipped upside down. This action was probably the first instance of injury to my back. I tried unsuccessfully to maneuver to a normal rappel position. I was able to keep my brake hand on the ropes and continued the rappel another 100 feet bouncing around upside down/ sideways and landing on the ground flat on my back!

“I could feel the pain in my lower back (two previous back surgeries in the late 90s). I was happy to be on the ground and because of my back injury, couldn’t move for about ten minutes. I called up to my son to wait a few minutes. Eventually I forced myself to roll over, got up and unclipped the rope so my son could rappel. He joined me on the ground at approximately 8:30 p.m.

“Despite the pain, I was able to get up and walk around a little on flat terrain. In order to continue our descent, we had to hike up a 30-foot low angle wall. Normally this wouldn’t be a huge problem, but with my injury I tried twice from two different sides and made it halfway. We rested for a while and called my wife in Lafayette and my oldest son in Montana, a professional mountain guide, to seek advice. We wanted to self-rescue and hike out but decided instead to call 911 a little after 10:00 p.m.”

A total of thirty-five rescuers worked for more than eight hours to get the pair out. Mines was transported to Boulder Community Hospital with non-life threatening injuries. His son was uninjured.

Analysis

“In hindsight, there were some things that we should have done differently: Attempted a shorter climb, started earlier since we knew we were slow, pushed harder, practiced rappelling in advance, and familiarized ourselves with rappel safeguards (e.g. prusik, etc.).” (Source: Edited from a post by Kevin Mines on mountainproject.com)

(Editors' Note: We did not post all the “fall on rock" narratives available, as the half-dozen others we were sent or we found on line included similar causes.)

This ANAM article has been reformatted into HTML. Please contact us if you spot an error.