American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Rock, Rappel Failure/Error, Inadequate Equipment, North Carolina, Paint Rock

  • Accident Reports
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  • Publication Year: 2011

FALL ON ROCK, RAPPEL FAILURE/ERROR, INADEQUATE EQUIPMENT

North Carolina, Paint Rock

Paint rock (also known as Graffiti Rock), a popular roadside rappelling and training site in Pisgah National Forest was the scene of a rappelling accident on August 15 involving Jane and John Doe.

John had limited climbing experience through the military; his girlfriend Jane had no climbing experience. The pair had two ropes, one a climbing rope, the other a non-climbing rope purchased from a box store (origin or type unknown). Both ropes were anchored for a rappel.

Both climbers were wearing climbing harnesses. Jane was attached to the box store rope with a prusik loop. The prusik was constructed out of a “shoe lace” looking cord (i.e. not designed for climbing) and attached to her harness with a carabiner. She was not using a belay/rappel device. John was attached to the second rappel rope with the rope running through a carabiner attached to his harness. He had no belay/rappel device.

The couple moved to the edge of the cliff to begin their rappel with their backs to the fall line. Based on an examination of the scene, it appeared that Jane fell first while “rappelling” and landed on a four-foot wide rock shelf approximately 40 feet from the top and 15-20 feet from the ground. John went down to help her and then fell to the ground about 60 feet below.

Both climbers were discovered with burns on their hands. John suffered two leg fractures (one an open fracture) and Jane had a broken wrist and a spinal injury.

Analysis

This accident speaks for itself. Both individuals had no business attempting to rappel with no knowledge, inadequate equipment, and experience. Upon inspection, Jane’s “prusik” along with the sheath of her rope melted, causing her to lose control. Chances are if she had let go of the prusik sooner it may have prevented her from serious injury. John never had a chance. His burns were a result of his hand being the sole friction device on the rope. He may have forgotten to wrap the spine of his carabiner to create a carabiner wrap (common in military rappelling) in his haste to aid Jane. Rappelling presents a unique set of dangers that aren’t found in other forms of climbing. A functional belay rappel device, a backup system utilizing an autoblock or similar friction knot and the knowledge on how to use it along with the proper equipment may have prevented this unfortunate incident. (Source: K. Delap and A. Attarian)

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