FALL ON ROCK, RAPPEL ERROR - NO KNOT ON ROPE END, NO HARD HAT, INEXPERIENCE
Colorado, Eldorado Canyon State Park
During the afternoon of December 17, Dalton Jones (18) and his female partner (17) were climbing Rewritten (5.7), a six-pitch climb on the Redgarden Wall. Jones successfully led the first pitch, established an anchor, and began belaying his partner. Approximately halfway through the climb, she began to have some difficulty. At this point he lowered her to the base of the climb and told her to stay tied in.
To descend, he set his rope on an anchor and rappelled on the single, free strand of rope, using his partner as the lower anchor and the upper anchor as a redirect. He neglected to check the length of his rappel strand and to tie a knot in the end. As a result, he rappelled off the end, falling about 30 feet. He landed approximately two feet from his partner. He was not wearing a helmet and suffered a two-inch laceration to the back of his head and a fractured left femur.
The first rescuer reached Jones at 1:32 p.m. Jones complained of head pain and severe upper leg pain but was alert and oriented. He was packaged onto a litter for evacuation at approximately 2:44 p.m. and a Flight for Life chopper was requested. Rescuers then evacuated Jones down the hill on a belayed litter to the creek. A Tyrolean traverse was utilized crossing the river. At 3:35 p.m., Jones was placed into an ambulance for transport to the waiting Flight for Life chopper.
Why didn’t Jones’ partner see what was about to happen? Inexperience. The dangling free end that he was about to rappel was clearly visible from his position and would have been visible to her as well.
A rappel backup might have prevented this accident. The two primary methods of backup for preventing mistakes or loss of control include tying a knot on the end of the rope or using a Prusik or other friction knot attached to the rappel rope and the climber’s harness. Better communication between Jones and his partner (or vice versa) may also have prevented this accident, especially since his partner was inexperienced. (Source: Bill May and Aram Attarian)