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Fall on Rock — Rappel Error, Uneven Ropes, No Knot on Rope End, Distraction

On July 16, a male climber (22) fell as he descended from the top anchors on the sport route Plate Tectonics (5.9). After cleaning the top anchors, he descended on a double-rope rappel. Unfortunately, one end of his rope did not reach the ground. As a result, he rappelled off the end of his rope from a height of approximately 50 feet and impacted the ground close to members of his party.

Eight members of the Muir Valley Rescue Group responded within five minutes. The patient was semi-conscious and in intense pain, and exhibiting signs and symptoms of hypovolemic shock and a fractured pelvis. A helicopter was called in and arrived quickly. The patient was treated and transported to the University of Kentucky Medical Trauma Center where he was treated for a shattered pelvis, dislocated elbow, and significant blood loss.

Analysis

There were two classic errors and one related problem here.

First, the climber did not make sure that both ends of his rope were on the ground before rigging his rappel device. Second, he did not tie a knot in the end of this rope, which would have prevented him from rappelling off the end.

The woman who had belayed him did not remain attentive until her climber was back on the ground. Had she not been distracted by other climbers in the area, she may have noticed that one strand of the rappel rope had not reached the ground and could have let her partner know that fact. (Source: Rick Weber)

(Editor’s Note: The Muir Valley Climbing and Nature Preserve is one of the more popular climbing areas in the Eastern U.S. with more than 30,000 visitors in 2011. Muir’s seven miles of cliff line attract climbers from all over the world to its 350+ sport and trad routes. Rick and Liz Weber founded Muir in 2004 when it was opened at no charge to the public.)