American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Rock, Climbing Alone, Failure to Maintain Control of Rope, Unfamiliar with Device, No Back-Up, Fatigue, Nevada, Red Rock Canyon NCA, Tunnel Vision

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 2012


Nevada, Red Rock Canyon NCA, Tunnel Vision

On February 4, a male climber had been rope soloing the 5.9 bolted first pitch variation to Tunnel Vision when he decided to retreat at the fourth bolt due to the pitch being harder then anticipated. When rappelling, he experienced difficulty with the device repeatedly “locking” and was trying to find a position on the lowering handle that would cause the rope to lower with less drag. (He was using a fairly new 60mxl0.2 rope.)

He had placed the handle in the fall open locked position and was trying to find a position in the handle range that he had used before to get a smooth descent. At some point, he took his hand off the brake side of the rope and began to use both hands to try and adjust the handle. There was no backup in place.

The device unlocked abruptly in mid range (between the locked open and closed handle positions) and the climber went into free fall of about 25 feet. He managed to grab the brake side of the rope, causing rope burns to his hand. The device then locked but during dynamic stretch of the rope, he impacted the ground feet first. He injured both

ankles. His left ankle was immediately unusable and the right ankle was also damaged to the extent that he could not place any weight on it a short time later. He was extremely fortunate to be in a rare position within Red Rock that had cell coverage and that he had chosen to bring his phone with him.

He waited about an hour before initiating rescue. The responding BLM ranger reached him about an hour later and after assessing the situation elected for a helicopter extraction. After assessment by EMT personnel, the climber chose to refuse further treatment and was picked up at the location by a friend. (The injuries turned out to be minor.)


The primary cause of the accident was that the climber failed to maintain control of the rope and utilize a backup. A backup should always be used when rappelling, especially when soloing. In addition, the climber’s hand should not have been off of the brake side of the rope.

Other factors that contributed to this incident:

Misjudgment of the route. The route was close to the climber’s maximum lead capability under normal circumstances.

The self-arrest device in use was an Edelrid Eddy and the climber had tried it only twice before.

Exhaustion. The climber had considered retreating earlier in the climb but continued on. He was suffering both from physical stress and mental stress due to the grade of the route and climbing alone. (Source: Edited from a post on by Travis Spalding, one of his climbing partners - hence no name and no age, we assume.)

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