The Climbing Club

Found: A new way to die rappelling
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Author:  Obadiah Reid [ Fri Aug 24, 2012 8:31 am ]
Post subject:  Found: A new way to die rappelling

This isn't an accident report, but perhaps it was a near miss. Since it's a failure mode I'd never thought of before, it seems worth throwing out there for people to consider.

Grace and I were bailing off of the first (long) pitch of a beautiful 3P 10a. Thunderstorms were moving in, and neither of us were feeling 'on'. I slung a horn and a fixed nut with a 120 cm dyneema sling, and set up a double rope rappel. I threaded the rope directly though the sling with no 'biner or rap ring. Grace was six feet below me standing on another horn, and our main (backup) anchor was at my knees, the rappel anchor near my chest. The backup was clipped to the rope with a locker. She went down first without a problem.

I then setup my rappel on an extension (see picture below) and weighted it.
So far so good. I un-clipped my personal anchor, and re-clipped it to one of the strands of the rope to keep it handy and out of the way. I then began to descend the two or three feet to where I could comfortably remove the backup anchor. Immediately, something felt wrong. There was too much friction. I looked up and found the following: I had clipped the free end of my personal anchor to a point on the rope that was above the knot holding the ropes together. As I began to descend, the carbiner caught on the knot, and pulled the rope along with me. In effect, I was lowering myself off of the anchor, which was simply a piece of cord. Had I continued, it is almost certain that the rope would have sawed-through the anchor sling. At the time I noticed this, the backup was still in place, but I was above it. Grace was still tied into the ends of the rope at the base of the cliff. Had the anchor sling parted I would have effectively taken a leader fall of ~20-30' (the amount of slack in the system).

I stood up, inspected the sling to be sure I hadn't already damaged it, then corrected the problem and completed the descent.

Had I used a rap ring or a biner to rappel off of, this would have been a much less hazardous situation. I still would have been pulling the ropes uneven, but there would have been no chance of anchor failure because of it. And since there were knots in the ends of the rope (which Grace was tied to), even pulling the ropes uneven would only have been an annoyance. In the future, I will clip the free end of my personal anchor directly back to my harness rather than to the rope. Also, I may start carrying a few steel quick-links on my harness to bail from, and stop scoffing at rap-rings.

Author:  Sarah Shimer [ Fri Aug 24, 2012 9:06 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Found: A new way to die rappelling

Thanks for sharing, Obadiah. Glad you caught the problem early and everything worked out well.

Author:  Svenja Fleischer [ Fri Aug 24, 2012 9:17 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Found: A new way to die rappelling

Interesting, I'm glad to hear nothing bad happened. Unrelated, just out of curiosity: what's the advantage of the extension?

Author:  Evan Jewett [ Fri Aug 24, 2012 10:33 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Found: A new way to die rappelling

Hmm, that's disturbing. I'm glad you noticed the problem before it became worse. I've gotten into the habit of clipping the free end of my PAS into the wire loop on my belay device (the part that connects the belay device to the belay carabiner). Because I rappel right handed, with the same setup shown in the photo you posted, I generally unclip from the anchor with my left hand, and that wire loop is handily located right on the left. It keeps it all out of the way of the rappel setup and is very accessible for easy clipping into the next anchor.
Do you think the solution to this problem is to carry rap rings/quicklinks, or to find a different spot to clip your PAS extension, or that both are prudent?

Author:  Obadiah Reid [ Fri Aug 24, 2012 2:11 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Found: A new way to die rappelling

Svenja- the extension is just nice. I find it makes the rappel easier to manage over all, and in particular it makes it easier to use a prussik/autoblock backup below the device.

Evan- In the past I've never seen the point of rap rings. Sure, they are a good thing on well-traveled descent routes because they prolong the life of the slings and make it easier to pull the rope, but I didn't view it as a safety issue. After all, as long as your rope isn't sliding through the sling, you've got nothing to worry about. I couldn't imagine a scenario where the rope might unintentionally run through the sling will loaded. But now I've found one, which goes to show that I can't anticipate everything. So maybe I should insist on using rap-rings, biners, or quick links from here on out, but I can't quite convince myself that it's really necessary. As for the PAS, I'll definitely be clipping it elsewhere from now on. Your method sounds like a good one.

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