Factor Two Fall and Anchor Failure - Darran Mountains, New Zealand


Original Post
patto · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2012 · Points: 25

A pretty rare event so I thought this deserved some attention.  Surprised at the level of detail in the reporting at this early stage:

http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/91914495/kiwi-climbers-named-after-fatal-fall-near-fiordland

(Despite the odd name. 'stuff' is actually one of NZ's prominent online news source.)

The pair of New Zealand climbers who died after falling while traversing a "climber's Mecca" in Fiordland were "experienced and competent" mountaineers.

New Zealand Alpine Team (NZAT) member Steve Fortune, of Queenstown, said the deaths of team members Conor Smith and Sarwan Chand were "a shocking event that makes us think about what you are doing".

"But at the moment we are mourning the loss of our friends."

The pair were climbing in the Darran Mountains in Fiordland when they attempted a route on the South Face of Marian Peak.

Fortune had climbed the Darran Mountains, but not the South Face of Marian Peak, which was "a remote and challenging climb".

While details of the fatal fall were not yet known, NZAT said in a statement that "the leader fell before being able to place gear after the belay".

The pair were roped together traversing a "climber's Mecca" when a fall cost them their lives.

"This resulted in a factor two lead fall, pulling the team off the wall."

Fortune said members were "trying to find out what happened".

"It was an unusual accident to happen  . . . and there are a number of possible reasons why that have occurred and we don't really know why.

"It is not something that happens very often."

Smith and Chand joined the NZAT in late 2015.

"They were both well liked and respected members of our team," an NZAT spokesman said.

"They were experienced and competent mountaineers with many successful ice and alpine ascents.

"To lose two of our friends and teammates together in this way is devastating for us. Our thoughts are with their family and friends."

Smith was a former Tai Poutini Polytechnic Outdoor Education student and in March told the tertiary provider what it meant to be selected for the NZAT: "To me it's also about spending my time with like-minded people that have more experience and skills that they can pass on".

"For me, climbing is a really personal thing; I'm not really interested in guiding or teaching other people at this stage. It's something I do for me and I want to push myself mentally and physically."

A police search and rescue team reached the bodies from an area below Marian Peak on Tuesday.

Sergeant Tod Hollebon, of Te Anau, said the two climbers were reported missing Monday afternoon.

They had been overdue for 24 hours. 

"A search by helicopter [Monday] evening located the climbers at the base of a climbing face where they had clearly suffered a fall," he said. 

The two climbers left Homer Huts, near the Milford Rd, on Saturday.

They intended to cross Barrier Knob to Barrier Peak, descend into Marian Valley and then ascend Marian Peak.

Southern Lakes Helicopters operations manager Lloyd Matheson, who was a crewman during the recovery operation, described the area where the climbers were found as a "climber's Mecca". 

It did not take long to locate them after they were reported missing, he said. 

"They were found last night [Monday], and we went back and recovered them at midday today [Tuesday].

"By the time we got the message that two guys were overdue, it was getting dark.

"We went in to the Darran Mountains and picked up another climber, who had some knowledge of where they were going, and we found them," he said.

Because it was dark, they returned to the area to recover the climbers the next day. 

"It's a severe part of the national park. Sheer mountains and high alpine stuff, and it's not unusual.

"It's [a] climber's mecca." 

It was not clear if the climbers had been climbing or descending at the time they fell, he said. 

 - Stuff

Nick Sweeney · · Spokane, WA · Joined Jun 2013 · Points: 650

Very sad.  I came to post on MP as well because this is an unfortunate example of the worst-case scenario. Build good anchors, place gear early and often.  

Greg D · · Here · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 871

Sad news indeed.  

I wonder why they believe it was a factor 2, yet they were traversing.  If traversing directly off the anchor, a factor 2 is not possible.  Truly traversing horizontally, directly left or right, would be a factor 1.  A rising traverse at 45 degrees would be much worse at 1.7.  But, not a factor 2.  Perhaps the route generally traverses, but has areas where the leader must climb directly above the belay at the beginning of the pitch.

Very unfortunate, nonetheless.  

Leslie McG · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jun 2012 · Points: 410

A kiwi frind of mine posted a link to this FB. He climbed with one of the party in Jtree a few years back. what I found interesting in the article, as stated later on, was they were not sure if the party as ascending or decending. It also begs the question as to  why not clip a "jesus piece"- clip the anchor as a first piece until the leader has his/her first piece in? Very sad- my condolences all who knew the lads.

J. Albers · · Colorado · Joined Jul 2008 · Points: 1,793
jersey girl wrote:

. It also begs the question as to  why not clip a "jesus piece"- clip the anchor as a first piece until the leader has his/her first piece in? 

Perhaps because they read Will Gadd's post laying out the pros/cons (mostly cons) of "jesus piece" clipping :)

http://willgadd.com/anchor-clipping/

Optimistic · · New Paltz · Joined Aug 2007 · Points: 297

I'm wondering more and more about these accident discussions...  I know we talk about learning through analysis, but it's not always clear what is being "learned" through them: it's pretty intuitively obvious that a long leader fall directly onto the belayer is a seriously bad thing.  

But here I go anyway: in the case of a substantial fall, how much is gained by the leader clipping the anchor as a first piece?  It seems like it would help the belayer to control the forces and protect the belayer from injury, but it seems like it would actually increase the load on the piece that was clipped because now the belayer is loading it via a pulley (the leader's draw) rather than just with his/her own body weight?  I understand that it would shorten the fall, but in the case of a big fall this would be a fairly insignificant reduction in the fall factor.

Optimistic · · New Paltz · Joined Aug 2007 · Points: 297
J. Albers wrote:

Perhaps because they read Will Gadd's post laying out the pros/cons (mostly cons) of "jesus piece" clipping :)

http://willgadd.com/anchor-clipping/

Ah, I'm guessing that this contains the answer to my comment above.

eli poss · · Durango, Co · Joined May 2014 · Points: 456

If you're on solid bolts, which it seems these guys weren't, the added force from the pulley effect shouldn't cause the anchor to fail, unless it's going to fail regardless. For me, it comes down to what belay device or munter hitch my belayer is using and how much I trust their ability to catch a direct fall on them vs their ability to catch a fall through a redirect.

Leslie McG · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jun 2012 · Points: 410
J. Albers wrote:

Perhaps because they read Will Gadd's post laying out the pros/cons (mostly cons) of "jesus piece" clipping :)

http://willgadd.com/anchor-clipping/

My partner and I were discussing this link you reposted the other day, as she clipped the bolted anchor that I was belaying her from as her first piece. We do this all the time and from what I am reading this is fine for bolted anchors, but not for built anchors?  

J. Albers · · Colorado · Joined Jul 2008 · Points: 1,793
jersey girl wrote:

My partner and I were discussing this link you reposted the other day, as she clipped the bolted anchor that I was belaying her from as her first piece. We do this all the time and from what I am reading this is fine for bolted anchors, but not for built anchors?  

Sort of. Indeed if you have a gear anchor then you may need to set up an upward pull piece, which is unnecessary with bolts because they provide protection in all directions of pull. However, one of Will's main points is that clipping the rope to the anchor means that in the event of a fall, the belayer may be violently pulled upwards and into the anchor/wall, which may be worse than the climber simply falling past the belay and being held directly by the belayer. This point applies no matter what type of anchor setup you have.

steverett · · San Diego, CA · Joined Feb 2012 · Points: 105
jersey girl wrote:

My partner and I were discussing this link you reposted the other day, as she clipped the bolted anchor that I was belaying her from as her first piece. We do this all the time and from what I am reading this is fine for bolted anchors, but not for built anchors?  

It will put all of the force of the leader's fall onto the piece clipped. So it depends on the quality of that one placement. I only do this on super bomber placements. 

megan79 · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jun 2016 · Points: 0

Maybe "traversing" is used in the broadest sense, i.e., they were climbing various routes across the Darran Mountains, or enchaining a series of peaks. 

Dave Kos · · Temecula, CA · Joined Jan 2011 · Points: 55
J. Albers wrote:

Perhaps because they read Will Gadd's post laying out the pros/cons (mostly cons) of "jesus piece" clipping :)

http://willgadd.com/anchor-clipping/

I read the article and was pretty disappointed. Quite a bit of speculation, and no real science.  I don't see how anyone could arrive at an actionable conclusion from it.  

Greg D · · Here · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 871

Dave Kos wrote:

I read the article and was pretty disappointed. Quite a bit of speculation, and no real science.  I don't see how anyone could arrive at an actionable conclusion from it.  

I agree.

True, clipping a piece in the anchor may only reduce a factor 2 to a 1.7 or so.  Still a violent situation.

True, the belayer may get yanked into the anchor.  Not good either. 

With a device that can catch a factor 2 fall, such as gri gri, the factor 2 may be better.  1.  The gri gri won't get slammed into the piece and get opened.  2. The gri gri  can catch a factor 2.

But, with most other devices, the belayer is usually set up to brake downward.  With a factor 2, the belayer needs to switch to braking upward, in an instant, with an extremely high force coming onto the belay, with a device that is very difficult to arrest a factor 2.

It depends.  

steverett · · San Diego, CA · Joined Feb 2012 · Points: 105
Dave Kos wrote:

I read the article and was pretty disappointed. Quite a bit of speculation, and no real science.  I don't see how anyone could arrive at an actionable conclusion from it.  

Part 2 lists more pros: http://willgadd.com/anchor-clipping-2/

J. Albers · · Colorado · Joined Jul 2008 · Points: 1,793
Greg D wrote:

It depends.  

Exactly. 

My take away from Will's post was that you need to use your brain and assess your particular situation. I wasn't disappointed at all, rather I appreciate Will's discussion of the nuances of various types of situations. I guess I find that refreshing in light of the climbing community's recent tendency towards wanting "rules" that they can swallow and brainlessly apply without adequate contemplation. 

Leslie McG · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jun 2012 · Points: 410
Greg D wrote:

Dave Kos wrote:

I agree.

True, the belayer may get yanked into the anchor.  Not good either. 

I am a tiny thing so I always account for the fact that I might get pulled into an anchor. However I was always taught to clip a Jesus piece because when you're 500 feet in the air it's best to fall onto something versus nothing. ( obviously it's best NOT to fall to all). I don't know anyone who doesn't tie into an anchor while belaying on a multipitch climb. 

smurray47 · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2014 · Points: 25

Does the math in the article seem a bit fishy to anyone else? Why does he assume the fall distance stays the same even when the top piece is clipped? Seems like it would be at least distance-from-belay-device-to-clipped-piece * 2 reduced.


 For that matter, he assumes this distance is only 30cm, which is roughly a single foot. I think I would estimate that on a typical trad climb, My clove hitch puts me about 1 foot from the master point of the anchor, which is in turn, at least another 1.5-2 feet below the top element of the anchor where you would clip into.


Either way, if the climber falls 2 meters above the belay its going to suck, but I'd much rather have the extra rope in the system, I really don't buy the article at all.

David Deville · · Flagstaff, Arizona · Joined Oct 2013 · Points: 40
Greg D wrote:

Dave Kos wrote:

But, with most other devices, the belayer is usually set up to brake downward.  With a factor 2, the belayer needs to switch to braking upward, in an instant, with an extremely high force coming onto the belay, with a device that is very difficult to arrest a factor 2.

If your partner hasn't clipped a piece while climbing off of the belay, you should have your break hand already in an upward position to anticipate a fall below the device. If the first piece rips, then yeah, you gotta have quick reflexes. 

eli poss · · Durango, Co · Joined May 2014 · Points: 456
smurray47 wrote:

Does the math in the article seem a bit fishy to anyone else? Why does he assume the fall distance stays the same even when the top piece is clipped? Seems like it would be at least distance-from-belay-device-to-clipped-piece * 2 reduced.


 For that matter, he assumes this distance is only 30cm, which is roughly a single foot. I think I would estimate that on a typical trad climb, My clove hitch puts me about 1 foot from the master point of the anchor, which is in turn, at least another 1.5-2 feet below the top element of the anchor where you would clip into.


Either way, if the climber falls 2 meters above the belay its going to suck, but I'd much rather have the extra rope in the system, I really don't buy the article at all.

Let's do some math. To be generous with the forces, we'll assume you weigh 100kg. It takes roughly 1kn to lift 100kg one meter. So if you are lifted 1 foot, you reduce the load on the top piece by roughly .3kn in a frictionless system. That's not a whole lot. And chances are, you weigh less than  that so the effect is even smaller.

If you don't trust your belayers ability to catch a factor 2 fall, then the better solution would be to have the leader of the previous pitch continue past the anchor to place the jesus piece. That makes a factor 2 impossible unless the jesus piece blows, at which point you're back where you started. If you're worried the jesus piece might not hold, either place more gear until you feel good about it, or just bail. 

Gunkiemike · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2009 · Points: 2,755
eli poss wrote:

Let's do some math. To be generous with the forces, we'll assume you weigh 100kg. It takes roughly 1kn to lift 100kg one meter. So if you are lifted 1 foot, you reduce the load on the top piece by roughly .3kn in a frictionless system. That's not a whole lot. And chances are, you weigh less than  that so the effect is even smaller.

I'll be the first to say that your physics is way wrong.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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