Rock climber dies from fall in Big Cottonwood Canyon


sclair · · SLC, Ut · Joined Jan 2012 · Points: 0

After reading through the 2 pages thus far, it seems reasonable to reiterate that leaving the ground without communication is asking for trouble. A few of my partners and I do this, but we always lower, so we are never off belay. But with new partners, or perhaps on a long pitch that might require shenanigans, then we should remember to to be proactive.Also, when going on rappel, double checking at the least is something that can be forgotten in a moment. I'm sorry this situation and for everyone that couldn't help him more. 

As an aside, I was driving down Big Cottonwood on Friday around 3:45 pm and saw at least 4 canyon police, an ambulance, and pardon my bad memory but a rescue team I believe parked at the reservoir by storm mt. Was there a separate incident? Or is there any reason for them to return to the scene?

alpinist 47 · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2017 · Points: 0

There is not enough info for me to comment on the accident.

I have been climbing for over three decades obsessesivly.

When not climbing I read about it obsessively.

I almost always rap. Auto block goes on first. Any sling will work for that.

If I screw up after the auto block is on it will hold me.

Rapping takes longer but I alone am responsible for my own safety at that point.

When I'm belaying if I'm not 100% sure the climber is off I don't take them off period.

I feed the rope out to the knot on my waist. I even leave the belay device on the rope.

The climber can still rap.

Lowering is reserved for my partners who I've been climbing with for decades.

And there are no issues with communication or experience.

That said I should have died at least three times from inexperience when I was starting out.

Nothing but fate / luck saved me.

Climbing is dangerous. Knowledge reduces the risk but does not remove it.

Hope this helps. I'm very sad 

alpinist 47 · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2017 · Points: 0

To be clear

Lowering requires communication 

Rappelling does not require communication.

Rohan R Rao · · Jacksonville, Florida · Joined Oct 2012 · Points: 90

Rest in peace Matt. Heartfelt condolences to everyone affected.

I am extremely sorry to hear this and is a stark reminder of how unforgiving this activity can be if we are not alert. Many have given some good advice and tips. But still, I would like to share the method in detail so that any-one who is new to this is benefitted.

Even for people who have been doing this for years, it's easy to mess things up when we are tired / not alert / racing against the Sun. To avoid that, I just always ask person who is cleaning the route to reiterate each and every step they are doing up there. I do the same if I am cleaning up the route. I talk it out loud.

It goes something like this - 

  1. Ok, I have reached the anchors, I am self anchored and the biners are locked. I prefer two self anchor points via 2 slings girth hitched through my tie-in loops. 
  2. Then ask the belayer to give some slack to ensure that I am indeed on my PAS and not on belay. 
  3. Then I ask the belayer to take me off belay. 
  4. Once off belay, I make sure to secure the rope before untying - clove hitch it to myself so that I don't drop it to the ground.
  5. Once secured, I untie, pass the rope through the anchor rings and make sure both ends reach the ground. I check with my belayer to make sure that both ends are on ground.
  6. Then set up the rappel and use an auto-block.
  7. Take in the rappel / go higher so as to create a slack in the PAS and to ensure that I am indeed on the rappel set up.
  8. Once confirmed, ask the belayer to put you on fireman's belay. Autoblock is there are a back up.
  9. Remove the PAS. Make sure you have cleaned everything.
  10. Start rapping.

This may be sound like a lengthy process, but it keeps complacency at bay. And honestly, it is not lengthy. If communication with the belayer is a problem (winding routes / windy day) - talk to yourself. I have done it and it has helped me do things without rushing through things when I was not sure.

alpinist 47 · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2017 · Points: 0

Thanks Rohan

You said what I did not have time too type.

Sincer condolences 

RJ Klingelhoffer · · Portland, Oregon · Joined Sep 2016 · Points: 0
Rohan R Rao wrote:

Rest in peace Matt. Heartfelt condolences to everyone affected.

I am extremely sorry to hear this and is a stark reminder of how unforgiving this activity can be if we are not alert. Many have given some good advice and tips. But still, I would like to share the method in detail so that any-one who is new to this is benefitted.

Even for people who have been doing this for years, it's easy to mess things up when we are tired / not alert / racing against the Sun. To avoid that, I just always ask person who is cleaning the route to reiterate each and every step they are doing up there. I do the same if I am cleaning up the route. I talk it out loud.

It goes something like this - 

  1. Ok, I have reached the anchors, I am self anchored and the biners are locked. I prefer two self anchor points via 2 slings girth hitched through my tie-in loops. 
  2. Then ask the belayer to give some slack to ensure that I am indeed on my PAS and not on belay. 
  3. Then I ask the belayer to take me off belay. 
  4. Once off belay, I make sure to secure the rope before untying - clove hitch it to myself so that I don't drop it to the ground.
  5. Once secured, I untie, pass the rope through the anchor rings and make sure both ends reach the ground. I check with my belayer to make sure that both ends are on ground.
  6. Then set up the rappel and use an auto-block.
  7. Take in the rappel / go higher so as to create a slack in the PAS and to ensure that I am indeed on the rappel set up.
  8. Once confirmed, ask the belayer to put you on fireman's belay. Autoblock is there are a back up.
  9. Remove the PAS. Make sure you have cleaned everything.
  10. Start rapping.

This may be sound like a lengthy process, but it keeps complacency at bay. And honestly, it is not lengthy. If communication with the belayer is a problem (winding routes / windy day) - talk to yourself. I have done it and it has helped me do things without rushing through things when I was not sure.

One important step that seems redundant on rappel is to always tie knots in the ends on your rope. I recently found out the hard way... and am lucky enough to live to tell about it! 

Spencer Parkin · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2016 · Points: 0

In some areas, the local ethic discourages lowering when cleaning a TR, because doing so adds wear to the fixed hardware.  I did a lot of practicing of the procedure in my basement before ever cleaning/rapping for realz.  I would never send someone new to it up to clean without going over it with them on the ground with a mock anchor.

Simon W · · Nowhere Land · Joined May 2013 · Points: 20

Very sad... RIP

Lowering IS safer IF:

-The route is properly equipped

-It is understood by both parties that that's the plan before the climber leaves the ground

-Knot is correctly tied and rope is long enough

Unfortunately even experienced climbers make mistakes rapping all the time.  Sport climbs with some sort of drop in anchor eliminate the potential for error there.  

The climb in question is a bad example because it is a rope stretcher and fairly common to rap with two ropes but in general I would really like to see mussy hook anchors start getting used more in UT, NV, CO, WY... everywhere.

Mussy hooks first caught on big in the East side of CA.  They take a long time to wear and are easy to replace.  They are FOR LOWERING (not TRing).  In instances where the rope is long enough they prevent this type of accident.

ViperScale · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2013 · Points: 165

Lowering is only safer if there is hooks at the top and you don't have to untie (like in the picture). If you have to untie rappelling is always safer because once you anchor yourself into the top you no longer have to trust the person at the bottom didn't look away or let go while you were running the rope through the rings.

I have run into those hooks on the west coast alot more common than on the east coast but they do have them in some areas.

sherb · · Loveland, Ohio & Wheat Ridg... · Joined Dec 2012 · Points: 0
ViperScale wrote:

Lowering is only safer if there is hooks at the top and you don't have to untie (like in the picture). If you have to untie rappeling is always safer because once you anchor yourself into the top you no longer have to trust the person at the bottom didn't look away or let go while you were running the rope through the rings.

I used to think that too, but now disagree. The common danger of rappeling isn't untying while you're not in direct- you can control and check for that. The common danger is your partner who is 100 feet away taking you off belay because s/he is expecting you to rappel, before you are ready, eg you yell "take" and the command is obscured by noise,  or someone else yells "off belay" and your partner thinks you yelled it.

Ken Noyce · · Layton, UT · Joined Aug 2010 · Points: 2,037
sherb wrote:

I used to think that too, but now disagree. The common danger of rappeling isn't untying while you're not in direct- you can control and check for that. The common danger is your partner who is 100 feet away taking you off belay because s/he is expecting you to rappel, before you are ready, eg you yell "take" and the command is obscured by noise,  or someone else yells "off belay" and your partner thinks you yelled it.

Yes, this is absolutely correct.  If you make it clear to your belayer that you never want to be taken off belay until you reach the ground (i.e. you always lower), and if all belayers just operated under the assumption that the climber is going to lower then it is absolutely  safer to always lower.  Not saying it was the case in this accident, but there are way too many accidents due to belayers taking someone off belay when they shouldn't.  

edarriola · · Wasatch, UT · Joined Aug 2011 · Points: 0
sclair wrote:

After reading through the 2 pages thus far, it seems reasonable to reiterate that leaving the ground without communication is asking for trouble. A few of my partners and I do this, but we always lower, so we are never off belay. But with new partners, or perhaps on a long pitch that might require shenanigans, then we should remember to to be proactive.Also, when going on rappel, double checking at the least is something that can be forgotten in a moment. I'm sorry this situation and for everyone that couldn't help him more. 

As an aside, I was driving down Big Cottonwood on Friday around 3:45 pm and saw at least 4 canyon police, an ambulance, and pardon my bad memory but a rescue team I believe parked at the reservoir by storm mt. Was there a separate incident? Or is there any reason for them to return to the scene?

That was a separate incident on the Mule Hollow trail. Hiker fell and broke an ankle/lower leg.

Simon W · · Nowhere Land · Joined May 2013 · Points: 20
sherb wrote:

I used to think that too, but now disagree. The common danger of rappeling isn't untying while you're not in direct- you can control and check for that. The common danger is your partner who is 100 feet away taking you off belay because s/he is expecting you to rappel, before you are ready, eg you yell "take" and the command is obscured by noise,  or someone else yells "off belay" and your partner thinks you yelled it.

I respectfully disagree.  If the belayer knows the plan and isn't competent enough to take when you yell TAKE after reaching the top of the climb and immediately dropping the rope in the hooks, and somehow finds a way to take you off belay and drop you... you have no business climbing with that person.  These anchors typically aren't in use on pitches that are so long that communication is difficult but regardless it should be sorted before the climber leaves the ground.  A belayer can get a climber hurt/killed in many ways, and would have to be exceptionally incompetent to do what you suggest.. an experienced belayer who can be trusted is essential.

I have repelled many 100s of pitches and will continue to do so but even experienced climbers make mistakes.

Besides it's the possibility of the rappel that introduces the opportunity for the climber to be dropped (OR drop themselves) in the first place.  When lowering becomes more commonplace, especially on climbs inexperienced climbers are on, these accidents will happen less.

Lynn Hill decked from mistieing her knot.  If you weight the rap before you come off the anchor you are probably safe (assuming the rope reaches) however, the added steps always introduce the potential for error, even for an experienced climber in a perfect world.

If I read the accounts correctly, this accident was not the belayers fault.

RIP..

sherb · · Loveland, Ohio & Wheat Ridg... · Joined Dec 2012 · Points: 0
Simon W wrote:

I respectfully disagree.  If the belayer knows the plan and isn't competent enough to take when you yell TAKE after reaching the top of the climb and immediately dropping the rope in the hooks, and somehow finds a way to take you off belay and drop you... you have no business climbing with that person.  These anchors typically aren't in use on pitches that are so long that communication is difficult but regardless it should be sorted before the climber leaves the ground.  A belayer can get a climber hurt/killed in many ways, and would have to be exceptionally incompetent to do what you suggest.. an experienced belayer who can be trusted is essential.

I have repelled many 100s of pitches and will continue to do so but even experienced climbers make mistakes.

Besides it's the possibility of the rappel that introduces the opportunity for the climber to be dropped (OR drop themselves) in the first place.  When lowering becomes more commonplace, especially on climbs inexperienced climbers are on, these accidents will happen less.

Lynn Hill decked from mistieing her knot.  If you weight the rap before you come off the anchor you are probably safe (assuming the rope reaches) however, the added steps always introduce the potential for error, even for an experienced climber in a perfect world.

If I read the accounts correctly, this accident was not the belayers fault.

RIP..

It may not have been belayer error in this case, but this is a common scenario.  A belayer with the best of intentions may take you off belay before you are ready to, if the belayer hears the command erroneously - the climber's command was garbled up by the wind or creek, another person with a similar voice yells "off belay"- the misstep may be fatal.  And do you want to find out whether you have any business climbing with that person in this manner?  S/he may be a very good belayer most of the time, but the problem is the time of critical communication is while the belayer and climber are many feet away.

See https://www.mountainproject.com/forum/topic/112310457/clear-creek-accident?page=3

Cameron Woolf wrote:

I have talked to my partner, and we've reached the conclusion that she thought I was cleaning/ repelling and took me off belay. We believe she thought this because I spent a lot of time above the first anchor debating whether I would climb up the short second pitch or not. (Luckily I decided against it)

Communication was crap that day as it was windy, and Canal Zone is right next to hwy 6, and Clear Creek. I was lead climbing, but we didn't specify what the plan was before I started off on the route. In the absence of verbal or visual communication, signals and information from the rope was confusing at best.

Even if they communicated that Cameron was to rappel after all before leaving the ground, the problem was her taking him off belay before he was ready.

When agreeing to rappel, the belayer is scanning for the next command to be "Off-belay" - so the climber can thread the anchors and rappel.

When agreeing to lower, the belayer is programmed to keep the climber on belay the entire time until the climber reaches the ground.  The belayer is scanning for the commands: "slack" --- "take" ----- "lower."  Even if the belayer is inattentive and doesn't take it back up before the climber start to lower, the slack provided is not going to be as long as the entire route.  It will be a toprope fall with extra slack.  Even if his/her attention is momentarily elsewhere, that fist is programmed to wrap around the brake strand and keep the climber on belay.

Ken Noyce · · Layton, UT · Joined Aug 2010 · Points: 2,037
sherb wrote:

It may not have been belayer error in this case, but this is a common scenario.  A belayer with the best of intentions may take you off belay before you are ready to, if the belayer hears the command erroneously - the climber's command was garbled up by the wind or creek, another person with a similar voice yells "off belay".  And do you want to find out whether you have any business climbing with that person in this manner?  S/he may be a very good belayer most of the time, but the problem is the time of critical communication is while the belayer and climber are many feet away.

See https://www.mountainproject.com/forum/topic/112310457/clear-creek-accident?page=3

Even if they communicated that Cameron was to rappel after all before leaving the ground, the problem was her taking him off belay before he was ready.

When agreeing to rappel, the belayer is scanning for the next command to be "Off-belay" - so the climber can thread the anchors and rappel.

When agreeing to lower, the belayer is programmed to keep the climber on belay the entire time until the climber reaches the ground.  The belayer is scanning for the commands: "slack" --- "take" ----- "lower."  Even if the belayer is inattentive and doesn't take it back up before the climber start to lower, the slack provided is not going to be as long as the entire route.  It will be a toprope fall with extra slack.  Even if his/her attention is momentarily elsewhere, that fist is programmed to wrap around the brake strand and keep the climber on belay.

yes, all of this is correct and is why lowering should always be the default.

Rohan R Rao · · Jacksonville, Florida · Joined Oct 2012 · Points: 90

@Ken / Sherb - 

With all due respect, I think we are missing the point when we say lowering is always safer.

Well, first of all, in any climb other than those equipped with shuts, lowering is not always possible without leaving your gear.

Imagine this - 

  1. You just led a fantastic sport route and arrived at the anchors 80 feet above your belayer.
  2. The anchors are not equipped with shuts or fixed draws, but rather a classic two bolt anchor with rings? You can even consider anchor chains.
  3. Now, you have no direct clip in point at the anchor. You have to then clip two of your quickdraws to the anchor bolts and then clip through them 
  4. Now, whether you have to clean the route or your partner who is following on a top rope, you will have to untie the knot and re-thread the rope through the rings in order to retrieve your quickdraws at the anchor. Now, after re-threading, whether you lower or rap off - you will be off-belay and on your own while cleaning on routes without shuts or fixed draws. 

Is there any other way?  Am I missing something here?

You cannot always remain on belay in those situations. So, rather than saying lowering is always safer, it's better to focus and be more attentive when cleaning, or for that matter anything you do when climbing.

A simple reconfirmation from from the belayer such as - "Rohan, did you say you're off belay? Wait till they get the confirmation and reconfirm Ok, then I am taking you off belay.". 15 seconds extra? I understand the communication may be a problem sometimes and hence the following ...

... as a general practice, on climbers behalf - The first thing that I do as soon as I reach the anchor is to clip in the draws and attach my PAS before communicating a single word with my belayer.

And, while I know there are Access Funds and climber's coalition for almost all the popular crags - let's not forget lowering does cause this - 

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-Z0gVQI0V8Ak/UpJLnb4KIoI/AAAAAAAADJY/h7mEasIUvKs/s1600/worn-fixe-biner.jpg

https://cdn-files.apstatic.com/climb/106094988_medium_1494078031.jpg

Ken Noyce · · Layton, UT · Joined Aug 2010 · Points: 2,037
Rohan R Rao wrote:

...

Is there any other way?  Am I missing something here?

Yes, you are missing something here.  there are multiple ways to stay on belay through this process.  You can tie an 8 on a bight and clip it to your belay loop prior to untieing, if you are talking rings you can pass a bight of rope through the rings, tie an 8 on a bight and clip it to your harness, then untie and lower, I'm sure there are other ways, but that isn't the point.

The point isn't that it makes the climber safe by the climber not going off belay, the point is that even if the climber is not attached to the belayer via the rope, the belayer still has the climber on belay, that is the important part of all this. 

Ken Noyce · · Layton, UT · Joined Aug 2010 · Points: 2,037
Rohan R Rao wrote:

And, while I know there are Access Funds and climber's coalition for almost all the popular crags - let's not forget lowering does cause this - 

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-Z0gVQI0V8Ak/UpJLnb4KIoI/AAAAAAAADJY/h7mEasIUvKs/s1600/worn-fixe-biner.jpg

https://cdn-files.apstatic.com/climb/106094988_medium_1494078031.jpg

So replace the worn components when you come across them.  This really is no big deal.

Simon W · · Nowhere Land · Joined May 2013 · Points: 20

Rohan,

In that scenario the climber can:

 -Go into the anchor with their PAS

-Ask for slack

-Thread a loop of rope through both rings, tie a figure 8 on a bight and clip in to it with a locker

-Untie their original knot and feed the loose rope through the rings

-Ask belayer to take.  Weight the line, unclip PAS, ask to be lowered.

aikibujin · · Castle Rock, CO · Joined Oct 2014 · Points: 200
Rohan R Rao wrote:

You have to then clip two of your quickdraws to the anchor bolts and then clip through them 

You DON’T do that?


This whole rap vs. lower debate is ridiculous. Here’s what I do:
1. When I get to the anchor, first thing I do is to clip a draw (or draws) to the fixed hardware and clip my rope in. So if I greased off the clipping hold at least I can call it a send because that’s the most important thing (joking of course... sort of).
2. Connect myself directly to the anchor with my method of choice (usually draws), grabbing the anchor draw and rope to pull myself up if necessary.
3. Here's the key difference between what I do and what most are taught: I pull slack up on the climber’s side of the draw I clipped to the anchor (most pull slack up on the belayer’s side), I tie a figure-8 on a bight and clip that to my belay loop with a locker (instead of clipping it to my gear loop). So the rope now goes from my tie-in knot, to a figure-8 on a bight clipped to my belay loop, up through the anchor draws, and down to my belayer.
4. Now I untie my tie-in knot, thread the rope (tip: trace the rope through the anchor draw first to make the rope run cleaner), and tie back in.
5. I untie the figure-8 on a bight from my belay loop, drop the slack, pull on the belayer’s side of the rope so my weight is on the rope, ask my belayer to take, then unclip from the anchor and lower when I feel the tension in the rope.


I ask my belayer to never take their brake hand off the rope, even after they gave me slack to clean the anchor. If using an tube-type belay device, they can tie off the brake strand and do some other stuff if they need. If using a Grigri, minimal amount of attention to the brake strand is all I ask. Because in step 3 I’ve connected the rope through the draw(s) on the anchor to my belay loop, I’m never off belay. Now, assume that I’m leading (so have all the bolts on the route clipped), this also protects me in the (admittedly rare) chance that the anchor fails or I somehow become detached from the anchor. I will be caught on the next bolt by the rope connected to my belay loop. Can rappelling do that?

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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