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Fatal Accident in Bolton, VT

Original Post
Eric LaRoche · · Keene, NH · Joined Aug 2011 · Points: 25
Bill Lawry · · Albuquerque, NM · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 1,703

Sounds like the responders had some climbing expertise towards understanding likely causes ... but no specific cause named yet.

Sincere condolences to those close to  Rebecca.

Eric LaRoche · · Keene, NH · Joined Aug 2011 · Points: 25

Crag-VT said it was a lowering accident on Lower West wall.  No details on cause at the moment or type of lowering that was being done.

Player · · VT · Joined Oct 2011 · Points: 0

My thoughts are with her family and her friends.

The Vermont climbing community is tight knit. At least one of the responders is an experienced climber. In time, a full accident report will be released. Until then, I hope we can refrain from speculating what may or may not have happened.

Seth Maciejowski · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2012 · Points: 543

Hello all,

I'd like to express my sincere condolences to the friends and family of Rebecca.  This is a heavy blow to the small, tight knit climbing community in Vermont and there will be a lot of folks grieving.  Out of respect for friends and family let's keep the speculation to a minimum.    I can confirm that the first responders are very experienced in technical rescue and climbing and that the CRAGVT statement is accurate.  Let's come together to help the folks involved cope with this tragedy.


Seth Maciejowski

Ira O · · Hardwick, VT · Joined Sep 2013 · Points: 112

So terrible. Really heartbreaking. Sending my heart out to friends, family, and all those affected by this trauma and tragedy. 

amarius · · Nowhere, OK · Joined Feb 2012 · Points: 20
Bill Lawry · · Albuquerque, NM · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 1,703

Amarius:  It is too soon for a post like that.

amarius · · Nowhere, OK · Joined Feb 2012 · Points: 20
Bill Lawry wrote:

Amarius:  It is too soon for a post like that.

I agree wholeheartedly, and the only reason I posted is due to reference in the article to the above accident.

Derek Doucet · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2010 · Points: 66

Heartfelt condolences to all who knew Rebecca. I'll keep you all in my thoughts.

Neil Van Dyke · · Stowe, VT · Joined Sep 2017 · Points: 5

We appreciate the climbing community's respect for the privacy and feelings of those directly involved and affected by this tragic accident. At the same time we understand the desire for additional information, especially in the hope that it might in some way help avoid future similar accidents. Our investigation is largely complete, and we will share as much information as we can about the accident shortly. Thanks for your patience and understanding.

Neil Van Dyke
Search & Rescue Coordinator
Vermont Dept. of Public Safety

Neil Van Dyke · · Stowe, VT · Joined Sep 2017 · Points: 5

Following is a summary of the incident.

Three climbers (#1, #2, #3) were finishing up their day top roping on Harvest Moon. Climber #1 was making the final ascent of the day. Both #2 and #3 believed that the plan was for #1 to ascend, clean the anchor, and rappel down. The actual wording of this conversation is not entirely clear. #2 remembers #1 saying she would “probably” rappel, but “might” be lowered. #3 only remembers the use of the term “rappel”.

Climber #1 finished the climb, called “off belay” and #2 removed  the belay and took their harness off believing that #1 would clean the anchor then rappel down.  About 5 minutes later #1 called “are you ready to lower?”. Both #2 and #3 shouted “no” back, and #2 rushed to put their harness back on. Less than a minute later Climber #1 was observed in an uncontrolled fall down the face which she did not survive. She was tied into her harness and the rope was threaded through the bolts at the top anchor, with the free end ending up just a few inches above the ground.

Further investigation discovered that climber #1 did not have a rappel device on her harness. It was later found to have been in a pile of gear at the base of the climb.

The most likely scenario is the climber #1 had intended to rappel after cleaning the anchor, but discovered that she had left her ATC behind.  The communication of this change to a different plan was not clear.  While it seems most likely that #1 did not clearly hear the “no” and “no- wait” shouts from #2 and #3 and leaned back expecting to be lowered, it cannot be ruled out that she slipped or tripped while waiting for the lower or perhaps tried to move closer to the edge to improve communication. There is simply no way to know for certain whether #1 was expecting to be lowered at the time of the accident, or unintentionally tripped or fell while waiting to be lowered. 

dino74 · · Oceanside, CA · Joined Sep 2016 · Points: 60

Thanks for summary. This has happen to me too (forgetting my rap device) but fortunately it was a short climb and my belayer could easily hear me. As a belayer, when someone tells me they are going to rap, I'm going to start asking "do you have your rap device?"

Thomas Corrado · · Essex Jct, VT · Joined Mar 2016 · Points: 40

Thanks for the update.

anna.gutwin · · Burlington, VT · Joined Apr 2013 · Points: 75

Question for you Neil, do you know if she had a leash attached to her harness? Did she simply take herself off all systems to thread the rope through the bolts? Thank you for your thorough analysis - I hope we all learn something and are safer climbers at the very least. Sincere condolences to family, friends and the entire community. 

Bert Severin · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Sep 2017 · Points: 0

Thanks Neil, such a tragedy, my heartfelt condolences to her family, and her climbing partners and friends.

Hans Schneider · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Sep 2017 · Points: 0

What a tragedy for her friends and family.

Neil, do you happen to know,  did she have a locking carabiner or HMS carabiner on her harness at all?  

Chris Owen · · Big Bear Lake · Joined Jan 2002 · Points: 11,189

Sorry to hear about this - my condolences to friends and family. 

Here's my input, intended towards prevention and food for thought, not criticism; there are two ways down from the anchors; 1-lowering, 2-rappelling. Personally, my regular partner(s) and I never say "belay off" if we're being lowered, if I get to the anchor I say "at the anchor" when I've secured myself with a PAS and start the rope threading and tie back in process. Once I'm tied back in I say "ready to lower" - only after this is acknowledged do I unclip my PAS. But I never instruct the belayer to take me off. Only when I am rappelling do I instruct the belayer to take me off - only after my PAS has been clipped and I'm on my own. The last climber up always declares their clear intention to either lower or rappel. On another note; I still use the UK communication system as I think it's clearer. There's no "belay on/off" "off/on belay" exchange as these terms can be easily confused. The belayer tells the climber "climb when ready" the climber says "climbing" but does not go until belayer says "ok". At the top of the pitch the climber says "safe" then the belayer says "off belay".

Mark Klonicke · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Sep 2017 · Points: 0


Thanks for compiling a well written report. I believe this information will help the climbing community heal and learn from this incident. Glad I could be of assistance with the analysis.

Mark Klonicke

Richmond Fire/Camels Hump Backcountry Rescue  

Chris Child · · Starksboro · Joined Feb 2016 · Points: 15
Chris Owen wrote:

Sorry to hear about this - my condolences to friends and family. 

there are two ways down from the anchors; 1-lowering, 2-rappelling

There is also a third way, to walk off.  This was done for many decades prior to the addition of the fixed anchor.

I would also like to offer my condolences to the young climbers family, as well as to the other climbers in her party who must face the rest of their lives with the experience they witnessed before them.  That wound will be difficult to heal.

Bill Lawry · · Albuquerque, NM · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 1,703

Given the local attention this thread has, I personally think dithering over solutions belong elsewhere, maybe in one of the many many other threads on the general topic.  And I know I'm not consistent in saying so compared to past posts of mine.  It is just a gut feeling.

Good to have the facts as they are known, Neil & Mark.

Again, sincere condolences to those close to Rebecca.   It is long and always incomplete process to heal from having your heart ripped.  

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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