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an unexplained accident


JCM · · Seattle, WA · Joined Jun 2008 · Points: 95

I suspect that this analysis may be going down the wrong rabbit hole with the focus on the GriGri. The OP already stated that the rope did not slip through the device. 30’ of rope shooting through the device is something that you’d notice (rope burn). So the excess slack apparently came came some other factor.

As stated above by several people, this could happen in various ways. Part of the anchor failing, a directional coming unclipped, the rope bring caught on a protruding piece of rock then coming off, etc.

Need more specifics of the route and anchor configuration before we can speculate further.

Spaggett, Gotcha! · · Raleigh, NC · Joined Jun 2018 · Points: 0

Forces on the system are minimal in lowering compared to lead falls.  Therefore, 100% user error.  Go back and have an honest conversation to figure out what actually happened or avoid climbing with the involved altogether, which would be my choice.   Best of luck. 

Steve "Crusher" Bartlett · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2001 · Points: 2,795

There's always an explanation. This actually sounds like something that happened to me once, I slipped unexpectedly and fell 25 feet into rocks (I was fine!) while following a pitch and with rope being taken in as normal. No extra slack. Belayer never noticed a thing. What happened was the pitch went went through a large angle and of course the rope followed this zigzag. When I slipped a piece pulled (the piece at the sharp angle) and a whole lot of slack was created. No one did anything wrong. The same effect can occur, while lowering, from the rope running around something like a flake or an arete that's not really in line with the fall line; at some point the rope may free itself and cause the person being lowered to suddenly fall some distance.

This effect is amplified by the dynamic nature of a climbing rope. Under bodyweight (lowering) the rope does not stretch much; but subjected to a larger force (a fall) the rope is designed to stretch, maybe quite a lot, in order to soften the impact on the person.

Jon Hillis · · Valley of Sun · Joined Mar 2013 · Points: 0

30 ft is a lot of rope to be stuck in a crack or let slack by a anchor slip... I am saying the same as others, user error and unwillingness to accept that they screwed up.

Jon Nelson · · Redmond, WA · Joined Sep 2011 · Points: 5,115
neils wrote: 
My question is this - has anyone ever been involved in a climbing accident where its essentially like WTF?  We did nothing wrong but obviously something went wrong and we can't explain it.  How do you mentally reconcile that?  We do our best to be safe and follow best practice.  I recognize climbing is dangerous and things happen - there are always circumstances and things that happen out of our control.  But that is a bit of difficult thing to swallow...anything can go wrong at any time regardless of what you do...yes I know thats how life is - its accepted risk - but an event that appears to be an "anomaly" or "freak accident" in a normal, frequent climbing procedure is a bit unnerving.  Has anyone ever experienced something like this and what did you do?  Just chalk it up to an accident and move on?  Recently I listened to a podcast where a guy was climbing in el dorado canyon and all of his bomber cams inexplicably ripped and he discussed it at length.  This isn't what my group went through but similar in some ways.


Yes. When I first started out, my neighbor and I went to a local outcropping, scrambled around to the top, and then tied his rope to a tree.  
We had read about knots, and learned that a bowline was the best. So, we tied a bowline, and we thought we checked it. Then, my neighbor started rapping down, and I just solo downclimbed. It was maybe a 35-50 foot, lower-angle face, steeper at the bottom. I got down first, and continued bouldering at the base. My neighbor came rapping down, got right next to me, and then the knot at the top came untied. He fell about 5 feet to the ground.

After that, he never climbed again, and I never used a bowline.
But I have no idea what happened. Apparently, we tied the knot wrong. But it is amazing that it held for 90% of his rap, failing just at the end.
stolo · · Shelby, NC · Joined Sep 2016 · Points: 215

Glad to hear your friend is ok, be careful out there

Jay Dee · · Summerville, SC · Joined May 2017 · Points: 0
Nick Sweeney wrote:

This type of accident is fairly common with Gri Gri devices.  I'd guess that many of these incidents are never reported or published because many times, people are able to walk away with minor injuries.


Typically, here's what happens:

The belayer is using proper gri gri technique by opening the locking mechanism with the left hand while controlling the lower with their right hand on the brake strand.  For whatever reason (fatigue, friction burn, distraction, etc.), the belayer loses control of the brake strand.  The left hand instinctively pulls down hard on the brake lever, which holds the camming mechanism open and sends the climber into free fall.

This is exactly what I thought. I'm fairly new to climbing but have read a lot about accidents. I climb with some new climbers at times and got the Grigri+ to specifically avoid this as being possible. I know a lot of people laugh at the antipanick feature of the plus but if your belayer isn't experienced you should have it imo.

J Achey · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2009 · Points: 145

Skimming the thread I didn't clearly see this explanation, although some of the posts seemed to imply something like it: It's likely that the rope jammed or partially jammed somewhere between the anchor and the lowering climber - flared crack features are notorious for doing this. It's possible that the belayer continued to feed rope, creating a bunch of slack (the weight of the free rope above the jam might have cause a similar amount of pull as a climber lowering on a partially jammed rope). Then the jam freed itself, with the slack creating a long fall. Variations of this scenario are pretty common!

brianszero · · southampton, new jersey · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 5

yup this ^^
with the rope jammed and just barely slivering through a v slot or notch.  the belayer would still be lowering and seeing the climber lowering but may have not noticed at a much slower pace than the amount of rope he was feeding then all of a sudden the rope may have popped out..

Cron · · Albuquerque, NM · Joined Oct 2009 · Points: 55
neils wrote: 
I will try and make this as simple as possible - a climber was on an anchor at the top of a climb on a large ledge.  was going to rappel but realized the rappel device was left on the ground by accident.  on an adjacent climb off the same shared anchor another pair had a TR set up. a decision was made to use this rope to lower the climber.  the climber tied a fig 8 on a bight to a locker to belay loop on the non gear side of the rope.  initially they were going to tie into the end and pull up all the rope but it was an 80 meter rope and they decided to go with the bight.  it was confirmed there was enough rope on the ground to get them down.  they clipped in and weighted the anchor while on PAS.  taken tight from the ground they were lowered about 75 ft with no issue.  about 25 ft up from the ground they fell and the rope was running.  I was above on rappel watching.  Prior the fall it seems the climber had noticed rope of some sort in a crack - it may have been slack - it may have been tail off the bite - that is unknown.  The belayer says as the climber fell the rope was not running fast through the device.  The rope was still in the device when they hit.  No gear had pulled on the gear side.   They were still completely tied in when they decked.  No gear failed up top.  Everything was bomber and solid.

1. Could you have clipped the forgotten belay device to a bight on the end of the rappel line for the climber to haul up? This happens all the time. 

2. The climber could have rappelled with a munter - though unfortunately it seems many folks don't know how to do that.

Both of these options could have avoided the need for lowering off someone else's line.

Glad to hear everyone is okay.
Attentive Follower · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2018 · Points: 0

Grigri panic happens but when it does happen it will be obvious. There is still friction in the device when the lever is fully engaged and does not result in immediate "free fall." Unless the belayer completely let go of the rope and is not 'fessing up, GriGri error does not explain what the OP described.

Tradiban · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2004 · Points: 11,510
neils wrote: I was recently involved in a lowering accident - I was not the injured party nor was I the person doing the lowering but it was in my climbing group for the day.  I really don't want to go into all the details for  analysis here (I hope that is understood)  We talked it over with each other, as well as with other experienced guide folks and went over everything that transpired.  Essentially we cannot account for how and why the person being lowered fell.  Nothing points to a sound explanation of belayer error, device failure, anchor failure, or anything else conclusive.  The practices used for the situation we were in were deemed "sound" - nothing really strange or out of the ordinary.  But something obviously went wrong we cannot account for.

My question is this - has anyone ever been involved in a climbing accident where its essentially like WTF?  We did nothing wrong but obviously something went wrong and we can't explain it.  How do you mentally reconcile that?  We do our best to be safe and follow best practice.  I recognize climbing is dangerous and things happen - there are always circumstances and things that happen out of our control.  But that is a bit of difficult thing to swallow...anything can go wrong at any time regardless of what you do...yes I know thats how life is - its accepted risk - but an event that appears to be an "anomaly" or "freak accident" in a normal, frequent climbing procedure is a bit unnerving.  Has anyone ever experienced something like this and what did you do?  Just chalk it up to an accident and move on?  Recently I listened to a podcast where a guy was climbing in el dorado canyon and all of his bomber cams inexplicably ripped and he discussed it at length.  This isn't what my group went through but similar in some ways.

it wont let me post below so adding here:

EDIT  ok - I will try and make this as simple as possible - a climber was on an anchor at the top of a climb on a large ledge.  was going to rappel but realized the rappel device was left on the ground by accident.  on an adjacent climb off the same shared anchor another pair had a TR set up. a decision was made to use this rope to lower the climber.  the climber tied a fig 8 on a bight to a locker to belay loop on the non gear side of the rope.  initially they were going to tie into the end and pull up all the rope but it was an 80 meter rope and they decided to go with the bight.  it was confirmed there was enough rope on the ground to get them down.  they clipped in and weighted the anchor while on PAS.  taken tight from the ground they were lowered about 75 ft with no issue.  about 25 ft up from the ground they fell and the rope was running.  I was above on rappel watching.  Prior the fall it seems the climber had noticed rope of some sort in a crack - it may have been slack - it may have been tail off the bite - that is unknown.  The belayer says as the climber fell the rope was not running fast through the device.  The rope was still in the device when they hit.  No gear had pulled on the gear side.   They were still completely tied in when they decked.  No gear failed up top.  Everything was bomber and solid.

All we can speculate is, as someone said above - somehow the rope got around or in a feature of some kind that "popped" and caused slack to release coupled with the person stopping at a small ledge on the way down as others have said - maybe it was 20 or 25 ft?  I am not sure. This is what I know based on what I saw and what was discussed after.

Miraculously this person only suffered an injured foot.  As I said, it looked very bad.

Yes, I've seen this type of thing happen, it's a flaw in the way the Gri lowers. Belayor loses control of brake strand panics and pulls back harder on handle instinctively, (panic=contraction).

Ryan Williams · · London (sort of) · Joined May 2009 · Points: 1,245

I’m sorry that you were involved in an accident. It sounds like it may have been serious. I hope not.

Like many others have said, it was most likely user error. Unfortunately the involved parties are claiming to have done everything correctly and you are forced to believe them. But in reality, someone probably did something to cause the accident. They may not be 100% sure it was their fault, and that is normal. What is not normal is that everyone involved can say they are 100% sure, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that they did everything correctly. That is very rare.

No matter what the experience level, climbers usually have fuzzy moments where things happened too fast for them to account for everything (eg how fast the rope REALLY ran through a grigri or EXACTLY how much weight was actually on the rope during the lowering process). You may not ever figure out exactly what happened, but to just accept that it was act of God is silly. I urge you to reconsider your position and avoid climbing with anyone who is unwilling to do so. 

the schmuck · · Albuquerque, NM · Joined Feb 2012 · Points: 115

Reading comprehension 101:  As others already pointed out, panic related Gri accident result in rope shooting through the device. OP clearly stated that no such thing occurred. Let's not blame the device, no?

Paul Deger · · Colorado · Joined Sep 2015 · Points: 36
Nick Sweeney wrote:

This type of accident is fairly common with Gri Gri devices.  I'd guess that many of these incidents are never reported or published because many times, people are able to walk away with minor injuries.


Typically, here's what happens:

The belayer is using proper gri gri technique by opening the locking mechanism with the left hand while controlling the lower with their right hand on the brake strand.  For whatever reason (fatigue, friction burn, distraction, etc.), the belayer loses control of the brake strand.  The left hand instinctively pulls down hard on the brake lever, which holds the camming mechanism open and sends the climber into free fall.

Wow - sounds like not just “deadly ATC”, but deadly GriGri! I’ll stick with my MJ.

Attentive Follower · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2018 · Points: 0
Paul Deger wrote:

Wow - sounds like not just “deadly ATC”, but deadly GriGri! I’ll stick with my MJ.

You want a belay device that can increase the opposing force created by your mass. 

F=ma
Spaggett, Gotcha! · · Raleigh, NC · Joined Jun 2018 · Points: 0
J Achey wrote: Skimming the thread I didn't clearly see this explanation, although some of the posts seemed to imply something like it: It's likely that the rope jammed or partially jammed somewhere between the anchor and the lowering climber - flared crack features are notorious for doing this. It's possible that the belayer continued to feed rope, creating a bunch of slack (the weight of the free rope above the jam might have cause a similar amount of pull as a climber lowering on a partially jammed rope). Then the jam freed itself, with the slack creating a long fall. Variations of this scenario are pretty common!

Taking the OPs accounts at face value (no belayer error, no rope observed running rapidly through device, etc), I think Mr. J A nailed it here.  

The remaining part I struggle with here is how the belayer couldn't tell the difference between the weight of a lowering climber (albeit, with some drag vs the weight of the rope only on the brake side of the Gri?  The only way you could build enough slack in the system above said rope jam for a 25+ ft fall is if it was only the rope weight left on the anchor.  Giving generous benefit of the doubt, this leads me to believe there was a lot of friction during the lower (i.e. jam) that progressively got worse, leading the belayer to be desensitized to it or disregard the anomaly altogether.

Proposed sequence:  lowering climber rope partially jammed slowing decent, belayer pulled Gri "wide open" taking braking hand off to keep feeding rope (this is the withheld detail), rope feed rate exceeded climber lowering rate until there was 15-20 ft of slack, then jam freed resulting in 25 ft fall crediting some stretch.

In any case, culpability still lies with the belayer by not recongizing and stopping when met with unexpected conditions.
Marc H · · Longmont, CO · Joined May 2007 · Points: 255
the schmuck wrote: Reading comprehension 101:  As others already pointed out, panic related Gri accident result in rope shooting through the device. OP clearly stated that no such thing occurred. Let's not blame the device, no?

In a “panic-related Grigri accident resulting in rope shooting through the device,” the device is not at fault; it functioned exactly as it’s supposed to.  That type of “accident” is a user error.

SmithVentures · · Fayetteville, WV · Joined Jul 2010 · Points: 171

I did something similar last year with different results where I was in a steep gulley and rappelled off a line where I could not see the anchor but my friends had set it up for me.  Apparently the rest of the rope was tangled above me and wrapped around some rocks.  I weighted the line and assumed it was good to go.  The rap line held but very easily could have blown out and dropped me at least 40 feet more without warning.  

wonderwoman · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2006 · Points: 93
BillS wrote:

Life comprehension 101 - the guy who f'd up may not be your best witness.

So true!  And I feel for him, too!  Especially dropping someone as a beginner climber and legitimately believing that this type of stuff happens all the time. 

But as a climbing community, we can't let the newer peeps move along on saying that 'shit happens', or this person will never learn and eff up again.  

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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