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Rappelling accident using Mad Rock belay device.


Bill Lawry · · Albuquerque, NM · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 1,667

From their FB page - Wolfe County Search & Rescue Team:  

“... the rappel line rubbed against it during the rapid descent. It wasn’t part of the four wraps.”

“He was clearly wearing thick rappelling gloves just to clarify any misconceptions. The burns suffered were primarily above where the fingers in the gloves stopped.”

“The rsppel device was not extended amd the autoblock was clipped to the ... leg loop.”

“unfortunately, we don’t know exactly what happened after his descent started. We believe the Chief Might have clamped down on the autobloc once his rapid descent began which is a natural but incorrect action. His memory of most of the rapid decent is vague from his concussion other than knowing it all went sideways when he got into free air about 1/2 down, seeing the approaching tree tops and the impact to the ground.”

... somewhere in the comments it was noted that he was the first one down so fireman’s not possible.  Burns were on both hands though more severe on his dominant hand (brake hand). And he is reported as a strong fit guy.

Pnelson · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2015 · Points: 461

I wonder if the autoblock might have been able to catch and do its job if the rappeler had extended his device with a sling or something?  I've found that I've had little luck getting backups to catch when my ATC is attached directly to my harness; there's just not enough room in the brake-strand rope for it to fully tighten.

Of course, the most simple way this accident could have been prevented would have been a gri gri.

coppolillo · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Sep 2009 · Points: 70

Glad the dude didn't pancake...damn, he must've been wigging by the time he went thru the tree.

They should hire an outside expert to do the AAR/analysis....

I tried that exact sewn-cord back-up thingy in the photo. I found it too short and the sewn section too wide to be very useful. Especially with a four-wrap prussik, I can't imagine a) how that thing didn't bite and b) being able to create a working four-wrap prussik with it (it's too short?)..maybe b answers my a....dunno, maybe that contributed?

Glad the dude's alive. Woh. Large man with a pack on a single strand.....I'd prob recommend extending, too, and having that prussik on his belay loop, rather than the leg.

Bill Lawry · · Albuquerque, NM · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 1,667
Bill Lawry wrote:From their FB page - Wolfe County Search & Rescue Team: We believe the Chief Might have clamped down on the autobloc once his rapid descent began which is a natural but incorrect action. His memory of most of the rapid decent is vague from his concussion  ...
This accident could be a case where a third hand below the device was defeated by grip. I had previously assumed that was just an issue for hitch above the device since a firm grip below should simply brake.  

And I’ll hasten to concede that the device and rope may have been inadequate for the load ... ~270 pounds.

Perhaps the primary take away is to not assume a third hand is going to make up for a marginal / inadequate setup?
Mark Pilate · · MN · Joined Jun 2013 · Points: 10

As mentioned, the leg wrap is an easily available safety procedure regardless of device, but can definitely be difficult to execute in free hang while moving.   Had to do it myself when I did a single strand 8.5 mm rap on an original Reverso off the Grand.  Expected it to be a bit spicy, but holy crap, thought I was gonna zip right off down the Black Ice Couloir till I got my leg around it

ABB · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2007 · Points: 0

Add to the 'everybody should know' list a technique referred to as 'the fireman's belay' where a person on the ground pulls on the rap line with sufficient force to spike the friction on the rapper's device, causing the rapper to halt. Try it out...extremely effective. Obviously care must be taken to not get hurt from falling anything when in the landing zone.

Leg wrap, extra rap biner, fireman's belay. Simple.

Allen Sanderson · · On the road to perdition · Joined Jul 2007 · Points: 1,188

I have done raps before where when rigging it I thought there was enough friction in the system but during the beginning of rap there was not. However, well before things got out of control I have realized there was going to an issue (as the friction decreases as one descends), stopped the rappel, and wrapped the rope around my leg. As such, I might also add that an additional cause would be "inexperience."

Old lady H · · Boise, ID · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 974
Allen Sanderson wrote: I have done raps before where when rigging it I thought there was enough friction in the system but during the beginning of rap there was not. However, well before things got out of control I have realized there was going to an issue (as the friction decreases as one descends), stopped the rappel, and wrapped the rope around my leg. As such, I might also add that an additional cause would be "inexperience."

Dumb questions, but hey, that's what noobs are good at, eh? Does it matter how you wrap a rope around a leg? The one time I tried, just to stop and hang full weight, it wasn't workable.

Question two, I have tied prussiks, and always assumed that if the wrap is holding my weight, at the start, I'm good to go? I've used them to ascend, reverse the ascend, double and single ropes and feel fairly confident about getting those wraps right. Is there a "gotcha" I need to know about?

Thinking about ATCs heating up, does rap speed make any difference, or would the length of the rap make the same heat, fast or slow? I'm slow on raps, walk down, no rocketing.

For those who use a grigri on a single line rap, how would you test it before launching? Have enough slack in your tether to lower a bit?

Last, I'm assuming a tandem rap needs lots more friction? I'm sorta surprised the Chief wasn't thinking about weight, since SAR stuff is always uber redundant and much more tuned to loads (zero offense meant, Chief!).

Truly sorry for the Chief's accident. I'm glad they dug into it thoroughly.

Thanks! Helen
Harumpfster Boondoggle · · Between yesterday and today. · Joined Apr 2018 · Points: 138

Much noob speculation that ignores the fact that at high speeds prussiks fail (if the panicked climber can even let go).

Fundamentally it's a case of inexperience with this device, with that rope, with these loads.

Being larger than you average bear I am all too aware how this could happen and have had narrow escapes... Rappel devices are designed for the flyweight division...not the super heavies.

Old lady H · · Boise, ID · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 974
Harumpfster Boondoggle wrote: Much noob speculation that ignores the fact that at high speeds prussiks fail (if the panicked climber can even let go).

Fundamentally it's a case of inexperience with this device, with that rope, with these loads.

Being larger than you average bear I am all too aware how this could happen and have had narrow escapes... Rappel devices are designed for the flyweight division...not the super heavies.

Well, yeah, weight matters. The weight they are talking about, 270+, is in range of a tandem rap, with us "flyweights", lol! Even more critical, maybe, to know to add friction? Especially if you were the 110 rescuing the 160 friend, and hardly ever wanted more friction?

There is a plus, here. Betcha the training gets upped, and the systems reviewed. But, my understanding of SAR, is they assume loads way heavier than usual. This is clearly an "oops". If it can happen to these people, the rest of us shouldn't get complacent with what we do, either.

Best, Helen
Bill Lawry · · Albuquerque, NM · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 1,667

Ideal weight for a 6 foot 3 inch male bodybuilder is 230 pounds. That’s for ideal weight.

 I also think the efforts to shunt off beginner questions to ground about this is more than a disservice - boarding on irresponsibility. Someone can be at a normal healthy weight and still get into trouble depending on device and rope diameter ... as many others have mentioned already.

Bill Lawry · · Albuquerque, NM · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 1,667
Old lady H wrote: 

Does it matter how you wrap a rope around a leg? The one time I tried, just to stop and hang full weight, it wasn't workable.

I have not leg wrapped as part of slowing / easing the descent.  

If a rap seems not easy to control -  it usually means I failed to prevent the problem in the first place by, say, adding a similar biner to the rap device.  For these cases, I usually clip the brake strand into a biner on my leg loop and then brake upward. Some clip again above the device for more friction and brake dir is back to downward  of course.  Note that gloves are nice for this and a third hand might interfere. 

Another option may be simply to wrap the brake strand around your back and brake with the other hand. Though, again, a third hand may interfere.

I’m sure others have other techniques they have used.

Question two, I have tied prussiks, and always assumed that if the wrap is holding my weight, at the start, I'm good to go? I've used them to ascend, reverse the ascend, double and single ropes and feel fairly confident about getting those wraps right. Is there a "gotcha" I need to know about?
Am probably not the person to answer as I generally do not trust it will reliably catch in a surprise fall (a.k.a. “gotcha” :) ).
Scott Dusek · · Redmond · Joined Mar 2016 · Points: 0
Bill Lawry wrote: Ideal weight for a 6 foot 3 inch bodybuilder is 230 pounds. That’s for ideal weight.

 I also think the efforts to shunt off beginner questions to ground about this is more than a disservice - boarding on irresponsibility. Someone can be at a normal healthy weight and still get into trouble depending on device and rope diameter ... as many have mentioned already.

The noob questions should definitely be answered as they come up - that is critical! It causes major drift but the point of these threads is to learn. Your disclaimer about weight is nice and shows sensitivity. However, the post above yours is flat out, dead on accurate. Just replace, "too fat" with, "too heavy" and it's the best summary of this accident in the whole thread. 

-Was the autoblock tied improperly? It appears so.
-Should extra, or different biners been used? Yes and they were not.
-Would a leg wrap (or three) have helped? Immensely!

All good points - that YOU should know about and have in your bag of tricks.

However, the guys was too heavy for the setup, period. That is the beginning and end of it. Being correctly connected is NOT the same thing as "rigged properly". He was never rigged properly because the system was not adequate for his needs.

100% user error - 0% fault Mad Rock (stupid fucking thread name BTW)

Fireman's belay: he was the heaviest, was expected to be experienced and know what he was doing, and thus thus the obvious choice for the first one to rap. This is standard practice in the Alpine world (it allows the rappel anchor to be backed up and "tested" by the heavier climber). Unless you are an exceptional trainer of marmots there is no one down there to give a fireman's belay. Will they consider not having him rap first on a single line now? Yes they will. If you know your anchor is bomber and you are on a single strand with a heavy partner perhaps the lighter person rapping first makes good sense. Point is that the existing ethos is that the heaviest should rap first provided they understand how to rappel, know where to go, etc. Time to change that? Unlikely, but maybe worth considering.
Serge Smirnov · · Seattle, WA · Joined Oct 2015 · Points: 288
Old lady H wrote:


Thinking about ATCs heating up, does rap speed make any difference ... ?
Haven't measured, but based on physics - yes, absolutely.
Allen Sanderson · · On the road to perdition · Joined Jul 2007 · Points: 1,188
Old lady H wrote:

Does it matter how you wrap a rope around a leg? The one time I tried, just to stop and hang full weight, it wasn't workable.

I go from the outside, down behind my thigh, up between my legs, then across to the outside. Two wraps will stop me, three for no hands.

Question two, I have tied prussiks, and always assumed that if the wrap is holding my weight, at the start, I'm good to go? I've used them to ascend, reverse the ascend, double and single ropes and feel fairly confident about getting those wraps right. Is there a "gotcha" I need to know about?
Depends, it may be fine for a static stop but may not for a dynamic stop.

Thinking about ATCs heating up, does rap speed make any difference, or would the length of the rap make the same heat, fast or slow? I'm slow on raps, walk down, no rocketing.
Slowly rapping will generate less heat.

For those who use a grigri on a single line rap, how would you test it before launching? Have enough slack in your tether to lower a bit?
What is a grigri. For any system one should fully weight it before releasing their tether.

Last, I'm assuming a tandem rap needs lots more friction? I'm sorta surprised the Chief wasn't thinking about weight, since SAR stuff is always uber redundant and much more tuned to loads (zero offense meant, Chief!).
For a tandem rap usually each person has their own device. If using a single device for both, lots of friction is needed.
Mark Pilate · · MN · Joined Jun 2013 · Points: 10

Nobody disagrees with Tradiban’s or Scott’s points.  Only issue is that they are all after the fact obvious or not applicable (fireman’s).

Most accidents result from a compound of fuck ups. The key is to recognize and correct the first fuckup (incorrect rig for the system) quickly by diving into a deeper skill set.  

The takeaway from threads like this is that first order fuckups are easy to make - even for the trained and experienced.   What separates an injured person from just a good story, is their ability to stop a fuck up in its tracks.  

Ideally in this case, he would’ve quickly noticed the “whoa, this is not as expected” moment, activated his Prusik, put in a few leg wraps, and then mosied on down the rope.....for whatever reason, the situation just kept accelerating.  Literally.  

Now, after the fact, even he agrees with Tradiban and won’t do that again.

ABB · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2007 · Points: 0
Allen Sanderson wrote: For a tandem rap usually each person has their own device. If using a single device for both, lots of friction is needed.

Simul rap has each climber on their own device on their own strand, each a counterweight to the other. Tandem rap is two climbers on one device.

Fast Eddie McBradish · · Salt Lake City, UT · Joined Jun 2008 · Points: 490

Just an observation but, if the guy did not extend his rap device and used an autoblock to leg loop it can, and has caused,  autoblocks to get sucked into the device and negate the belay device once he sits fully in the harness with legs off the wall plus negates the autoblock. I believe we have lost a few climbers this way--FE

slim · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2004 · Points: 1,107
mpech wrote: title of the post is misleading, implies that there is something wrong with mad rock belay devices. A relatively heavy dude was doing a single-line rap, didn't have adequate friction and lost control. 

that's pretty much the deal in a nutshell....

aaron hope · · Walnut Creek, CA · Joined Nov 2009 · Points: 306
Allen Sanderson wrote:...stopped the rappel, and wrapped the rope around my leg...

Yes - this is what I've done in weird, single rope rappels or on super skinny ropes to introduce more friction. Works very well. 

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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