Accident Notes Archive - September 2002
On some recent travels I came across interesting notes concerning accidents in both the
Tetons and City of Rocks .
In the Jenny Lake climbing ranger cabin in the Tetons there was a poster
board with general accident information. I can't remember the breakdown
in great detail but objective hazards (such as rockfall)
account for only 3-6% of the accidents there. The other 94-97% are "operator
error". I remember that slips on snow are very high on the
list. Unroped falls on rock also ranked up there somewhere. They had
one photo with a person scrambling who was not all that far off the
ground, but above a landing zone of boulders. The caption asked "what
are the consequences of a fall here?" In many cases exposure can
be subtle and less than obvious. We all see the need for caution as
well as the potential consequences when we are looking down hundreds
or thousands of feet. But a fall of only 20-30 feet, or even less in
some cases, can be serious depending on the landing.
At City of Rocks the bulletin board had a notice concerning the fact
that at least 8 serious accidents, including one fatality, had occurred
this year due to belayers failing to do their job. There are many possible
problems and any list of suggestions here is bound to be incomplete,
but a few things come to mind.
- Make sure your belayer knows how to belay. This may seem obvious but
in the last newsletter I related a situation where a beginner with
a long period of non-climbing time was not keeping their brake hand
on the rope. I've also seen climbers who were teaching friends shout
down instructions from above on how to belay them while they lead.
It seems to me that this is a bit late to be learning.
- Be aware of the rope length - how much is in use and how much is
needed. Numerous accidents have resulted from somebody being lowered
by the belayer with insufficient rope when the end of the rope went
right through the belay device. It's a good idea in many cases
for the belayer to have the end tied into their harness while belaying
to prevent this.
- Another cause of accidents which has shown up a lot is confusion
over whether a climber at the top was going to be lowered, rappel,
or do something else. In some cases the climber leaned back to be
lowered and the belayer thought the climber was off belay entirely.
Make sure you are avoiding any misunderstanding or miscommunications
in these situations.
This category of accident shows up frequently in "Accidents in
North American Mountaineering" and anyone who reads that annual
publication can probably add to the abridged list of causes above. I
don't know how many accidents there are overall at City of Rocks but
eight serious ones from the same general cause, and one death, is significant.
Almost all accidents in this category are caused either by ignorance,
inexperience, or carelessness and are among the most easily preventable.
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