• Climbing Accident: Earthquake, Avalanche, 21 Dead on Everest, Over 4,600 in Nepal
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Climber Falls to Death, Apparent Bolt Failure
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Tragedy on Infinite Bliss - Rappelling Claims Climber
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Gear Rips, Leading Climber Critical
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Impaled by a Quickdraw
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Two Carabiners Break on Leaning Tower
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Climber Fined For Obstructing Rescue
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Climber Triggered Rockfall: Kills Two on El Cap
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Gear Pulls: Grounder at White Rock, New Mexico
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Death on Capitol Peak
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Respected Climber Falls 50 Feet and Dies at Cathedral Ledge
  • Rock Climbing Accident: NPS Chops Bolts: Man Dies Descending Forbidden Peak
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Not Again: Eldo Climber Raps Off End Of Rope
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Flake Breaks, Leader Falls, Hits Belayer
  • Rock Climbing Accident: BUNGLED!: Autoblock Belay Device Misused
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Fatal Gym Accident
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Solo Climber Dies in Fall
  • Climbing Accident: Three Killed in Cairngorms
  • Climbing Accident: Ice Climber Killed
  • Climbing Accident: Despite Warnings, Three Injured in Mount Washington Avalanche
  • Climbing Accident: Four Dead in Scottish Highlands
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Bolt Pulls Out in the New River Gorge
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Belayer Drops Climber 70 Feet to Ground
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Rope Cuts, Climber Dies in Eldorado
  • Climbing Accident: Belayer Pulls Leader Off Ice Climb
  • Climbing Accident: Fifty-Footer Rips Three Screws
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Rope Chopped by Carabiner
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Climber Falls 140 Feet and Lives
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Todd Skinner Killed on Leaning Tower Rappel
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Climbing's Insidious Danger: Rockfall
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Top Rope Slips Off
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Rappel Knot Fails, Climber Falls 300 Feet to Death
  • Climbing Accident: Ice Cave Collapses, Kills Hari Berger
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Climber Unclips From Anchor, Falls to Death
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Counterweight Rappel Failure
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Back Cleaning Results in 150-foot Fall
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Climber Dies When Rappels Off End of Rope
  • Mouse Attacks
  • Climbing Accident: Hold Breaks, 60-foot Fall
  • Climbing Accident: Avalanche Kills Six In Alps
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Autoblock Belay Failure Causes Fall
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Rappel Swing Goes Awry, Climber Injured and Rescued
  • Climbing Accident: Ice Climber Falls Entire Pitch, Dies
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Climber Comes Unclipped, Falls 140 Feet at Red Rocks
  • Climbing Accident: Ice climber rides Vail's famous Fang 100 feet when the pillar collapses
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Two Bolt Hangers Break, Climber Falls
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Nose-hooked Carabiner Breaks, Causing Ground Fall
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Bowline Comes Untied, Climber Falls to Ground
  • Climbing Accident: Rope Burns Through Lowering Sling, Climber Falls to Ground
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Gear Rips, Leader Hits Ledge
  • Climbing Accident: 600-foot Ice Climbing Fall
  • Climbing Accident: Ice Climber Unropes, Slips, Falls 60 Feet
  • Climbing Accident: Ice Climber Dislodges Ice, Belayer Hit and Seriously Injured
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Belayer Drops Leader Due to Miscommunication
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Climber Rappels Off Rope, Dies
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Leader Rips 10 Pieces on El Cap, Falls 80 Feet
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Leader Falls, Gear Rips, Belay Fails
  • Climbing Accident: Belayer Pulls Leader Off Ice Climb

    18-Dec-2012
    By

    On the morning of February 5, two climbers (who requested anonymity) were halfway up the second pitch of Glenwood Falls, a popular ice formation just east of Glenwood Springs, Colorado. The leader, an experienced ice climber, was accustomed to leading using a system where he would climb until he got pumped, plant a tool and yell down “fifi on,” a request for slack. His belayer would dial out some rope and he would drape it over his tool and say, “hooked.” The belayer would then take in rope and he would hang and rest.

     On this day, he became pumped and said “fifi on” but didn’t feel slack. Again he said “fifi on” but the belayer misinterpreted the command as “hooked.”

    “I felt myself being pulled off the structure as she was taking the slack,” the leader told Rock and Ice. “I started panicking and started screaming ‘give me some slack’ at the top of my lungs.  When I felt slack, I tried pulling the rope to the axe and it's then that it all happened.”

    His crampons sheared out of the ice and he fell 30 feet, impacted a step of ice and broke his fibula and talus. Fortunately, two local climbers Tom “Bo” Bohanon and Michael Kennedy, arrived at the base of the ice and helped the injured climber to the road, where they put him into Kennedy’s car and drove him to Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs.

     Analysis

    Glenwood Falls is a complex south-facing ice flow, with bulges, steps, runnels and five established routes. In some sections, the belayer can’t see the climber. Furthermore, incessant car and truck noise from Interstate 70 (only 200 yards away) reverberates off the walls of the narrow canyon and makes hearing commands difficult, and at times, impossible. In this case, the lack of visibility and noise resulted in a miscommunication. 

    Prevention

    Climbers must work out a series of commands that are easy to interpret even when the parties can’t see or hear each other. These commands need to be dissimilar. For example, climbers often use “take” and “slack” to mean opposite things, but when separated by a rope-length, the two words can sound the same. Better to use “up rope” and “slack.” Communication should be kept to a minimum, especially in situations where noise is a factor.

    Troubleshoot all relevant scenarios from the ground. Will you lower, rappel or bring up the belayer? You might need to communicate with tugs on the rope (e.g., three sharp tugs means off belay). It is imperative to decide what your signals/commands will be, then stick with the prearranged plan. Any superfluous communication can be misinterpreted.

    In this situation, the leader used a non-standard method for resting—and it had worked on many climbs. That said, there are better ways to rest that don’t depend on being able to communicate with the belayer. For example, you can clip in directly to the spike of your axe. This keeps your weight low on the tool, with less chance of levering it out of the placement. Even then, you should be wary of hanging from a single tool and back up the placement with a second tool or screw.
    Keep in mind that ice climbing is precarious. Protection sometimes fails under body weight [see Accident Report, No. 193]. The safest way to climb ice is to stick with flows that you can lead from bottom to top without stopping and taking, keeping three points of contact whenever possible. The old rule still stands for water ice: The leader must not fall.

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