• Climber Falls 200 Feet on the Nose
  • Danger Zones: The Nose - Accidents On El Cap's Most Popular Route
  • Rappelling Accident Leaves Climber Shattered
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Gunks Climber Raps Off End of Rope
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Inattentive Spot Leads to Broken Arm
  • Climbing Accidents: My Helmet Saved My Life - Short Story Series
  • Rock Climbing Accident: Man Survives Fifty-Foot Ground Fall
  • Bolt Breaks, Climber Falls to Death
  • 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
  • Solo Ice 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
  • Rock Climbing Accident: BUNGLED!: Autoblock Belay Device Misused


    Bayard Russell and Regan Kennedy check out the wealth of climbing at the New River Gorge, West Virginia.  Photo by Anne Skidmore.On the morning of August 27, seven friends milled about the base of the 40-foot Transporter Crack (5.6) at the New River Gorge in West Virginia. One of the members of the group, Daniel Kessler, later described the outing as “a holiday climbing excursion.” 

    A group leader led the pitch and reached the two-bolt belay. He then went off belay and rigged a Black Diamond ATC Guide in autoblock mode, clipping it directly to the anchor. Kessler followed the pitch and arrived at the anchor. 

    “Instead of the second climber going in direct to the anchors and switching to a more practical lowering system,” Kessler says, “[The leader] decided to practice lowering using the ATC Guide in guide mode. He threaded a thin sling through the release hole of the device and redirected the sling through a carabiner attached to the anchor. Tension released slowly, but when the device finally opened all the way, the rope zipped through.

    Kessler fell 30 feet and landed on his butt on a 30-degree slope. Because of the relatively short distance of the fall, and the way he landed—with his feet sliding downward on the slope—he was shaken and badly bruised, but was able to hike out on his own power. Kessler was examined and cleared by EMS personnel and was driven home by friends. He experienced no broken bones or other medical complications. 

    [ ANALYSIS ]

    Autoblock devices such as the ATC Guide are simple, reliable tools for belaying up second climbers, but in the self-locking mode they are potentially problematic for lowering since they require additional rigging and muscle to release the lock. In the written instructions that come with the device, Black Diamond stipulates that a backup (like a Munter Hitch) be utilized when lowering climbers in autoblock mode. That requires even more rigging. And yet, these devices can be used to safely lower climbers if they are properly set up and backed up. 

    Several similar accidents have occurred with autoblock devices. In No. 187, for example, I wrote about an accident involving an autoblock that occurred in the Shawangunks, where the climber fell 110 feet. In that case, the belayer clipped his release sling to the carabiner that was acting as a brake. Pulling on the sling released all friction from the belay and the climber fell to the ground.

    In the New River Gorge case, it appears that the belayer had correctly rigged the device for lowering, but wound up muscling the release, losing control and dropping Kessler. Again, these devices must be backed up when used for lowering. Kessler was lucky to walk away.


    Don’t use the ATC Guide in autoblock mode for lowering. Redirect the rope through the anchor, attach the device to your harness and lower the second with the device in the friction-plate mode.

    In some circumstances it may make sense to belay with the device in autoblock mode. For example, guides can use it to simultaneously belay two clients up low-angled terrain where falls are unlikely. If you do plan on using the ATC Guide in autoblock mode, go to blackdiamondequipment.com and watch the instructional video, which demonstrates lowering technique. If you must use this device for lowering, always back up the belay with a friction hitch like the Munter.

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