• Climbing Beta: Rocktown, Georgia
  • Climbing Beta: El Potrero Chico, Mexico
  • The Hardest Bouldering in America ... and Maybe the World
  • Everest Deserves Respect: Why It's Hard, From Someone Who's Been There
  • The Epic of All Epics
  • Origin of Species: Fontainebleau
  • El Cap's Hardest: Wings of Steel
  • Cragging in the Bay Area
  • Superwuss (5.10), Black Canyon
  • Island of Opportunity: Exploring the Potential of Puerto Rico
  • Waimea (5.10d): Runmey, New Hampshire
  • Storming Castles: New Routing in the High Sierras
  • Pure Magic: Spellbound By the Boulders of Switzerland
  • Cliff Notes: Moe's Saved!
  • Arctic Gold
  • Where Worlds Collide
  • Tahoe Moderates
  • Not So Fast: Lessons From a Father-Son Trip to Patagonia
  • Red Dihedral (IV 5.10b)
  • Place of Happiness
  • High Exposure: A Fresh Perspective on the Gunks
  • Flying Buttress (5.10)
  • California's Big House
  • Jah Man (5.10) Sister Superior
  • Wild Wild West Virginia
  • Wild Chihuahua
  • Vintage Vantage
  • Tuff Love
  • True Believers
  • Tower of the Damned, Climbing the Crystal Tower
  • The Hidden
  • The Black is Beautiful
  • The Beast of the East
  • Souvenirs
  • Southern Idaho Secrets
  • Simon Yates' New Route on Mount Vancouver
  • Routes Less Traveled
  • Rock Climbing in India
  • Open Water Treading in Paradise
  • New Mexico
  • Never Mind The Dinosaurs
  • Mountain of Clark
  • Local Color
  • Limestone Harmony
  • King Air
  • The Stonemasters Climb at Pirates Cove
  • In the Land of Myths
  • Ice Climbing in Norway with WIll Gadd
  • Green Party
  • Generational Shift
  • Devil's Advocate
  • Deep Water Soloing in Mallorca
  • Conquistdors of the Useful
  • Classic Acts
  • Bouldering in Hampi India
  • Beyond the Fringe
  • Backwoods Bouldering
  • Attack of the Daks
  • Armenia Rock Climbing
  • Alex and Thomas Huber Climb in Queen Maud Land
  • Ain't it Grand
  • Age of Reason
  • America's Best Climbing Area: Red River Gorge
  • The Prophet
  • Sunshine (5.10) // Snowpatch Spire, Bugaboos
  • Shagged: Maine's Shag Crag Deals with Perma Draws
  • That Which Shall Not be Named
  • El Cajon Climbing Crag Bolts Chopped
  • Climbing Dark Star, a Sierra Classic
  • Rock Climbing and Bouldering in Mongolia
  • Destination Sinks Canyon Wyoming
  • Defying the Red Rock Bolt Ban
  • Black Canyon of the Gunnison, The Diagonal Epic
  • Creatures of Feature
  • Seeking Life After Death
  • Hyalite Canyon Access in Danger
  • Free Will in Purgatory
  • WAR IN PATAGONIA!
  • Moonlight Rising
  • THE NORTH WIND AND THE SUN
  • Solar Eclipse
  • Shattered Glass
  • Black Sheep
  • Patz on the Back
  • Seeing Perfect Visionary
  • JAWS II
  • R' is for Rant
  • Cold War
  • TRAD-MIXED LIVES FREE
  • EVEREST 2008
  • Monster Jacks
  • Border Country
  • Wabi Sabi
  • ┬íProhibido Escalar!
  • Good Ice Hunting
  • Cocham├│ Madness
  • Suffer and Be Merry
  • Game On
  • Close But No Cigar
  •  
    Video Spotlight
    Climbing Maple Bridge in Oregon
    Climbing Maple Bridge in Oregon

    Rock Climbing Accident: Belayer Drops Leader Due to Miscommunication

    15-Dec-2009
    By

    On Monday, October 13, a group of three decided to climb the steep and popular Ro Shampo (5.12a) at the Red River Gorge's Roadside Crag. The leader completed the climb without incident and was lowered to the ground. The second climber elected to tie into the middle of the 60-meter (200-foot) rope, and toproped the overhanging climb on the side of the rope clipped through the draws. Since the third climber also wanted to toprope, the second climber clipped the trailing line through the quickdraws as she went up. Because the climb was only 60 feet tall, she planned to go in direct, and simply switch the knot to the other side of the anchor carabiners and lower -- this plan hinged on the belayer switching rope ends, too. After lowering, there would be enough rope left for the third climber to toprope the route with the benefit of all the draws clipped.

    According to the account written by the belayer on redriverclimbing.com, the second had explained the scenario, but the belayer didn't fully understand how it would work. When the climber approached the anchors, she again tried to explain what she was going to do, but the belayer was still confused. The climber eventually told the belayer that she was in direct. She fiddled with the set up, then asked the belayer to take. The belayer took in rope, and the climber unclipped and fell to the ground, breaking her back, hip, leg, wrist, and shattering her pelvis. At press time she was still in the hospital recovering from two surgeries. According to friends, in spite of the extent of her injuries she is in excellent spirits.

     

    ANALYSIS

    While there was nothing inherently wrong with the logistics of the plan, it was unusual and required the belayer to change sides of the rope in order to lower the climber. When the climber clipped the anchors and went in direct, the belayer should have confirmed that she was taking the climber off belay -- clearly communicating and waiting for verbal assurances from the climber and then switching sides, re-rigging the belay, and taking in slack. In this case, the belayer was confused from the get-go, and clearly needed better communication and understanding before the climber left the ground. The crucial switch was never completed, and the climber was on the same side of the anchor as the belayer when she unclipped and decked.

     

    PREVENTION

    This is yet another example of miscommunication leading to an accident. Each year climbers are hurt or killed when lowering schemes are unclear to one or both parties. Sometimes the belayer takes the climber off belay, mistakenly assuming that the person will rappel. Sometimes the height, shape or acoustics of a climb prevent clear communication when the climber reaches the anchor. But in most of these cases, the belayer and climber were not in accord before the climber started up the route, and the accident resulted because of miscommunication -- or lack of communication -- at the base of the climb. Therefore, don't leave the ground or commit to belaying until every party understands the plan for lowering. Further, confirm every step of the process, either verbally or, in the case of longer pitches that take a climber out of sight, by a prearranged system of commands and/or rope tugs. Always be redundant with your communication and wait for your partner's response before proceeding to the next step. At the anchor, clip in and let your partner know what's up. When cleaning an anchor, go in direct with longer slings or draws so that you can first weight the rope and feel that your belayer has you before you unclip your tethers from the anchor. That step alone would've prevented this accident.

    A good rule in all situations is to keep it simple. If you are confused about any proposed plan -- whether it is a lowering, anchoring, toproping or leading scenario -- don't climb or belay until you are clear about every step. If you can't picture the proposed scheme, then insist on something simpler. Avoid un-tying, switching the belay or using complicated rope trickery. A simpler solution would have been to toprope the route, and then swing in and re-clip the draws while lowering.

    Reader's Commentary:

    Don't want to use Facebook, but still want to comment? We have you covered:

    Add Your Comments to this article:
    Hello