I didn’t want to type the words, but I had to. Hesitantly, I plunked out the first sentence, Italian climbing prodigy Tito Claudio Traversa has passed away after taking a 50-foot ground fall
. As the Online Editor for Rock and Ice
, this was not the first death I had reported, but somehow this particular accident seemed worse than any others.
Maybe the reason this news cut so deep was because Tito was only 12 years old. Or maybe it was because just a few days prior to Traversa's death, 8a.nu reported that he had climbed his fourth 5.14a, showing he had so much promise as a climber. But after a weekend of marinating in the thoughts and online discussions of why and how Traversa died, I believe that the most disturbing element of Traversa’s death was how the accident actually happened.
On July 3, Traversa—along with nine other kids and three adults—visited a popular limestone cliff in Orpierre, France. As reported by the French website Grimper.com, Traversa decided to warm up on a 5.10d. Borrowing quickdraws recently purchased by the mother of his climbing partner, Traversa climbed the pitch and placed 12 draws on the route. However, when he weighted the top draw, it failed as did the seven draws below that one. Traversa fell to the ground. He was airlifted to Grenoble, France, where he was hospitalized and placed in a medically induced comma due to his head trauma. Three days later, on July 5, he died and left the climbing world saddened and wondering what the hell had happened.
Grimper.com reported that the borrowed draws were slung incorrectly, yet few other details have been released. According to Grimper’s report, the draws were attached only to the “keepers,” devices that are usually made of plastic or rubber and are meant to keep the carabiner from crossloading and protect the nylon sling from wear. If only the keepers, which can't hold bodyweight, were clipped, when Traversa lowered, they pulled off of the draws or broke.
Regardless, the lack of hard info pertaining to this shocking and tragic accident has led to much speculation within the climbing community and many people have tried to place blame. Some have argued that there was inadequate supervision. It’s worth noting, however, that three kids to one adult is a common ratio among professional guides. In fact, some institutions use a ratio of six kids to one adult.
Others have cited the gear as the problem. In fact, this isn’t the first time this mistake has been made. Perhaps it’s worth thinking about redesigning the system of external rubber/plastic keepers in order to mitigate the possibility of human error. At this time, we don’t know what brand of gear Traversa was using and until this information becomes available, all theories regarding the gear are speculation.
All we do know is that Traversa’s accident was apparently due to human error. We don’t know if he was unsupervised. We don’t know if or how many times the quickdraws he borrowed were checked and why the problem wasn’t noticed.
Troubleshooting this horrible accident is a profitable exercise only if we do so objectively. For now the sad truth is that on Friday, July 5, the climbing community lost a beautifully talented young climber. Traversa had climbed 5.13b at age 8, 5.14a at age 10, and was part of Italy’s burgeoning future. But just as the climbing community is a non-selective group, open to anyone who loves our sport, death is equally non-selective. It is time to learn from Traversi’s accident and raise awareness of potentially deadly climbing mistakes.
Any new information regarding Traversa's accident will be posted immediately. Also, please watch the video below to become aware of the possible dangers regarding incorrect usage of keepers on both sewn and open-sling quickdraws.
8a.nu reports today that the mountain police who inspected the scene of Traversa's accident have provided this quickdraw (see picture below) to the father of Traversa as an example (Note: this is not the actual quickdraw but an "example") of how he could have fallen 20 meters (65 feet) from the top of the route. The report, however, is still vague as to whether or not this quickdraw set-up is the same kind Traversa had borrowed.
Also, Grimper.com has released more photos regarding the details of Traversa's accident. However, a rough translation states that "the installation of the draws was conducted by way of example with components that are not implicated in the case." None of the quickdraws in these pictures from both 8a.nu and Grimper.com are the actual quickdraws Traversa was using, but the implications are that this is a possible scenario to the tragedy.