Lowered off end of rope in Yosemite
In May of 2018, Dan Arters and a partner set out to climb Lunatic Fringe, a 130-foot 5.10c in the Reed’s Pinnacle area in Yosemite. Reed’s is a roadside crag with excellent granite. Lunatic Fringe follows meandering cracks and requires a host of techniques, from liebacks to face moves to tips jams. Arters, currently attending college in Columbus, Ohio, had been climbing for about five years. Versed in trad and sport climbing, he cites the Red River Gorge, the New River Gorge and the Gunks as some of his favorite spots.
According to Arters, he led the route and was at the anchors. He clipped in direct, pulled up his lead line through his pro and dropped the end back to his belayer. He then pulled up the end of another rope, a green 60 meter. He intended to rap on both ropes and clean the pro on the way down. His 65-meter lead line was blue. Arters tied the ropes together through the anchor, the connecting knot on the green rope’s side, the side intended to be pulled when he was on the ground. Arters had never been on a single-pitch route that required two ropes to rappel.
At this point, however, Arters realized that he had forgotten his rappel device. No problem, thought Arters, he’d simply lower. He tied into a bight on the green rope just below the knot and called down to be lowered. Arters admittedly didn’t think through the system properly. Just as he was about 30 feet from the ground, the end of the blue rope shot through the belayer’s ATC. Dan fell to the ground.
Yosemite Rangers rushed to the scene, stabilized Arters and brought him to El Cap Meadow, where he was evacuated. He had multiple broken bones, including a punctured lung. Within two months, Arters was climbing and has since made a full recovery.
This accident occurred because (i) there were no knots in the end of the rope and (ii) the rope Arters was lowering on simply wasn’t long enough. Tying on a second rope and clipping close to the joining knot didn’t provide enough additional rope for him to reach the ground.
First, tie knots in the ends of your ropes. Period. It takes seconds to do, and there’s no good excuse for not doing so. Climbers die each year from neglecting this simple rule. If Arters had had a knot in the end of his lowering rope he still wouldn’t have been able to reach the ground, but he wouldn’t have been lowered off the end of his rope.
Second, have a plan and think through it. Think through it a few times—
from the ground and from the top. Understanding how a system works takes time and experience. Also, be prepared in any scenario to employ two to three different systems, in case one isn’t possible. Also be prepared to implement a back-up plan. If Arters had realized once he had begun lowering that his rope wasn’t going to reach, he could have built an anchor from the cams he was cleaning from the crack on his way down, clipped to those, pulled the rope, and lowered to the ground using the new anchor—this is why it is always smart to carry a few extra quickdraws or slings and gear if you are crack climbing.
Third, Arters could simply have had his belayer tie his ATC onto the rope, and Arters could have pulled this up and double-rope rappelled on that device.
Fourth and least desirable, Arters could have had his belayer counterweight one side of the rope. Arters could then have used a Munter hitch to single-rope rappel on the opposite rope. This would have required a locking carabiner, and a Munter hitch will badly twist a rope, but it would have prevented the accident and gotten him down safely.
This article appeared in Rock and Ice issue 258 (July 2019).