I regret to pass along the information of yet another death in the Mont Blanc range this summer. But is it was potentially preventable and commonly occurring scenario, I feel it's worth posting about.
Monday afternoon, a party of two English climbers were rappelling down the "Voie des Suisses" route on the Grand Capucin (Mont Blanc range, France). The victim was at an anchor, awaiting his partner to finish a rappel. He was attached by a static sling around 100cm in length to one of the two anchor components - an in situ (and possible old) sling in turn attached to a piton. He was standing around 50cm above the anchor.
Apparently he slipped from his stance, causing a shock load onto his personal sling and in turn onto the sling anchor component, which failed. He managed to grab onto the rappel ropes and struggled for several minutes before loosing his grip and falling, first onto his partner (who was on rappel) then another 150m to the snow apron below. The second anchor component (a single nut!) did not fail and so his partner was able to complete the rappels himself and descend to the waiting rescue helicopter.
This was a first hand account from a friend of mine who was rappelling the route just nearby and received these details herself firsthand from the PGHM rescue team, who had gone up to inspect the anchor after the incident.
If the details are correct, I believe there are three very important lessons to take from this:
1) Avoid even short falls directly onto an anchor
There was a test in another thread on rc.com that indicated even a 50cm fall can generate 3-4 kN of force. The victim fell double this, and while attached with a non-dynamic sling. The force involved in that kind of fall is (perhaps surprisingly) enormous. And was enough to cause an anchor failure.
2) Always clip into the master point of an anchor
The victim had only clipped into one of the components, so when that component failed there was no backup. The anchor may not have failed had the force been absorbed by both anchor components. (Or in this case, both components could have failed, causing a double fatality. But I think in general you should always clip into the master point.)
3) Be wary of trusting in situ equipment
The components of the anchor in this case were old, in situ slings left by another party long ago. Age and weathering could have contributed to the sling failure. Cordette costs $1-2/meter. Carry several meters and a knife and when in doubt, replace or back up anchor components. Even a small amount of visual weathering can be very significant.
Rest in peace, to our friend the fallen, and for the rest of you - climb safe.
In reply to John Blab: Sickening to read and think about - horrible horrible horrible. Condolences to friends and family of the victim.
Do I understand that the two points of the anchor were NOT joined together? Although presumably the abseil ropes must have been fed through both of them? And did the piton fail or was it a sling attached to the piton that failed when the victim slipped? I guess it must have been the sling attached to the piton otherwise he would have slid down the ropes uncontrolled as far as his partner already rapping.
In reply to TobyA: The way I understood it was that: the climber who died was the first climb absailing. He had arrived at the insitu anchors and clipped on with his lanyard, thus allowing his partner to start absailing down. At some ponit he slipped and the sling conecting the anchors together snapped and he plunged to his death.
Very interesting and eye opening account. Moral of the story carry lots of tat. Replace worn tat and chop the old stuff away.
In reply to TobyA: Hi ToOby. As I understand it, the first person abseiling was clipped into the 'master point'. The second person that fell was clipped into a secondary point. THe two were connected by an old sling. When the second shock loaded his anchor itfailed , the shock load then came onto the sling which also failed. The main anchor which was what the first person was on held!
My thoughts go out to the freinds and relatives of the guy that fell.
If you are attached to anchors with a static sling then it should be kept weighted below the anchors. Even slipping onto a 4ft sling when standing above an anchor can cause a big shock load!
In reply to TobyA:
As said in para 3, he grabbed the ropes, seems to have slid down the ropes to his partner who stopped his fall for a while then let go of the ropes.
Hard call what to do, should you put a krab on a sling onto the ab ropes in case of such an accident so that you would slide down the ropes as far as the first man and then get stopped, risking both people falling if the weight of two people pulls the pegs.
Two friends of mine died in the Dolomites many years ago when the anchors failed they were both hanging from while abseiling on the Vajolet Towers. Always a worrying time wondering how many times have we got away with it in similar circumstances.
> Hi ToOby. As I understand it, the first person abseiling was clipped into the 'master point'. The second person that fell was clipped into a secondary point. THe two were connected by an old sling. When the second shock loaded his anchor itfailed , the shock load then came onto the sling which also failed. The main anchor which was what the first person was on held!
Yeah - that's how I figured it must have happened. Clearly because the guy already rapping survived, the ropes must have passed through a maillon or whatever that was somehow separately attached to the second part of the anchor. It's a good reason to never do sometime like the X-clip because if the sling fails, not the anchor everyone would have come detached and fallen. And also when you find ab points that look like this: http://lightfromthenorth.blogspot.com/2007/07/superior-ethics-or-littering.html Always clip into the master point, don't just think - "I'll clip into this 'half' of the belay whilst I wait to ab - that, looks OK".
Sutty - my only friend who has been killed climbing, was also killed when an insitu point in the alps failed, despite his partner having just abbed the same ropes and was just down on the glacier, i.e. having 'tested' them. I really hate abbing of stuff that isn't a) a large tree, or b) a two-bolt-and-chain-anchor.
Tom is not wrong. By replacing old tat and chopping the old stuff away you are not only safeguarding yourself, but perhaps the next team too. You can also test the tat by bouncing on it before unclipping from the ab rope.
In an ideal world there would always be a nice ledge to stand on in the perfect position. But this is not an ideal world. Sometimes you have to stand where you can until your partner has moved off and made more space and then adjust your position.
In reply to Juki: I think you're both right. replace old tat as you see fit and for safety's sake stay below the anchors with little/no slack in the system.
abbing is dangerous and stressful. everyone knows you do your best to stay safe but anchors can fail.
Deepest sympathies to all who know the victim. Very sad accident.
Juki13 Aug 2007
In reply to Anonymous:
We have to remember that in this very sad accident the old and weak tat probably saved one life. If the connection between the anchors would have been very strong and if the other anchor wasn't bombproof there's a very big chance that both anchors would have failed. And both climbers would have died.
Of course it's a good practice to change the cords but this accident proved the fact we debated earlier this year. If you are standing above the anchor and using a static sling there's a very real risk that the anchor will fail.
> ...this accident proved the fact we debated earlier this year. If you are standing above the anchor and using a static sling there's a very real risk that the anchor will fail.
Only if you fall.
duntelchaig midge13 Aug 2007
In reply to John Blab:
Sad news indeed but a tragedy we can all learn from as others have said.
Taking that into account, what would people recommend for clipping in with rather than a standard static sling? I've done this in the past but never thought anything of it, though I always clip to the "power point". Since both roes would be getting used for the ab there wouldn't be the chance to clip in an overhand knot of rope taken from your tie on point. So presumably some other type of sling/cord. But made from what?
In reply to duntelchaig midge: Sling is ok but stay below the anchor and dont shock load it by falling onto it, even a short way. Alternatively if on a pitch of climbing, get your mate to keep you locked off whilst you tie into the anchor using the climbing rope, which is dynamic, not static like the sling.
> Sutty - my only friend who has been killed climbing, was also killed when an insitu point in the alps failed, despite his partner having just abbed the same ropes and was just down on the glacier, i.e. having 'tested' them. I really hate abbing of stuff that isn't a) a large tree, or b) a two-bolt-and-chain-anchor.
Rumours of Sutty's death, once climbing and once abseiling, have been greatly exagerated!
A little something to raise the spirits in a sombre thread
Please don't turn this into an argument, for the sake of his friends and family if nothing else. You both have good points to make. In this instance you are right. It would have been better if he had replaced the tat or at least clipped into both. He wasn't six feet above the tat, he was level with it, and still it failed, so Juki is making a fair point in stressing that the shockloads can be more than we think. It's harrowing to think of the consequences for his partner if both anchors had failed.
This tragedy was terrible, and very close to home for many of us who either knew him or have clipped in in similar circumstances. How often do we take even a small fall onto an anchor like that? I don't think I ever have, so there was bad luck involved too.
I don't really like these post-mortem threads; but perhaps there are things we can learn from this tragic incident. Amongst other things, his partner could easily have been knocked off when he hit him on the way past, so it's another argument in favour of backup priussiks.
I add my condolences to those already offered.
Juki14 Aug 2007
In reply to Tom Ripley:
The sling is not going to break in this case. Backbone of the climber or the in-situ gear will break.
This is not a right place for this argument and we have done it before. So please start a different thread if you want to talk more about this. Or find the old thread and read it all from there.
True, they are not pleasant, but I don't feel there are enough of these discussions in UKC. A lot can be learnt from accidents and incidents, but in the UK at least there seems to be little or no analysis of them.
After a while climbing/rope techniques become influenced by Chinese whispers and little real-world discussion and examples. Threads like this raise a lot of important ideas that hopefully avoid such rumours.
> (In reply to duntelchaig midge)
> Beal now make a lanyard for exactly this purpose. Its made out of stitched dynamic rope and is purely aimed at clipping into fixed anchor points at abseils or sports lower offs.
Do you have a link?
Wondering because i've been using a girth hitched sling for ages but this might make me change my mind. Would daisies be a better option maybe?
Maybe it would but really what it shows is that the Alps are a very dangerous place and in situ equipment is variable.
What is essential is the ability to read situations as they arise and to make the appropriate decisions based on what is there in front of you. You cannot carry a specialised bit of kit for every eventuality.
Even then, Alpinism is not cragging and accidents can and often do occur with tragic consequences.
I know the climber well - he was safe, careful, intelligent and had been climbing for years. All our Club Members are deeply shocked by this tragic accident and have the greatest sympathy for his family.
Aside from the details, there are 2 aspects for me:
- we never know how close we all stand to death; the Alps are closer than most but this could have happened to anyone of us on seacliffs, mountains or sports crags
- never stop learning. Posting and discussions like these are good, not morbid
Rest in peace Rick - you did more in the last year than most people achieve in 20.
Despite being a clearly honest and heartfelt post this has, as too often happens on Rocktalk, resulted in too much speculation and argument given it is a public thread reporting a recent death. I wish we could learn to seperate the genuine condolences posted here from the "learning experience", which quite frankly is nothing new and could wait. For the same reason I wont argue my point any more here but this thread had some better than average contributions: