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Turkey Rocks, CO: Belay error causes near-death accident
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By DeadManBarelyWalking
Oct 9, 2011

Climber A, B, and C (myself) arrive at Turkey Rocks on Sun 9/25. Climber A expresses interest in leading a 10d, but we start on "Gobbler's Gulch", a 3-pitch 5.9 as all of us understand that climber B (intermediate beginner) wouldn't enjoy a 10d.

As we are a team of three, I suggest climber A to lead on one rope and drag up a second rope. Then use her ATC Guide to bring up both followers (climber B and C) simultaneously on the two ropes. We did this on our previous trip to Eldo and climber A never protested against this belaying technique.

Climber A leads the first pitch, sets up an anchor on the first spacious (10x20ft?) belay ledge, and then brings up both followers. Climber A proceeds to lead the second pitch, sets up an anchor on the next belay ledge, and yells 'On belay' after some time. Rope stretch at a possible fall of climber B suggests that I keep some safe distance behind, so I let her climb up half the pitch (50ft or so).

Everynow and then I feel my rope tighten up a bit, so I know climber A is periodically checking if I had started climbing. When I wanted to start, I stepped up two feet onto a boulder and the next time the rope was tightened, climber A knew that I had started climbing. I climbed slowly to avoid more than a foot of slack in my rope. Climber B didn't move up much and I came to a tricky spot. As I didn't see any good stances ahead of me for standing and waiting for climber B to get moving, I decided to hang (I was generally unenthusiastic for some odd reason I can't explain).

The Rock Gods quickly decided to punished my unacceptable behavior! As I 'peeled off' (intending to hang) towards left, my last thought was: "Hmm, interesting. This rope is supposed to tighten up as I hang." But it never did. I never felt any force at all in the rope I was tied into.

The next time I'm reasonably mentally aware, I'm standing facing the rap slings that I'm tied into on the first belay ledge. Climber A is rapelling off the blue rope from a rap anchor on the second belay ledge. Climber B is standing 20 feet in front of me and unties herself from the white rope. I ask: "What happened?".

She explains that I fell and completely passed out for about 30 seconds. After this, I started to reply reasonably understandably to (possibly embarassing) questions. I had no memory of this, so I'd had a 20 minute memory lapse. We rapped off and went home without further incidents.

My damages were a helmet smashed from behind (with some blood on my skalp), 4 days of continuous headache (indicating a concussion), a broken/crooked tailbone (from X-rays), badly strained neck muscles for two weeks and counting (indicating whiplash?), bruises close to my neck/upper back, and on my lower right back. All this tell of a landing flat on my back on a smooth granite boulder. A crushed Nalgene waterbottle tied to my left side and a bad bruise on my left hip might indicate my body bounced once. Four bloody scratches in my face and a bloody right knee are unexplained so far.

1) Had I been more enthusiastic and climbed another 40 ft closer to climber B before I hung, I would be even deader by now.
2) Had my head been a foot lower when I landed, I would have broken my neck with further deterioration to my deadness.
3) Had my butt been a foot lower when I landed, I would have smashed my lower spine to smithereens and been paralysed for life.
4) Had I had a plastic helmet (good only for rock fall from above), my head would not be in its present shape (HURRAY!! for carbon fiber helmets that can take impacts from other directions than above!).

So, I had a more than 50% chance of not walking away and I'm therefore, statistically speaking, quite dead by now.
(The length of the fall was about 20ft or so).

What was the cause of this accident? One single quickdraw placed in the wrong location! Two weeks after the acident, climber A demonstrated the following setup. Climber A has 10+ years climbing experience and have led up to 5.11a trad in the past.

On the second belay ledge, she hooks up her ATC Guide in the regular self-locking mode with the plastic-covered wire towards the left side (facing the rock). So the ATC Guide hangs from the anchor in one quickdraw (I would have preferred a locking biner) clipped into its hole (next to the two 'rope slots'). A locking biner is clipped 'through' the two ropes and the plastic-covered wire. So far, everything is a text book setup. Now, climber A adds one quickdraw (the more the merrier, right?) clipping the plastic-covered wire and LIFTS the whole thing up and clips this quickdraw to a higher point in the anchor. The ATC Guide is now hanging in this quickdraw and its plastic covered wire is pointing UP with the two 'rope slots' straight DOWN. This single quickdraw twists the ATC Guide and
1) COMPLETELY removes its self-locking action
2) makes the brakehand action to be UPWARDS instead of the usual downwards
Despite LOTS of climbing experience, climber A DOES NOT REALIZE ANY OF THESE points. As climber B hangs, Climber A pulls hard DOWNWARDS on the brakehand end of the ropes. Then when I hang as well, she simply has not enough strength to keep us both up, since her 'brakehands' are desperately pulling down and AWAY from the REAL brake position, which is UPWARDS. I deck. And die.


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By csproul
From Rancho Cordova, CA
Oct 9, 2011
Summit of Wolf's Head with Pingora in the background

Any way you can post a picture of this setup? I'm having trouble visualizing it from your description, and I think it would be very informational. Glad to hear you are realtively ok and not realy dead.


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By Old and Busted
From Centennial, CO
Oct 9, 2011
Stabby

Wayne
Tango
Foxtrot


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By Jim Amidon
Oct 9, 2011
J TREE

I can't figure out if this really happened, or if this is a scenario....

If this really happened, then you need to find climbing partners that know how to belay, cause even these supposed 10 year plus climbers don't know how to belay.

If this really happened your lucky.....


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By smassey
From CO
Oct 9, 2011

Congrats on not being dead. I hope the recovery goes quickly. Did climber A have a conscious reason for adding a second quickdraw in a different configuration? Besides the more the merrier? (that to me always implied more in the same place, but that's just me) I'm amazed how many people I meet that lose their situational awareness when they're stressed - I teach how to use the ATC Guide a bunch, and it just goes to show that practice, practice, practice as well as truly understanding how the device works are paramount. Thanks for posting this, difficult though it may be.


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By dorseyec
Oct 9, 2011

Id suggest changing the title, unless you actually died and cant do so. Pretty misleading.


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By Kyle Judson
From Colorado
Oct 9, 2011
Deep water 5.9+ jugs at a secret spot

csproul wrote:
Any way you can post a picture of this setup? I'm having trouble visualizing it from your description, and I think it would be very informational. Glad to hear you are realtively ok and not realy dead.


The best I can interperate from the description is once the belayer clipped the 2nd draw into the wire loop and took it to a higher point on the anchor it rotated the ATC so that the two rope slots were facing down which in turn takes the weight off the anchor point of the ATC not allowing it to rotate and jam the ropes together. This set up would negate the auto-blocking system and the belayer would be holding their climbers weight in their hands with no "locking" of the brake hand available in an easy way.
Auto blocking belay devices are designed to hang from the loop at the top of the "Pigs Nose" so it seems weird to take a draw from the anchor to the wire loop. Trying to back it up possibly?
Regardless of skill level everyone has off days; but an experienced climber should have been able to recognize then remedy this situation. Also glad to hear you're not actually dead though.

Here ya go... www.blackdiamondequipment.com/en-us/journal/climb/all/howto->>>


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By Peter Pitocchi
Oct 9, 2011
Pete belays 2nd pitch Little corner

Did climber A have ropeburns?


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By Josh Harding
From Joshua Tree, California
Oct 9, 2011
Two shots of expresso with a spoonful of honey.  Everyone doing what they do best, NSBSing

I can picture the incorrect setup perfectly.

I also have had a partner do this to me, with the thinking "the more the merrier" when securing the ATC.

But in fact, clipping both the belay loop and plasticized metal retainer wire absolutely negates the locking ability of the belay device when belaying up a second off of the anchor.

I think the culprit is a confusing anchor setup.

First and only time that I will solo 10a.

Newbie mistake for sure, got to read those manuals.


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By mtoensing
From Boulder
Oct 9, 2011
Props to my home state show

This is pretty interesting for sure. It is hard to believe that an "experienced climber" would use a QD for any anchor purposes. Seems like they would just use lockers instead, especially for belaying off of the anchor with 2 seconds. I guess this is just a classic example of the ATC guide being used in the wrong way because of the direction of pull.

I agree with Jim that maybe you should consider other climbing partners. Belaying off of the anchor isn't rocket science.


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By Brett D.
From boulder county
Oct 9, 2011

I am surprised to here that he decided to hang on an easy route when he is part of a simul belay. Doesn't excuse the belayer, but generally you shouldn't be taking "takes" on easy climbs where you are simul climbing/belaying.


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By coppolillo
Oct 9, 2011

i'm with amidon.

first--connecting the ATC to the anchor with a QD is ridiculous. it needs a locker, period. (i'm assuming she affixed it with just a sport QD; i.e. non-lockers both sides.)

second--had she given a quick pull-test to the climber strands on both ropes, she would've immediately recognized something was wrong.

third--yeah, i'd tell climber A to get some professional instruction or look for new partners.

i had a similar incident, but my ex-partner refused to recognize his mistake...just made excuses. so i politely told him i wasn't comfortable climbing together any longer. lots of excuses, but still, no willingness to admit/learn from a mistake...which is itself a risky attitude.

careful, dude. glad you didn't get the chop and speedy recovery. that was a close one.


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By Catherine Conner
From Phoenix, AZ
Oct 9, 2011
Contemplative-what is ahead?

Very disturbing. I'm so glad you are alive and intact to tell this. Thank you for describing in detail exactly what happened. This is the sort of post that is useful to us all. Using a quickdraw definitely seems like not the way to go ever in that sort of scenario. I'm guessing your climbing partner list is minus one at this point. I bet you appreciate every day a little more since the incident, I know I would be! Have you healed up now? This is making me think about my helmet too. Thanks for sharing and glad you're ok... that was an intense read.


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By Dusty
From Fort Collins
Oct 9, 2011
just teasin' the sharks...

I am surprised this is the first time climber A has dropped anyone. People should not be belaying if they don't understand the simple mechanics of the device.

Using a quickdraw to attach a belay device to the anchor is ridiculous. Thinking that another quickdraw clipped to the wire is a proper back-up is just plain stupid.


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By Derek W
Oct 9, 2011
First summit of First Flatiron

The Darkness wrote:
I am surprised to here that he decided to hang on an easy route when he is part of a simul belay. Doesn't excuse the belayer, but generally you shouldn't be taking "takes" on easy climbs where you are simul climbing/belaying.

Don't forget not everyone is at your elite level of climbing...
Besides, what is described here isn't simul-climbing.


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By Buff Johnson
Oct 9, 2011
smiley face

Can someone post a picture of this rigging?


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By Marc H
From Lafayette, CO
Oct 9, 2011
The Cathedral Spires in RMNP, left to right: Stiletto, Sharkstooth, Forbidden Tower, Petit Grepon, The Saber, The Foil, The Moon & The Jackknife.

This must be Climber B's take on it

Krista wrote:
TJ, I think I have to take mild offense to that - I'm one of those climbers who, on a very tough climb, will repeatedly yell TAKE or UP ROPE to a belayer who may not be as attentive as I like. Let me give you an example of why: Last Sunday I was following the lead up a climb at Turkey Rocks. Being from the softly rated (by comparison) SoCal and now living in Denver, these climbs are ass-kickers. Cleaning the very well placed gear sapped some of my strength, so I had to rest on the rope periodically (hence hollering TAKE). The third member of our party started simulcliming [sic] when I was about halfway up, and being a much better climber than I he was closing the gap. He opted to stop while I worked on retrieving a particularly difficult piece of pro, but he didn't communicate with the belayer. At all. Just opted to rest on the rope without saying anything. He started falling, and by the time the belayer (from top) realized it, momentum had built up enough to cause the rope to burn through her gloves to her hands. He fell 30 feet and Decked. Long story short, he had a concussion, scraped up his face badly, injured his upper back & upper glutes which took the brunt of the impact along with his cracked helmet. He just as easily could have been dead. So explain to me why someone yelling TAKE bothers you so much.... would you prefer they experience near death? I'd rather come across as paranoid & slightly annoying than be dead. But that's just me.


I didn't realize what was happening in Krista's account till I read yours. I understand what happened now. It wasn't so much that you had miscommunicated that you wanted to hang on the rope as much as Climber A failed to mention to you that she didn't know how to properly use her belay device.

I'm glad you're still alive!

Any chance you wanna name Climber A as a public service announcement?

DeadManBarelyWalking wrote:
The next time I'm reasonably mentally aware, I'm standing facing the rap slings that I'm tied into on the first belay ledge. Climber A is rapelling off the blue rope from a rap anchor on the second belay ledge. Climber B is standing 20 feet in front of me and unties herself from the white rope. I ask: "What happened?". She explains that I fell and completely passed out for about 30 seconds. After this, I started to reply reasonably understandably to (possibly embarassing) questions. I had no memory of this, so I'd had a 20 minute memory lapse. We rapped off and went home without further incidents.


I have a friend that went to rap a 60m rope on The Armadillo, flubbed clipping in and fell the entire 200 feet. For the whole walkout and a bit afterwards, he was completely disoriented and thought that he had led an large group of kids out there and they had abandoned him and his girlfriend. It was scary. He made a complete recovery. He's guided rafting, ski patrolled and climbed quite a bit since the accident years ago.

--Marc


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By Buff Johnson
Oct 9, 2011
smiley face

I think this incident is spread out over 2-3 threads; if nobody wants to show the rigging problem, this discussion serves little for climbers to get the idea and correct the mistake that caused the problem of decking a seconding climber.


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By Marc H
From Lafayette, CO
Oct 9, 2011
The Cathedral Spires in RMNP, left to right: Stiletto, Sharkstooth, Forbidden Tower, Petit Grepon, The Saber, The Foil, The Moon & The Jackknife.

Buff Johnson wrote:
..this discussion serves little for climbers to get the idea and correct the mistake that caused the problem of decking a seconding climber.


There's no need to provide pictures if you own a Reverso or ATC Guide; know how to set it up to belay a second (and possibly third) in auto-lock mode; and know how to give slack to your second (and third).

Climber A set up her ATC Guide in auto-lock mode and then defeated the auto-lock mode with a quickdraw. It almost cost a man his life.

Lesson: If you own a belay device with an auto-lock mode and you use that feature incorrectly, you're putting your partners' lives in danger.

--Marc


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By Kevin Craig
Oct 9, 2011
KC on Fields (medium).  Photo (c) Doug Shepherd

Just goes to show that *climbing* skill and/or *just* years of experience doesn't necessarily mean D!CK when it comes to technical skill. Clearly climber A hadn't a clue regarding the operational principles of an ATC Guide. In my experience, understanding the principles of a given system is MUCH more important than memorizing steps or techniques. Such understanding prevents foolish errors and allows for improvisation when the situation deviates from "normal."

I'd much rather climb with a 5.8 leader who understands the principles behind safety and rescue systems than a 5.12 leader who just memorized the steps.

Also there is NOOOOO excuse for connecting the ATC to the anchor with anything but a locker. If you only have one, use it to connect the device to the anchor and use 2 non-lockers, reversed, through the rope(s) and make sure the spines stay next to the device. Sub-optimal, but better than the alternative.

Glad you lived to tell the tale.


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By FrankPS
From Atascadero, CA
Oct 9, 2011

Kevin Craig wrote:
Just goes to show that *climbing* skill and/or *just* years of experience doesn't necessarily mean D!CK when it comes to technical skill.


True dat!


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By stevesliva
Oct 9, 2011

My guesses based on the description. Wanted to play with it myself.

BAD

BETTER

Labelled "better" because you shouldn't use a draw to attach the device to the anchor. Especially with the gate leaning on something like in the photo. Plus they're sort of upside down. But I just wanted to see how not-autolocked the rope would be. It's not locked at all.

Also don't build an anchor on a drawer. It could pull out of the dresser.


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By Brett D.
From boulder county
Oct 9, 2011

Wehling wrote:
Don't forget not everyone is at your elite level of climbing... Besides, what is described here isn't simul-climbing.


chill out nerd


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By wankel7
From Indiana
Oct 10, 2011

Sweet WTF who in the hell would connect their ATC Guide to the anchor with a quick draw???????

It is amazing how grossly negligent she was...it is almost criminal. I hope you didn't pay a cent for your medical costs and she picked up the tab.


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By Ed Wright
Oct 10, 2011
Magic Ed

Man o man I hate people belaying off the anchor and especially trying to belay two climbers at the same time and this is exactly why. Glad you survived.


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By Austin Baird
From SLC, Utah
Oct 10, 2011
Me scaring years off my mom's life

stevesliva wrote:
My guesses based on the description. Wanted to play with it myself. BAD BETTER Labelled "better" because you shouldn't use a draw to attach the device to the anchor. Especially with the gate leaning on something like in the photo. Plus they're sort of upside down. But I just wanted to see how not-autolocked the rope would be. It's not locked at all. Also don't build an anchor on a drawer. It could pull out of the dresser.


Dude - What are the screws on that handle rated to?


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