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Belay loops & the discussion following TS's harness failure
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By Leo Paik
Administrator
From Westminster, Colorado
Oct 27, 2006
Perhaps, in light of the tragic consequences of a probably belay loop failure for one of the brightest stars in our climbing community, it would be better/more respectful to carry on a discussion about belay loops, etc., in a different forum. I would suggest that we move general discussions about this to away from the sad news to this forum. So, with all due respect, please consider moving your comments here. Thanks.

If anyone feels slighted by the movement of these comments to this forum, please accept my apologies. It was a issue of respect.

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By Ron Olsen
From Boulder, CO
Oct 26, 2006
In the cow pasture below the Tre Cime de Lavaredo,...
This post was originally a comment in Todd Skinner dies in Yosemite

The lessons are:

  • Inspect your gear regularly.

  • Replace old or worn soft gear (ropes, slings, harnesses) before you think it's absolutely necessary; 5 years max, less with frequent use.

Belay loops in good condition do NOT need to be backed up.

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By JeanGClimbs
From Reading, VT
Oct 26, 2006
The third pitch traverse of Bonnie's Roof, Gunks
This post was originally a comment in Todd Skinner dies in Yosemite

I would add to the lessons learned list to use a rappel back up all the time. A prussic probably would have saved him but those have fallen into disfavor because of the inconvenience. The more popular autoblock probably wouldn't have HELD him, but might have slowed him down enough for him to recover and perhaps grab the rope and do a leg wrap or something??? I am curious if anyone would know how effective an autoblock backup would be in such a case. I use it EVERY TIME I rap for a plethora of reasons. If it would help in a failure such as this I'd simply add it to the list!

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By mike1
Oct 27, 2006
This post was originally a comment in Todd Skinner dies in Yosemite

I completely agree with Steve White. The belay loop was designed because of convenience and now someone is dead because it failed. I never have and never will rely only on the belay loop. It adds one one more possible failure point to the system (this used to be taught as a dangerous practice before convenience began to rule the marketing world of climbing equipment. I would encourage all climbers to closely evaluate all of their gear for designs that are potentially unsafe. Two of my other pet peeves are the ATC and the super thin webbing people use today. These products work well in specific climbing environments but the risk can more than double if used in the wrong environment.

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By Leo Paik
Administrator
From Westminster, Colorado
Oct 27, 2006
While Ron Olsen may be strictly correct in that "belay loops in good condition do NOT need to be backed up", Steve White & Mike1 are correct that you can backup your belay loop to avoid relying on one piece of equipment and avoid consequences of which we have just so sadly been informed.

After playing a bit over the last 2 decades out there, I've seen situations that I described elsewhere that have inspired me to backup my belay loop, since, especially on longer routes (in the middle of a climb) or road trips (in the middle of a road trip), close inspection may not suffice. Some partners of mine in adventure have also chosen to back up belay loops.

For those who may wish to avoid such consequences, in addition to Steve White's suggestion, I suggest one or both of two things: 1) you can wrap your belay loop and high friction points on your harness with athletic tape to protect your belay loop & harness. Replace this tape regularly. 2) you can tie a loop of small cord (5.5-6mm) with double fisherman's knots paralleling your belay loop to back it up. This amounts to only a few ounces.

For the doubters, fine, do it your way; but then again, you don't need to use a rope, need to wear a helmet, need to put in pro, need to wear a seatbelt. I just need to be able to get back to my family after climbing.

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By George Bell
From Boulder, CO
Oct 27, 2006
Hip trouble ...
I suppose if the belay loop can break during rappel, it could also break during a belay, so you should always clip the locker to the loop and your harness in both cases. This accident shocked me as well, I just bought a new harness a few months ago even though it seemed my 10 year old one "still looked fine". Now, into the trash it goes.

Ever since "cliffhanger", we have been convincing people that harnesses can't fail like at the start of that movie. Of course in that movie the harness is brand-new, and the buckles start unthreading.

Mike, what is wrong with an ATC?

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By Tea
Oct 27, 2006
just Jong it!
One thing to remember about "backin up" the belay loop, by running through the harness....is that this could potentially create a Triaxally loaded 'biner...which of course, is bad.

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By Andy Laakmann
Site Landlord
From Bend, OR
Oct 27, 2006
Racked and loaded... name that splitter behind me?...
The belay loop was NOT designed for convenience.

It was designed to prevent the very real problem of carabiners getting either side loaded or, more often, tri-loaded when clipped to the harness and leg loops.

Of course, I don't think there is a record of someone being killed by one of these scenarios, and now - tragically - a failure of a belay loop has killed someone.....

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By d.reed
Oct 27, 2006
Jean Goldsborough wrote:
This post was originally a comment in Todd Skinner dies in Yosemite I would add to the lessons learned list to use a rappel back up all the time. A prussic probably would have saved him but those have fallen into disfavor because of the inconvenience. The more popular autoblock probably wouldn't have HELD him, but might have slowed him down enough for him to recover and perhaps grab the rope and do a leg wrap or something??? I am curious if anyone would know how effective an autoblock backup would be in such a case. I use it EVERY TIME I rap for a plethora of reasons. If it would help in a failure such as this I'd simply add it to the list!


jEAN, RIGHT ON!! iF YOUVE EVER PLAYED WITH THE PRUSSIC, BY ACTUALLY LETTING THE DARN THING CATCH, YOULL KNOW ANOTHER ONE IS NEEDED, TO RELEASE THE ONE YER HANGING ON. iN OTHER WORDS , i DO USE THE PRUSSIC ON ALL RAPS, WITH A 6 FOOTER THATS WRAPPED AROUND THE HARNESS, THAT CAN BE USED AS AN ETRIER/LADDER, FOR THE RELEASE.

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By Tom Hanson
Oct 27, 2006
Climber Drawing
I always use a locking biner side by side with the belay loop.
i.e: the locker running through the exact points as the belay loop, by going thru both the leg loops and waist belt.
This redundancy is quick and reliable.

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By Shawn Shannon
From Everett, WA
Oct 27, 2006
Myself
Just curious, does anyone know if there's a particular reason manufacture's don't just install two belay loops for redundancy. I understand that it's supposed to be rock solid, and stronger than any other point, but it always feels weird having only a single point of failure on my harness.

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By Ron Olsen
From Boulder, CO
Oct 27, 2006
In the cow pasture below the Tre Cime de Lavaredo,...
For harnesses as well as all other climbing gear, the best advice is to follow the manufacturer's instructions (that little pamphlet in 6 languages and fine print that you toss out when you get home).

Here's an excerpt from the Black Diamond Instructions for Use for Technical Harnesses:

Belay loop use from Black Diamond's Instructions f...
Belay loop use from Black Diamond's Instructions for Use for Technical Harnesses.


For those in the market for a new harness, consider the Metolius Safe Tech. Each component of the harness is designed for extra strength. I've been using the Safe Tech Men's Deluxe for several years and find it comfortable and durable.

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By Leo Paik
Administrator
From Westminster, Colorado
Oct 27, 2006
Shawn, I'd guess 2 loops just costs more. We double up so many other things in the systems. Good idea. In my limited experience, no harness will be impervious to wearing effects of sharp edges and friction. In particular, I've found desert sandstone, squeeze chimneys, offwidths, coarse granitic rock (e.g. Quartz Monzonite), mixed climbing, climbing with sharp screws hanging near my harness particularly rough on harnesses. Given the recent Dyneema incident, I won't girth hitch Dyneema on my harness or belay loops. Maybe better if you've got the $$, a new harness every Christmas?

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By John Hegyes
From Las Vegas, NV
Oct 27, 2006
South of Windy Peak
I, too, recommend the Metolius Safe Tech harnesses because they are strengthened in areas that others are not. What other harness has fully load rated gear loops and haul loops? Also, I notice that my belay loop is actually wrapped twice before it is sewn through at a location that is three layers thick. I believe that at least two pieces of web would have to wear through in order for it to break.

I have always been hesitant to use the belay loop exclusively. I've found that when the rope is slackened the carabiner can capsize and become cross-loaded onto the gate. I also find the additional height uncomfortable to work with and I dislike how the loop introduces a half-turn to the belay device. These complaints deal more so with belaying than rappelling, but I feel that they out-weight the arguments against loading the carabiner in three axes when the waist and leg loops are clipped instead. And the forces generated at the carabiner are almost always dramatically less when rappelling compared to belaying.

However, arguments about single-point failures are worth considering as well in regard to clipping the belay loop only. A well inspected belay loop is safe to use, no doubt in my mind. I tend to obsess over other single-point failures - the single belay/rappel carabiner for instance. John

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By d.reed
Oct 27, 2006
Shawn Shannon wrote:
Just curious, does anyone know if there's a particular reason manufacture's don't just install two belay loops for redundancy. I understand that it's supposed to be rock solid, and stronger than any other point, but it always feels weird having only a single point of failure on my harness.


DID YOU DIG ouT FROM UNDER THE SNOW YET BRO? iM IN SLC, and warned my daughter (denver), that it was snowing here, and headed your way.
In regards to the redundant stuff. You really gotta know when to fold it up, and shitcan the old junk. Most climbers are poor. So they attempt to get every ounce of air time out of their gear.
I replace ropes/ harness every 2 years.( they're great for canyoneering or towing cars)Just having that stuff" under ultarviolet(sun) circumstances, begins the weakening process.Even if you never wore it or used the ropes.
FIGURE IT THIS WAY.....WHATS YOU LIFE WORTH ?

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By tom stocker
From Lakewood, Colorado
Oct 27, 2006
Check out the Petzl site at en.petzl.com/petzl/SportConsei... for a way to rig a rappel that eliminates using your leg loop for the autoblock and provides for redundancy. I further adapt this method by running the upper loop of the double length runner in the Petzl drawing through the biner that holds the belay device. Upon unclipping the upper loop, I clip this back into the belay loop. Thus, there are two full strength runner loops holding the belay device. I use a Bluewater thick runner rated at 28kn.

The Petzl drawing shows the lower runner loop girth hitched to the belay loop. However, this can just as easily be girth hitched to the harness parallel to the belay loop. This creates redundancy with the belay loop.

This set-up also keeps all contact points centered, whereas an autoblock on the leg loop pulls to one side, and the leg loop is not full strength.

In this set-up, the rappeller is essentially giving himself/herself a fireman's belay. It is very easy to control the speed of descent, and every part is backed up with a minimum of effort and no extra gear.

Credit should go to Mark Hammond of the Colorado Mountain School who showed me this method this past summer as well as the Petzl literature.

Best regards, Tom Stocker

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By Hampton Uzzelle
From Tucson, Arizona
Oct 27, 2006
I saw on supertopo that Metolius does make a harness with two belay loops and that formerly Yates also made a harness with twoindependent loops. Yates quit making it though because they discovered that the second loop caused increased friction that wore the hard points of the harness out faster(where the belay loop connects the swami and leg loops). Apparently you can still special order a harness from Yates with the extra loop, but really I think the issue that caused the accident was the age/wear/care of the loop not the design.

Regardless of the cause of this incident. It's sad for Todd's family, Lander, and the climbing community as a whole. There is a great tribute to Todd on supertopo that his family is partticipating in if you want to pay your respects.

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By XOG
Oct 27, 2006
Descending the precipice trail at Acadia NP.
I like the idea of the 6mm loop tied as a backup for the belay loop, although I've never done this.

Since no one else has mentioned it, another form of backup that in addition is handy for clipping anchors is the "rabbit runner". Girth hitch a thin sewn runner through the harness attachment points, and wrap the free end behind you clipping it to the harness haul loop (or something strong). With a longer runner you can also come all the way around your waist and clip in front, but I don't like this as well. Clipped behind, it's a backup for the belay loop. Unclipped, you have a quick way to attach yourself to an anchor. Also helpful for cleaning overhanging sport routes, etc. I've found it comes in handy in many different situations, and have even taken flak for it from some partners, but you won't often find me without it.

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By Ron Olsen
From Boulder, CO
Oct 27, 2006
In the cow pasture below the Tre Cime de Lavaredo,...
Here's an excerpt from Petzl's Advice on Harness Use:

Excerpt from Petzl's "Advice on Harness Use.&...
Excerpt from Petzl's "Advice on Harness Use."

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By Ron Olsen
From Boulder, CO
Oct 27, 2006
In the cow pasture below the Tre Cime de Lavaredo,...
An excerpt from the Metolius Safe Tech Harness Manual:

An excerpt from the Metolius "Safe Tech Harne...
An excerpt from the Metolius "Safe Tech Harness Manual".

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By tim f
From Albuquerque, NM
Oct 27, 2006
Me and the boys
I recently rappelled with the carabiner/atc attached through the tie in point of my harness. The sharp edges at the bottom of the carabiner's gate (at the gate/body junction) acted as a cheese grater and almost wore through the tie in location on the top of the leg loops in 150 ft (I was "walking" down the cliff as I rappelled and the carabiner was a brand new petzl william). After that I will never put a carabiner through the tie in point again - there is a reason manufacturers recommend using the belay loop. And, belay loops are intrinsically backed up - i.e. they are wrapped two times and then stitched.

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By mike1
Oct 27, 2006
George Bell wrote:
I suppose if the belay loop can break during rappel, it could also break during a belay, so you should always clip the locker to the loop and your harness in both cases. This accident shocked me as well, I just bought a new harness a few months ago even though it seemed my 10 year old one "still looked fine". Now, into the trash it goes. Ever since "cliffhanger", we have been convincing people that harnesses can't fail like at the start of that movie. Of course in that movie the harness is brand-new, and the buckles start unthreading. Mike, what is wrong with an ATC?


George,
My concern about the ATC is based on a feature of the design. It is purposely designed so you can give a soft catch. Some of the newer designs even have teeth so it will catch better. If you fall alot (sport climbing application) this does reduce the impact on all of your equipment. However for someone like me who almost exclusively trad climbs and falling is not as routine or when it does happen thier is more risk of a long fall I just want to be caught. I continue to use a small figure eight and wish I could get more of my partners to do so. I know some feel that the ATC does not kink the rope as much but I never had the problem when every one used firuge 8's and only see it now when one person uses a figure 8 and someone else uses an ATC type device. This is just my view point and it is meant only as this. Thanks for listening.

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By John J. Glime
From Salt Lake City, UT
Oct 27, 2006
...
Brand new test by Kolin... check it out, it is amazing data...

blackdiamondequipment.com/scen...

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By Ron Olsen
From Boulder, CO
Oct 27, 2006
In the cow pasture below the Tre Cime de Lavaredo,...
Since belay loops, Dyneema slings, and climbing ropes are all very strong when new, why are we seeing reports of their failure? I think a major issue is chemical contamination:

  • The climbing rope failure in a gym was eventually traced to sulphuric acid contamination (battery acid). The owner of the rope said that it had been laid on the pavement in a parking lot at one time, but had been well cared for otherwise.


  • We'll probably never know the reason for Todd Skinner's belay loop failure, unless by some miracle it is found and analyzed. But Kolin Powick's tests show that a belay loop 75% cut through on both sides still had a breaking strength of 2900 lbf. To me, this suggests that there may have been other factors (besides wear and age) involved in Todd's belay loop failing under body weight; i.e. chemical contamination.

Lessons: Be really meticulous about where you put your soft gear:

  • Don't lay things down on the pavement in parking lots.

  • Don't store soft gear anywhere near a battery, or where a battery has been stored. Be wary of tossing unprotected ropes and soft gear into the bed of a friend's pickup, for example.

  • Be careful to avoid contamination from other sources (gasoline, bleach, DEET, urine, etc.).

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By Gary Olsen
Oct 27, 2006
Hi,

see this from BD:
blackdiamondequipment.com/scen...

Bottom line is belay loops are pretty damn strong. But if you insist on backing it up I recommend supertape. Tie it in a loop the same size as your belay loop. I used this while climbing in blocks and clipping in with two biners on a few occasions. It worked for a 30 footer. It especially works well for climbs like NIAD. You can tie a fifi hook directly into your backup loop and it works well for the recreational aid encountered.

Very sad deal with Todd.

Gary

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By A.P.T.
From Truckee,Ca
Oct 27, 2006
So nice.
Never thought twice about storing my "Drill In My Pack" with all my gear! I'm sure not going to do that anymore! Thank you for the comments and the links you guys..

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