Abseiling near death experience

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SNORT
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Abseiling near death experience

Post by SNORT » Mon Jul 10, 2017 4:39 am

So today in the Shawangunks in the US I set up an abseil point round a tree and it is difficult to explain how this happened but my ropes were not equal. I fed an extra loop around the tree that resulted in the one end was a mere 5m long and 25m short of the ground. I did not realize the problem as the rope had mostly snagged on a small ledge below me. I started abseiling and somehow freakishly felt and noticed the tip of the rope as it hit the lower part of my palm and I stopped and looked. I have recently in the last 3 years started using a prussik at Yellowwood and elsewhere but as this was short single pitch climbing I did not. If I had I would have been holding the prussik and not felt the rope. I was about to go 25m to the deck. I really cherish these experiences where "I got away with it" and rely on this to improve my diligence and care. One day I may not get away with it. Beware! Check and check again.

This is one of the closest serious accidents I have ever experienced. And I was damn lucky. Probably 1 in a million or more that would feel the rope end and stop in time. I still cannot believe that I so fucked up on the one hand and felt the rope with no more than 10cm to spare on the other......

Yes a knot in the end of the rope would have been wise in this case....

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Re: Abseiling near death experience

Post by mokganjetsi » Mon Jul 10, 2017 8:07 am

hectic Snort! glad you got off with a warning only. and thanks for sharing - I must admit i am still raw about Julia and since then has turned on the anal-standard around safety. hearing these things from time-to-time i think is a useful reminder to not ever drop the standard and stick to best practice.

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Re: Abseiling near death experience

Post by IdratherBeCimbing » Mon Jul 10, 2017 8:46 am

And this boys and girls is why we always tie a knot in the end of our rope. Glad to hear no one was hurt but a very clear reminder that complacency is the mother of all f%$k ups

Old Smelly
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Re: Abseiling near death experience

Post by Old Smelly » Mon Jul 10, 2017 9:00 am

I actually agree - there are some stats somewhere that show beginners and "Old Hands" are at high risk - one for not knowing and the other for "habits" and a bit of complacency (not directing this at SNORT - a general observation.)

Our only defense is to "do everything by the book"! Funny that this then works for us when something goes a little bit wrong - because it is a belt & braces approach. In my viewpoint it saves not only the lives of the not so experienced but also that of the "old hands".

Glad you are ok SNORT and can always enlighten everyone with your experience!
Really, its not that bad...I think it's my shoes...

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Re: Abseiling near death experience

Post by PeterHS » Mon Jul 10, 2017 10:20 am

Thanks for sharing and glad that you're ok, Snort. Stopper knots and prussiks are always a must for me. One other thing that has not been mentioned so far are 'buddy-buddy' checks. Individually, one can miss something, 'think' one has done something, be distracted and not go back to ... etc. The percentages of 2 people doing the same ore obviously much much less. Ciao. P

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Nic Le Maitre
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Re: Abseiling near death experience

Post by Nic Le Maitre » Mon Jul 10, 2017 12:04 pm

The saying "familiarity breeds contempt" is highly relevant here, though contempt could rather be "reduced consideration of risk" and ties in with what Old Smelly says about old hands being more at risk. The more you are exposed to a particular risk, the less you perceive that risk to be.

Just the other day, at Paarl, I was abseilling down a route and despite not having done the abseil before I completely forgot about my decision post Julia's tragic death to use a prusik for abseils that I don't know well or where mistakes could mean death/severe injury, I still forgot to put one on.

Thanks for the reminder Snort, I'll be more consistent about using prusiks on abseils.
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SNORT
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Re: Abseiling near death experience

Post by SNORT » Mon Jul 10, 2017 1:25 pm

I don't think people become complacent at all. That's like saying we become complacent when we drive cars. We do however get into bad habits which I am very aware of. Mistakes are made and gravity is very unforgiving with second chances being rare. That is why we institute back-up systems like knots and prussics.

There is a lot more to the story. While I was belaying Duncan who I then lowered off so there was no one to check me I was instructing two Americans to the left of me who were trying to abseil off using a prussic back-up. The prussic was too long and was jamming with the ATC. So distraction may have played a role.

All I can say if you do not have these experiences then you are not climbing or abseiling a lot or long enough or at least not in different environments and circumstances. I do believe it very important to air these experiences on our climbing blogs so as to make people more aware.

Knots on the end of a rope is fine but can cause major problems in wind and so on in big mountains. Equalizing the rope and ensuring it is so is where I made the mistake.

Later on in the day I climbed a 5.9 route called Apoplexy. This is a very dangerous sand bag with a very run-out pretty much deck fall potential. Margaret was belaying me and in fact it is questionable whether a deck fall was more desirable than the fall factor that would be occurred. She still has unhealed rib fractures and catching me would have been brutal if indeed the yellow Metolius light weight master cam held. This kind of fall can break ribs!. The 5.8 crux is on polished very slippery tiny little nobs off a gaston move from the flake. I then used a good crimp with the right hand and a very poor right foot hold to very rounded holds very high up. My foot slipped on my first attempt. It may be 5.8 (18) if you are 6ft tall or so but it is solid scary 21 if you are my length. You are at least 5m above your pro and close to the ground. The 5.9 crux higher up is like grade 17. The 33 degree heat with 96% humidity also did not help!

Reminds me of Paul Schlotveldt many years ago saying that some very tricky grade 22 pitches in South Africa and elsewhere is like "5.9 (19) in the Gunks".
Start up the face ten feet right of Horseman and aim for a small loose flake. Heaven help the person that falls on the gear placed behind it - it would rip right off the wall! From here you can either escape right to a tree, or climb the real route and head up the roof on the left. Put your game face on, because there are a couple of balancy moves before you get to a good rest. Once you're past the roof, head right to a set of chains.This great route has a bit of everything on it, from scary face climbing with little pro, to a well-protected crux at the end.
https://www.mountainproject.com/v/10584 ... y=apoplexy
Apoplexy.jpg
Apoplexy.jpg (166.38 KiB) Viewed 1452 times
The picture shows a fellow doing the move and he is clearly quite tall as he can reach the rounded rail from the flake where he still has his left hand. I used a lower crimp with my right and then had to get my foot next to my hand on the flake bouldering style and then balance or rather quiver up to the rounded rail.

#toughdayinthegunks

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Justin
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Re: Abseiling near death experience

Post by Justin » Mon Jul 10, 2017 2:08 pm

Hows the saying go? A bad day in the mountains is better than a good day in the office :pirat:
Well done on not screwing up completely, I am glad to hear that you survived this one :thumleft:

Opinion question: If weight/bulkiness was not an issue, would a shunt be better/preferred over a purussic (for the safe guarding of an abseil in a sport/trad climbing situation)?
For the above: there is a single figure of eight knot on the end of the rope(s).
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hendriks
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Re: Abseiling near death experience

Post by hendriks » Mon Jul 10, 2017 2:18 pm

Justin wrote:
Mon Jul 10, 2017 2:08 pm
Opinion question: If weight/bulkiness was not an issue, would a shunt be better/preferred over a purussic (for the safe guarding of an abseil in a sport/trad climbing situation)?
For the above: there is a single figure of eight knot on the end of the rope(s).
I stand to be corrected, but this use was the whole reason behind the design of the shunt afaik?

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Re: Abseiling near death experience

Post by IdratherBeCimbing » Mon Jul 10, 2017 2:47 pm

With regards to my complacency comment, it is just my opinion but I do stand by it.
Opinion question: If weight/bulkiness was not an issue, would a shunt be better/preferred over a purussic (for the safe guarding of an abseil in a sport/trad climbing situation)?
For the above: there is a single figure of eight knot on the end of the rope(s).
I think its a personal preference neither a prusik nor a shunt damages a rope in any way ( and if the weight isn't a factor ) then the only plus side in my opinion is that a shunt can take two ropes at once , also you may find it easier to load a shunt than tie a prusik but as far as overall safety goes I think its basically the same.

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Justin
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Re: Abseiling near death experience

Post by Justin » Mon Jul 10, 2017 3:09 pm

I am aware that the Shunt got (somewhat) ousted from the rope access industry...
The Petzl website still list the Shunt and have this to say about it:

Rappel back-up ascender
Used below the rappel device, the SHUNT works as a rappel back-up and replaces friction hitches like the Prusik. Works on single and half ropes.


Which leads me to believe that it's no problem to use for safety on an abseil.
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Nic Le Maitre
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Re: Abseiling near death experience

Post by Nic Le Maitre » Mon Jul 10, 2017 3:44 pm

Having a prusik below the device wouldn't have prevented you abseiling off the end of the rope anyway.

Shunts have been ousted from Rope Access because they don't work if you grab them and RA is all about the lowest common denominator.

Oh and you can use a prusik around two ropes, a klemheist or french works best
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Re: Abseiling near death experience

Post by SNORT » Mon Jul 10, 2017 4:03 pm

In fact if I had the prussik I would have abbed off the end as I would not have felt the tip of the rope! I would have been holding the prussik and not felt it.

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Re: Abseiling near death experience

Post by Justin » Mon Jul 10, 2017 5:29 pm

Yes, but if the prussic was raised above your abseil device (American style), then possibly not!?

For sure, knots in the end of your rope would have saved you.

Once again, you're either very lucky or very skilled (your 16'000 hours) - or both 8)
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SNORT
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Re: Abseiling near death experience

Post by SNORT » Mon Jul 10, 2017 5:42 pm

Lucky

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Re: Abseiling near death experience

Post by Marshall1 » Mon Jul 10, 2017 7:39 pm

Yes a knot in the end of the rope would have been wise in this case....
Hey Snort, surely the knot in the end of the rope is mandatory for every abseil, not optional on some occasions. Mandatory because it's a simple discipline, a standard process on the sunny days & short abseils, so that it's second nature in the rain-at-night when conditions are epic.

In windy/snaggy conditions; still tie the knot, loop (coil) rope over your neck & shoulders, abseil with the rope over your neck, off loading a loop or 2 as you go down.

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Q20
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Re: Abseiling near death experience

Post by Q20 » Mon Jul 10, 2017 11:04 pm

Well I am really glad you got lucky on this one.

Rather sobering, but I think it is good to share these 'wake up calls' as others can learn from them - so thanks.

My 5 cents worth is that thinking about every action is the most important and then being aware of surroundings. So while some routines (like tying knots in the ends of ropes) are for the vast majority of the time good, there may be cases where they are not. So if the only routine you always do is to stop, think and double check before each action, you will hopefully avoid such close calls.
Remaining aware of your surrounds (like watching the rope while abseiling/lowering even when you have tied knots) will hopefully minimize danger of unexpected events/mistakes (like having very uneven length ropes)

On the shunt note, I have been carting one around for over 15 years for tradding/mountaineering and would highly recommend it. Incredibly versatile and fast. I also carry two prussics and a knife: sometimes things just go pear and having a couple of tools on hand can make a big difference.
One life, one body. Use them well.

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Re: Abseiling near death experience

Post by mokganjetsi » Tue Jul 11, 2017 7:18 am

THIS:
Q20 wrote:
Mon Jul 10, 2017 11:04 pm
So if the only routine you always do is to stop, think and double check before each action, you will hopefully avoid such close calls.

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Re: Abseiling near death experience

Post by Old Smelly » Tue Jul 11, 2017 9:58 am

I think that that IS the most important observation - and one which should always be emphasised:

IT is the THINKING and Making Decisions that keeps us alive!

Unfortunately the reason why we do things in a redundant way -"by the book", is for when we are tired/ distracted or something out of our control goes wrong.

You just can't have the one without the other in climbing - DO things RIGHT - and then know when you deviate from it and WHY
Really, its not that bad...I think it's my shoes...

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Re: Abseiling near death experience

Post by Nic Le Maitre » Tue Jul 11, 2017 10:53 am

Couldn't agree more!

Understanding the WHY is so important, simply rote learning things without understanding the motivation behind a practice is a terrible idea. If you understand the reasoning, then you can make considered and rational decisions to deviate from that practice if required by the circumstances.
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Re: Abseiling near death experience

Post by SNORT » Tue Jul 11, 2017 3:43 pm

I will never diss anyone that ties knots in the end of a rope. If you going to have a habit then this is a good one to have. Having said that and especially at Yellowwood and Blouberg where I have climbed a huge amount I always go first without knots. Over 42 years of climbing knots have caused me many problems including a recent time when someone put a knot in the rope at YW and we had to leave it. Fortunately only on the last rap.

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Re: Abseiling near death experience

Post by Brussel » Wed Jul 12, 2017 4:16 pm

Knots have advantages and disadvantages as do prussiks as do other mechanical devices. Climbing is a game of managed risks and experience is what helps us make the decision on those risks. Thankfully you came out ok snort, these things happen to all of us from time to time even the most experienced.

Regards the shunt, I use one for rescue and find it awesome, however for climbing I find prussiks lighter and better for abseil protection as the shunt can be a little grabby and the prussiks can help protect your hand from rope burn on long descents.

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Re: Abseiling near death experience

Post by Guardian » Thu Jul 13, 2017 12:37 pm

Over 42 years of climbing knots have caused me many problems
...and then you don't live to climb more than 42 years because you neglected to make one, as what happens to so many other climbers every year?

I am way less experienced but I can't help but think actions should be proportional to risk.
Certain death = no knot / no prussic / no fireman's = no debate
Moving on the risk scale you go down from certain death to danger and hassle.
Stuck ropes, lost time, the hassle of a prussic/shunt and coiling ropes/use a weight in wind all fall into this range.
Decisions and trade-offs you make in the lower range has no bearing on the certain death category.

We don't spend all our money on gear for when we are in control, doing things right, mindfull, thinking and with extra time in secure situations.
It's for saving your butt in situations that by definition you can't expect or control.
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