Climber dies from fall at the Hole

imageThere was an accident at the Hole last night and a climber was killed falling from the top of the crag.

The name of the climber has not been released as his family have not been informed yet.

The rescue services have asked the climbing community to not speculate as to the cause of the accident or publish his name at this time.

Climbers are asked to stay off the route as authorities want to check the anchor(s) to see if they can determine what happened – the dead climbers quickdraws are still hanging on the route.

Thanks in advance.


Accident Report:

Hi everyone,

Firstly thank you for minimizing speculation. The reason for witholding information following a fatality is
– so that next-of-kin can be informed (legal requirement)
– so that other close family and friends can learn in a sensitive fashion in the first 12 hours, rather than on viz Facebook and
– speculative, or incomplete evidence as to the cause can be very disturbing to family and friends

However, family, friends and the climbing public are of course concerned to get closure, and also understand safety concerns that others should consider when climbing.
I was among the first on the unfortunate scene, and inspected the anchor on Sunday and as such have made a comprehensive report which will be submitted to the SAPS shortly.
I have now been given permission to share the following summary:

On Friday afternoon, 15th April 2016, the deceased was rock-climbing at a crag in Muizenberg, known locally as ‘The Hole’.
The Hole has a selection of popular bolted sport-climbing routes, mostly of more difficult grades.
He fell from the anchor at the top of his chosen route, after having completed the route and re-configuring his safety attachments prior to being lowered back to the ground (‘cleaning’), which is a safe, routine procedure during this type of recreational climbing.

I believe that all the evidence indicates that:
– He was using standard safety equipment that was fit-for-purpose
– Notwithstanding the accident, he and his climbing partner were diligently employing standard climbing safety techniques
– The bolted anchors at the top of the route were, and remain in good safe condition (normal precautions apply)
– That the cause of the accident appears to be human-error. While I don’t believe it is possible to determine exactly what the deceased did, all evidence shows that he made a mistake while ‘cleaning’ the anchors. The deceased may have accidentally either skipped a step in the procedure, or accidentally believed he had fed the rope through the anchor-bolts when in fact he had not. These two suggestions are not exhaustive.
(Contrary to earlier suggestion, there was no equipment remaining on the route)

I believe there is zero evidence to suggest either equipment failure, poor technique, fault on the part of his climbing partner whatsoever, nor foul-play.

This is such a tragic accident, and a reminder to everyone to be diligent about safety attachments while enjoying climbing.
Please check safety attachments continuously from end-to-end, inspect with your eyes, inspect with your fingers, and then double-check again.

Condolences to family and friends.
Thank you to my teammates and colleagues from various WSAR constituencies for a fantastic response effort on Friday night.

Anthony Hall as an MCSA volunteer on WSAR and the Metro EMS service

matthieu bourdrel

, ,

33 Responses to Climber dies from fall at the Hole

  1. Justin Apr 17, 2016 at 10:25 pm #

    Hi All,

    The on site investigation (at the Hole) is complete and a report of the accident will be posted in due course.

  2. Ant Apr 18, 2016 at 11:48 am #

    Hi everyone,

    Firstly thank you for minimizing speculation. The reason for witholding information following a fatality is
    – so that next-of-kin can be informed (legal requirement)
    – so that other close family and friends can learn in a sensitive fashion in the first 12 hours, rather than on viz Facebook and
    – speculative, or incomplete evidence as to the cause can be very disturbing to family and friends

    However, family, friends and the climbing public are of course concerned to get closure, and also understand safety concerns that others should consider when climbing.
    I was among the first on the unfortunate scene, and inspected the anchor on Sunday and as such have made a comprehensive report which will be submitted to the SAPS shortly.
    I have now been given permission to share the following summary:

    On Friday afternoon, 15th April 2016, the deceased was rock-climbing at a crag in Muizenberg, known locally as ‘The Hole’.
    The Hole has a selection of popular bolted sport-climbing routes, mostly of more difficult grades.
    He fell from the anchor at the top of his chosen route, after having completed the route and re-configuring his safety attachments prior to being lowered back to the ground (‘cleaning’), which is a safe, routine procedure during this type of recreational climbing.

    I believe that all the evidence indicates that:
    – He was using standard safety equipment that was fit-for-purpose
    – Notwithstanding the accident, he and his climbing partner were diligently employing standard climbing safety techniques
    – The bolted anchors at the top of the route were, and remain in good safe condition (normal precautions apply)
    – That the cause of the accident appears to be human-error. While I don’t believe it is possible to determine exactly what the deceased did, all evidence shows that he made a mistake while ‘cleaning’ the anchors. The deceased may have accidentally either skipped a step in the procedure, or accidentally believed he had fed the rope through the anchor-bolts when in fact he had not. These two suggestions are not exhaustive.
    (Contrary to earlier suggestion, there was no equipment remaining on the route)

    I believe there is zero evidence to suggest either equipment failure, poor technique, fault on the part of his climbing partner whatsoever, nor foul-play.

    This is such a tragic accident, and a reminder to everyone to be diligent about safety attachments while enjoying climbing.
    Please check safety attachments continuously from end-to-end, inspect with your eyes, inspect with your fingers, and then double-check again.

    Condolences to family and friends.
    Thank you to my teammates and colleagues from various WSAR constituencies for a fantastic response effort on Friday night.

    Anthony Hall as an MCSA volunteer on WSAR and the Metro EMS service

  3. Andy Davies Apr 18, 2016 at 12:13 pm #

    Hey Ant thanks for the very good accident report. Very sad to lose any one of our climbing community.

    – Seems like he was cleaning on 2nd and then didn’t thread his rope through the rings. Couple of people have made this mistake before but luckily realised it before lowering off. A good way to protect yourself against this is as you are cleaning leave the last bolt clipped and swap the rope to your belayers rope. When you lower off it is easy to clean this last quickdraw.

    – I cannot say if it was applicable here, but rushing is so damn dangerous. As Ant said, take a few seconds to check.

  4. mokganjetsi (Willem B) Apr 18, 2016 at 12:29 pm #

    so tragic. my simple rule – always test that you are effectively on belay before going off an anchor / safety. always.

    • wes Apr 18, 2016 at 1:10 pm #

      There is a way to never go off belay when going on and off an anchor. Tie into the anchors with your quickdraws, then pull up slack enough to thread through the rope. With that slack tie a figure of 8 knot which you clip into a screwgate on your harness. You are now only belay and will fall to the second last bolt (which is not removed) if you make a mistake. Continue to thread the chains are normal. Only after you are sure you done, then you can untie the 8, pull in slack to be lowered down.

      http://www.climbing.com/skills/cleaning-sport-anchors/

  5. Llewellyn zeeman Apr 18, 2016 at 2:07 pm #

    Hi this is a very tragic and traumatic accident and my sincere condolences to the family and friends of the deceased. My heart goes out to the climbing partner for I know you must be traumatized about the event. It can be that you might feel a sense of responsibility for what happened. It is perfectly normal to feel that way. But we have to realize that our sport as any extream sport has its dangers and that we know that anything can go wrong whether it’s equipment failure or human error. Brother we in the climbing community are with you and I bet I can speak for all of us

  6. Llewellyn zeeman Apr 18, 2016 at 2:07 pm #

    Hi this is a very tragic and traumatic accident and my sincere condolences to the family and friends of the deceased. My heart goes out to the climbing partner for I know you must be traumatized about the event. It can be that you might feel a sense of responsibility for what happened. It is perfectly normal to feel that way. But we have to realize that our sport as any extream sport has its dangers and that we know that anything can go wrong whether it’s equipment failure or human error. Brother we in the climbing community are with you and I bet I can speak for all of us

  7. Paul Apr 18, 2016 at 2:33 pm #

    Tragic ! Condolences to his family and friends.

  8. witness report Apr 18, 2016 at 4:47 pm #

    For the rock climbing community:

    The facts: My very good friend and favourite rock climbing partner died in a rock climbing accident.
    He made a fatal mistake at the end of a sport climbing route. He must have messed up the cleaning and did not put the rope though anchors and asked to be lowered without rope support. He dropped 20m and was instantly dead.

    We were climbing a route called „bucket of tears“, a grade 26, 7b
    There are suggestions to rename the route.

    He first sent this route. He was not struggling at all.
    Then he powered himself out trying to onsight a 27.
    Then I sent the tragic route and he offered to clean it for me.
    When he back climed the route, he asked for three times for a rest. Very unlike him. He must have been very tired.
    He said this exercise will do him good.

    It wasn’t getting dark yet, so we were in no rush to leave.
    At the top he asked for slack and got his regular 2-3m. He took about the „normal“ time to clean. Neither that the process felt excessively long as he was struggling, nor like he just unclipped the draws. He was for sure fixed by draws for the typical 2 minutes.
    He asked for a take, I felt him and he asked me to lower. I always lower very slowly and not abruptly.
    After maybe 1m when he was at the roof I heard a yell. More of a surprise than fright.
    I had to witness his fall from the very top. The ground consisted of solid rock.
    He was still or again properly tied in. During the cleaning he must not have put the rope through anchors.
    The official report matches my memory.

    Let me remind you of the obvious. Take this personal example to always remember. This is not an academic exercise. Danger is real.
    always do partner checks. Although this would not have helped here.
    cleaning is critical.
    If you are fatigued recognize it yourself and act overcautious.
    Have a protocol to clean. I always like to see a nice simple rope flow in front of me. I have seen people lower of a double tangled whatever at the top. The rope goes around the last draw and only after they remove the blocking draw the messed rope starts to fall cleanly, sometimes still tangled. Not helpful to be sure everything is perfect BEFORE you remove the last draw.
    I always like after cleaning that if I ask for a „take“ I get a real take! A take where the belayer actually steps back and fully takes me in. Only then I like to remove the quickdraw from a hanging position. I was never excited about belayers laying on the floor and if I ask three times for a take they give me a mild pull and a „it’s ok“.
    Will I climb again? I will. But I wont rush myself.
    I rationalize that sports climbing involves certain risks, but that human error is the most critical source of trouble.
    Listen to yourself until which point your actions become unreasonable.

    My dear friend died at his most beloved activity. He did not suffer.
    I am sure he would be proud of you if you keep climbing.
    He also would appreciate if you use his example to keep yourself and others safe.
    Feel free to spread this message in a way that you feel is appropriate.

    His friend

  9. Guy Apr 18, 2016 at 6:01 pm #

    It must have been an incredibly traumatic experience, so thank you so much for sharing it with the climbing community. Condolences to you and his family.

  10. Jacques Apr 18, 2016 at 6:04 pm #

    Whoever you are, so sorry for your and his family’s loss. So sad. All the best.

  11. Brent Apr 18, 2016 at 6:04 pm #

    …no words
    Strength, fellow cliimber

  12. Garron Apr 19, 2016 at 9:01 am #

    It makes me feel sick to read this, I feel so sorry for you and your partner’s close ones loss and the trauma you must be going through. Please seek counselling so that you recover from this as well as possible.

  13. witness report Apr 19, 2016 at 2:05 pm #

    All rock climbers are invited to say good bye:

    https://www.facebook.com/events/269341410073807/269345780073370/

    Join us or post a picture, memory, story there.

  14. Tony Apr 19, 2016 at 6:15 pm #

    A very very sad day indeed. Condolences to family and friends.

  15. Nic Le Maitre Apr 20, 2016 at 7:41 am #

    Condolences to the family and friends.

  16. Grog Apr 20, 2016 at 6:36 pm #

    Horribly tragic accident. I too have made exactly this mistake late in the day when fatigue is setting in – thankfully catching hold of the rock in time. My condolences to family and friends.

  17. Gi Apr 20, 2016 at 10:43 pm #

    CHOC! PROFOND CHAGRIN! DEEP SORROW…
    Courage, courage, I sympathize with all who feel the same loss…

  18. Patrick Apr 21, 2016 at 7:46 am #

    My climbing partner and I were once laughed at because we communicate all the time. Calling for slack, asking for tight rope, on or off belay, tied in, through the chains, etc etc. We were uncool because we were being too careful on an easy little 19. To me, good habits are what can guard against unnecessary tragedies. Good habits must be practised whether I’m on a sport 14 at Chosspile or a horribly run out off route trad mission in some less friendly place. I’ve often wondered why there isn’t a standard buddy system such as that used in diving where your dive buddy is responsible for making sure that you have done what you need to do to stay safe. Condolences to the family and friends of the climber.

    • Warren Gans Apr 22, 2016 at 8:11 am #

      But this Accident would not have been prevented with a budy check.

  19. Ana Apr 21, 2016 at 8:32 am #

    Heartfelt condolences to his family and friends. And yes courage to walk through these painful challenging days. We are walking with you. Wishing for each of you peace. And Patrick, thank you for a beautiful reminder.

  20. Jaco Apr 21, 2016 at 10:43 am #

    Tragic! Condolences to the family and friends.

    I believe using slings instead of quickdraws reduces the risk of this kind of accident happening significantly for the following reasons:

    1. Creates more space between your harness and the anchor making the space less cluttered.
    2. When resting on the slings your harness is significantly lower than the anchors. You can then clearly see the rope coming from below through the anchors and down to you hareness.
    3. Probably most importantly. The longer distance between your harness makes it easier to make sure that all the slack is taken up and that you are fully resting on the rope before removing the slings.

    • Mike Apr 21, 2016 at 2:31 pm #

      The simplest safest technique when back climbing to clean is to swap the last draw before the chains onto the belayers end and leave this clipped in – removing it on the way down. This is safest because it removes the risk of trusting only the top anchors, and should anything go wrong at the chains, you still have an end clipped in.

      Climbing accidents are terrible, and I can only imagine what everyone here is going through. Accidents happen to the best of us. It’s easy to speculate and postulate. Simple mistakes are big problems at height. Stay safe, and to this poor soul, rest in peace brother.

  21. Warren Gans Apr 22, 2016 at 8:29 am #

    I don’t think it’s fair to critique the anchors, nor cleaning sequence regarding this tragedy. You are your primary safety, and you have been using the same system safely for years. Just because someone else’s standard system failed them (no doubt because they deviated from it) does not mean your system is flawed. Having said this clearly there are lessons here such as vigilance that you are in fact keeping to your standard cleaning system, and that your system is fool proof, because you will be executing it when blown.

    For me the big mystery is a detail here: when I take my weight off the anchor and onto the rope/belayer I first weight the rope before removing my direct anchor. This ensures I am attached to the rope/belayer. My guess is when the belayer above took the weight of the climber he was in fact pulling the climber down. If this is the case I don’t understand how the climber would not have noticed his tragic mistake.

    • Justin Lawson Apr 22, 2016 at 9:46 am #

      Yes, but some systems / setups are better than others.
      There are many examples… staples on Lion’s Head work better than the previous chains that were in place – the result is less accidents.

      Standard operating procedure and training helps, however rock climbing top anchors and their setups are seldom standard.

      Nothing is fool proof.
      An accident is an unplanned event.

    • mike Apr 22, 2016 at 4:42 pm #

      This is exactly what I thought too. When the climber weights the rope the belayer should feel being pulled upward. The belayer says he lowered the climber a meter before the fall. If the climber was not attached to any anchor, then how could the belayer have been doing any lowering, as the rope would in fact be running the opposite way through the belay device?

      • vinceB Apr 22, 2016 at 5:44 pm #

        At the top of this route, you have no more than 5 anchors. The 2 on the left are quite old. The 2 lower ones on the right are equipped with rings. And the upper one on the right has a ring too.

        I’ve been thinking and thinking all over about the circumstances of the accident. Knowing the climber’s way of cleaning of, he was probably using the method consisting of creating a loop, threading it through the rings, tying a figure of 8 and then reattaching it to his harness.
        A possible explanation to this “pulling downwards instead of upwards” is that he could have created the loop, threaded it through the rings but he took the wrong end of the rope to tie his figure of 8. In that case, maybe with the friction, he could have felt a take and the belayer could have felt a weight. Then, the belayer lowered him, slowly bringing the loop out of the rings.
        Can’t see any other explanations.

        • Jacques Apr 23, 2016 at 1:03 pm #

          That makes most sence vinceB.

        • Jacques Apr 23, 2016 at 3:39 pm #

          If the rope end after the Figure of 8 he was clipped/tied into was very long, it will also support what vinceB said.

  22. Jaco Apr 22, 2016 at 4:25 pm #

    Just out of interest what kind of top anchors are installed on this route.

  23. Jeremy Colenso Apr 24, 2016 at 6:50 pm #

    Justin, this may be more appropriate as a separate thread. Your call.

    My sincere condolences to the deceased’s family and the deceased’s climbing partner. People please take care.

    I make no statement that what I am about to say is in any way the cause of this latest tragedy. But if I may, I would like to use this time of reflection to share just a few of the ‘near misses’ I’ve had over the last 32 years of climbing, in case anyone reading this forum can learn from my mistakes:

    1. False loops in sling type (non-sewn) quick draws. If you use elastics to keep the carabiner in position make sure the carabiner doesn’t get clipped back into the sling. In the event of loading you will just be held by the elastic.

    2. Belaying off a false loop created by the excess rope from your tie in knot, having failed to use up the excess rope with a stopper knot.

    3. When you get to a traditional route belay stance, you might be a long way above your last runner. If so, consider immediately placing a piece as a runner at the belay before you start pulling on bits of rock and/or testing the pieces that you are going to use for your belay. This way, if unexpectedly the rock breaks, or the runner comes out that you are testing, and you fall backwards off the belay ledge, you will be okay.

    4. If you tie your ropes together to abseil, and leave a metre long tail on either side of the knot, make sure you put your belay device on the correct strands of ropes i.e. not the tails.

    5. When you tie in do not be distracted by people around you, and make sure you finish off the knot and check it before you set off. I’ve been left stranded 3/4 of the way up a route when on top rope the belayer has tugged the rope out of my harness. Lynn Hill wasn’t so lucky, and fell some 25m from the top of the Styx Wall at Buoux, landing in a tree.

    6. If you work a sport route on top rope, and then go to red-point it, make sure that you are not so psyched that you forget to clip the quick draws – seriously this happened to me on a 5.12d route at Rifle which was 4 bolts long, and I would have decked if I’d fallen instead of topping out.

    7. If you clean a very steep sport route on top rope, be aware that if you try to down climb it for good measure, and fall off, you may swing into the ground.

    8. If you go abroad to places like Kalymnos, routes can be 70m long (maybe now in South Africa too) and/or be in a cave that has a floor that slopes down from the belay, meaning you risk being lowered off the end of your rope, therefore know the length of the route, your rope and in any event always tie a knot in the end of it before setting off on lead.

    9. Experienced climbers. When climbing with another experienced climber be alert to the fact that they may be thinking that you’ve considered a safety issue and vice versa, meanwhile neither of you have carried out the check, nor carry the vital piece of equipment.

    In other words, before using any safety system do a visual check asking what would happen if I weighted this, followed by a tactile ‘function’ check before trusting your life with it.

  24. Catherine May 5, 2016 at 3:08 pm #

    Here is a good article about some common climbing mistakes and how to avoid them. This should be read by all climbers, in addition to Jeremy’s comment above.

    http://www.climbing.com/news/50-ways-to-flail/

    Fellow climbers, please be safe out there, and check, double check and then check again, never ever become complacent.

    Condolences to the deceased’s family and friends.

Leave a Comment/Reply/Review