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Heaps near miss update

Discussion in 'Accidents and Near Misses' started by Christian G., May 25, 2016.

  1. Christian G.

    Christian G.

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    Heaps Report - May 21-22, 2016


    Hello all. As a member of the group of 3 that recently went down Heaps, I felt like I should give some more insight on the situation. I appreciate the constructive feedback, but also know it’s easy to be a “monday morning quarterback” and jump to conclusions without the full story. I am NOT going to deny that the last rappel turned into a “near miss” for one of our members, the pics clearly show that’s indisputable. But let’s start at the beginning.


    A party of 4 head to Zion NP for Heaps and Keyhole. 1 member has to drop out due to an injury, so he agrees to bring our 300’er to Emerald Pools (a method done by numerous other groups). ⅔ of our party studied and researched the beta from multiple sources and brought 2 of those sources along for reference, if needed. We packed emergency gear (bivy, water filter, lights, food, etc), maps/beta, plenty of anchor gear, rope, 6mm pull cord, etc. Our 4th member had full knowledge of what we were carrying. We each had drysuits (2 rented in Springdale and one borrowed). We all have self rescue training and experience, have considerable outdoor experience, and have very good canyoneering experience. I’m not going to call us expert canyoneers, but at least 2 of us have many under our belt. We are more all-around outdoor enthusiasts with significant technical experience and knowledge and a good safety sense.


    We departed at 4am from Lava Point. We made good time getting to the first set of narrows. However shortly into it 2 drysuits began to leak, thought at this time it did not appear bad. Then the borrowed drysuit began taking in water. “D” had the leaking borrowed drysuit and started becoming cold from taking in water. I had the leaking rental drysuit, but it was not nearly as bad as “D’s”. When we reached the Crossroads we discussed our current situation and decided that staying there for the night was the best decision. We had plenty of food and water and sheltered ourselves for the night. (We even tried to climb up the side of the hill to get cell service to tell our friend what we were doing, but to no avail. Though we didn’t expect much from that, but worth a shot.)


    The next morning we had dry clothes and felt better. We tried to patch up the badly leaking drysuit used by “D”. We met a party of 5 and spoke to them about our situation. We figured since a group was there, we would ask for help at the end (only if we couldn’t reach our friend, since we were now overdue). They agreed and we appreciated the gesture. We still assumed we would be able to reach our friend with either cell phones or the radios we brought, as the end does open up to the lodge area (meaning cell service and radio capabilities). Yes, we were getting tired, but we were managing the second day well, considering “D” was getting really cold and tired from the drysuit malfunction.


    We reached the end and found that the party of 5 was still there and waited to check on us. Again, that was very considerate of them and appreciated. It was then learned that our friend with the 300’er had it pulled up the night before by a group who was coming out late. (This was done as a precautionary measure, as he didn’t know what we were doing or when we were coming out.)


    The last rappel. “D” was cold and tired. Our thought was to have him get down first. He made it down rap 23 and 24 just fine. I followed and met him on rap 25. I clipped his pack to his harness and stated he should dangle it below him. (I take responsibility for not insisting this.) He had rappelled a 270’er with a much lighter pack on, but he didn’t think about his heavier pack this time around. The combination of being cold, tired, and not hanging his pack resulted in the near miss. I am not going to deny that he/we were lucky there. And the fact the other group was there to help out at the bottom. It was a hard lesson learned. Myself and the last followed behind. Everyone made it home safely.


    Some key points I would like to bring up.


    1. We were a group with experience heading into a known tough canyon. We prepared just as well as we probably could have, aside from taking someone trustworthy with us who had been through Heaps. I don’t feel that would have helped in this situation.

    2. Accidents happen, the key is to be prepared for them and mitigate any issues resulting from it. Our drysuit malfunctions were the accident and felt like we were prepared and mitigated it as well as we could have. Yes, the borrowed drysuit could’ve been checked before the trip, but it’s also easy to trust a friend when they say it is in good working condition.

    3. The rappel by “D” was a mistake, no denying that. I should have insisted he take his pack off, rather than advise him to. That was a lucky “near miss” and our group appreciates the significance of it.

    4. There are numerous reports out there where people have stashed their rope or had a friend bring it up to the pools. Our friend was very trustworthy and we had phones and radios ready to call for him, if he wasn’t already down there. This was not an issue.

    5. The other group’s willingness to assist with their rope is appreciated. I want to be clear that we were confident we would have access to our own rope, but thought it wouldn’t hurt to talk to the other group “just in case”. We used our own rope to rappel at the end.

    6. If we didn’t have a 300’ rope, we did have the means to get down. As Craig K. mentioned in the previous thread (Facebook), I could have used the 6mm doubled off the 200’er (I’m the lightest). And yes, we all have knot passing experience and gear. Not ideal, but an option.

    7. I tend to use a Pirana more often as I am very light and have extensive experience on it. I am very comfortable on it. I am not going to speak for the others here. One used an ATS, as he is comfortable with that. “D” felt comfortable with the Pirana, but it’s up to him to decide what’s best for him. I have seen issues with the Pirana when people with much more weight use them. As far as gear opinions, as long as the equipment is built for said activity and you are fully trained on it, then it really comes down to personal choice. I agree that certain pieces of equipment shouldn’t crossover from rock climbing to canyoneering (ie, ATC, etc).

    8. If we are going to be on the topic of safety, then there were some anchors in this canyon that looked very suspect to us. Not only the rusted piton halfway pushed in, but the poor webbing that was continuously used. We came across a piece of webbing on the first day that literally had a slice in it. It had been used quite a bit too. I should have taken a pic of it after, but this was during the leaking drysuit saga. There were numerous anchors that had weathered, frayed, discolored webbing and even a cheap aluminum ring that was more than half worn through!. We replaced the musts, but we were blown away by what some had continued to use.

    9. Finally, SAR was called by our friend because we were overdue. When our friend was able to answer all the coordinator’s questions (and then some), the coordinator felt confident in our preparedness and assumed we had probably bivied, so waited until the next day to see if we came out. No major operation had been started.

    To sum up, our group had a plan in place based off previous trip reports. The plan was followed and we made it out. We had emergency plans in place as well. We were fully prepared for an emergency and it happened (drysuit malfunction). Also, we would have been able to improvise to get down the 300’ wall in an emergency, with the gear we had. Not ideal, but I would have been comfortable doing so if it came to that. We fully understand there was a mistake made by one group member at the end and we appreciate the significance of it. But even the most experienced can make a mistake, especially after dealing with the effects of a leaking drysuit in a tough canyon. The important thing is that he walked away safely and it can now be used as a reminder to others too. However, let’s not use it in a negative manner.


    I hope this is helpful and mitigates some of the name calling and assumptions that tend to come with incomplete information and internet trolling. :) If you have any questions regarding this trip, I would be more than happy to answer them. I enjoy canyoneering and plan to keep doing it and I know the others plan to as well. I appreciate the outdoor world being a community and hope it continues to be that, looking out for each other, constructively discussing incidents like this, and being mentors to others. Thank you for listening. Christian.
    darhawk, Taylor, Canyonero and 10 others like this.
  2. hank moon

    hank moon lovely ligatures

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    Fantastic report, thank you.
  3. AW~

    AW~

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    I wouldnt count of it stopping the 'experts' and their phony sympathy...perhaps it'll move it from the forum to their campfires. They'll be back at it anyways by the next incident. Its better than Supertopo...but not as good as Bogley IMO. Not that there arent some knowledgeable rappellers on Supertopo.

    Im going to comment on #3 already though...you say not hanging the backpack was a mistake. But how do you decide it was? It sounds to me like if it was hung, this guy loses friction and dies. What was the diameter of the rappel rope?

    That and he "died" in canyoneering parlance...nothing wrong with that since its teamwork and lowered risk....but yeah, a life was saved. Good for you for coming forward.
    bhalvers2002 likes this.
  4. spinesnaper

    spinesnaper

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    Christian

    Thank you for coming on to the forum and presenting your assessment. You should know that as a community we are grateful that your party was able to safely exit Heaps with only a minor embarrassment on the last rappel. We are also proud that fellow canyoneers were able to step in and assist your group even in a limited way. No one is here to make fun of what was obviously a challenging descent through Heaps.

    On the other hand, this is a learning community. Discussion of misses and near misses is part of the process of continuous quality improvement which is absolutely essential to help the canyoneering community become safer and learn from others. Canyoneers of all levels read this forum and these discussions very much help novice canyoneers better understand what they need to learn to more safely function in the backcountry. I hope you stick around and will consider contributing to the discussion of this event. That has been enormously valuable in past events because no one knows better what happen than the parties directly involved.

    The cynicism of some not withstanding.

    Ken
    Last edited: May 26, 2016
  5. Christian G.

    Christian G.

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    His heavy pack is what caused him to go inverted on the rappel. Had he hung it, he should have had a smooth rappel. Not being cold and tired he may have had the extra strength to keep himself upright, but it would have been wise to hang it.

    Thanks for the comment, appreciate it.
    Deagol and Rapterman like this.
  6. Christian G.

    Christian G.

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    Ken,
    I'll admit that I wrote one note for both CC and SW Canyoneering (FB). I read more of the FB posts than I did here. I had to stop reading it all as I started to find less constructive criticism among the posts. Again, probably more on FB.

    I appreciate the constructive criticism and hoped it could continue on this thread. I agree it is important to learn from these incidents, but in a positive manner. I have not been much of an active internet user or social media user, but given the recent incident I will try to chime in when I feel I have some useful things to share. I'm also more than happy to answer any questions regarding this trip as well.

    Thanks for your comments, I appreciate it.
    Rapterman, Bootboy and spinesnaper like this.
  7. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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  8. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    Perhaps you would comment on almost going down the watercourse at the exit?

    I heard it as a rumor, that you started down that way. The rappel there is 360 feet. Would have turned out badly.

    Tom
  9. Christian G.

    Christian G.

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    ??? That's a false statement. Honestly, I'm not sure how that rumor could have even started, but it just shows how people can quickly make assumptions and judgments without being there or knowing what actually happened. As stated in the write up, we had studied this trip as well as anyone probably could have. We used multiple sources, including beta, trip reports, accident reports, pictures, and topos. That was all helpful and clearly spelled out what direction to take, all calling that exit a nearly 500' drop. We stopped to take off the drysuits and have a snack, even discussed if the red webbing on the log in the watercourse exit was a good idea to be left there. We figured that others should know best as well and we didn't risk the climb up to get rid of it in case it was misleading to anyone else.

    Christian.
  10. Brian in SLC

    Brian in SLC Brian in SLC

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    Good account of what happened. I guess I'd have a couple of take aways....

    If you need a drysuit 'cause the water is cold, verify prior to launch that it actually is a drysuit, and, doesn't leak. Rentals are notorious for leaking. The beauty of a wetsuit is that a small amount of damage shouldn't be too much of a concern. But, a drysuit needs to be a drysuit. I wouldn't do Heaps not knowing I had a bomber dry suit if I felt like I needed that cold water protection. No one should.

    I guess I'd suggest a different rope set for something as big as Heaps. A single rap line of 60m for three people? Doesn't make much sense to me. Would have been better to ditch the pull cord (unless it was REALLY a viable rappel option) and add another 60m rope, or, at least another 30m rope. With a 60m and a 30m, at least that last rappel woulda been doable (with a lower below the knot and rappel, no need to pass a knot). And, if you hung up a rope up canyon, you'd still have some margin.

    Perfect rope set for a group of three might be 2 60m ropes and a 30m rope. Given that your 300' rope is stashed at the bottom (or otherwise available). You stick a rope? No biggie. You need to cut one up for anchors? No biggie. In your case, had you got part way through and stuck that single 60m rope, you'd be stuck. Or, left with working over that pull cord. Not optimal.

    You mention replacing some anchors but not others that "amazed" you. Its early season. I'd expect to replace nearly every anchor in the canyon and I'd have the material to do that.

    You sent your weakest member, who was suffering, down first with no safety belay at the bottom? Huge mistake having to rely on someone else to save his life. Your group, your responsibility. You should have managed that situation yourselves, by either lowering him, or, sending a competent person down first to manage his descent. You could have even belayed him from the top. This could have turned out very very badly.

    Anyhoo...lessons to be learned and thanks for sharing. These situations are good reinforcement for those of us that think we know what we're doing, and, for those that don't as well.
  11. Rapterman

    Rapterman

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    Christian G.
    Thanks for the report.
    Lots for everyone to learn from.
    Were you rappelling mostly double strand or single strand (or both)?
    For folks rapping mostly double
    single strand on the final drop can be an unpleasant surprise...
    :)
  12. Tom Collins

    Tom Collins

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    If I thought I might be the first group through I'd agree, but they knew that others had gone through before them recently and hadn't replaced the anchors that were sketchy. Granted you should never rely on others to fix problems, its just surprising what some people will rappel on.
    PHXClimber76 and Christian G. like this.
  13. Christian G.

    Christian G.

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    Single strand. I agree, but we all have experience with both. Even on long raps. The mistake was me not putting my foot down on the pack hang and (looking back) sending him down first. Based off his rap 23 and 24, it seemed ok to keep with that plan though.
    ratagonia and Rapterman like this.
  14. Canyonero

    Canyonero

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    I love near misses, especially when they come with a report like this. Not only did you learn valuable lessons, but so do all of us.

    For example, you have just reinforced for me how dumb combining the concept of a drysuit and canyoneering is. If it is too cold for a thick wetsuit, I'm just going to stay home!

    Glad it was all a near-miss. Well done.
    darhawk, Taylor and ratagonia like this.
  15. AW~

    AW~

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    Not persuaded after the first sentence, but thats how itll be. I would need facts as to what was there would have worked.
  16. Morgan

    Morgan

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    I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say it was probably ZAC, and my opinion is that they are arrogant sh***y gear renters.... who rents a leaky drysuit for canyons this time of year, let alone heaps, come on.
  17. Brian in SLC

    Brian in SLC Brian in SLC

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    You can blame someone else all you want...but, the onus is on the user to verify. You rent a life critical piece of gear and trust the rental company? Ask anyone who rents drysuits...they leak. Can't believe they even rent them. They spend a significant amount of time patching them back up.

    If I borrowed a rope from a friend I trusted, I'd still flake it out to verify it wasn't damaged and the length advertised.

    Maybe they should blame the park service too?

    How 'bout a little personal responsibility in canyoneering?
  18. hank moon

    hank moon lovely ligatures

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    That went out in 2005. Didn't you get the memo?
    Last edited: May 26, 2016
  19. hank moon

    hank moon lovely ligatures

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    I used to work for ZAC and their practices are as good as it gets for the market. Suits are inspected after usage and users are encouraged to report their experience with the suits upon return. The latter doesn't always happen. Users may be in a hurry to ditch their stinky gear and gobble pizza at the 'Noodle. The inspection procedure may not catch smaller leaks, etc.

    Note that most of the suits ZAC rents are destined for Narrows usage. Obviously a leak in the Narrows isn't as critical as a leak in Heaps. Should ZAC have a separate "deluxe" rental fleet for technical canyon usage? And if so, how to "guarantee" no leaks in the fleet? They could (for example) fully dry out each suit after use and test each one individually. Certainly possible, but would increase cost considerably and likely price themselves out of the market. Might be worth a try, though. With the growth in the activity, the number of well-heeled canyoneers who might be willing to pay extra for a "guaranteed" dry suit will also grow. But...what happens when the super suit does spring a leak? A hidden abrasion that passed the shop test but won't pass the canyon test? Can o' worms...

    p.s. They also do a great job patching leaks and replacing seals.
    p.s.s. "Probably ZAC" ? Where did that come from? And what has been your experience with ZAC that shaped such a strong opinion?
    Last edited: May 26, 2016
  20. AW~

    AW~

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    There was this sign somewhere that read "unlocals not allowed"...just sayin. Its been an epic battle there for decades. Upon questioning, the good ole boys club admitted that the advocacy of personal responsibility('You are going to get yourself killed noob') was not actually asking for personal responsibility aka Jesus-like risk assesment....but to protect memories. They call themselves 'defenders of'....well not Heaps, but its the same thing. Defenders against...seemingly everyone else really. A non-local ,err 'vulture', advised to someone daring to go near there "Bring your switchblade"....non-PC stuff...."I expected some greaser to stride over, a pack of cigarettes rolled into his t-shirt sleeve. "..."Did you just come here because of shit you read on the Internet? That’s not cool. I’d never do that, man"
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