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Incident in Central Arizona - Lessons to be learned.

Discussion in 'Accidents and Near Misses' started by ratagonia, Jan 3, 2018.

  1. Kuenn

    Kuenn

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    Good
    • Kristy didn't kill her partner. Verbally abused? (probably)
    • There were some other good things they did that have already been pointed out, but the fact remains all of it could have been avoided with what Tom labeled as "software".
    Commentary (Not going to call it BAD because it's all learning and experience one gains or must gain. The crux is HOW and WHERE you gain it.)

    This is a classic example of cascading failure, approaching Dunning–Kruger effect.

    Quote: "We researched a ton and decided on ZigZag canyon and Headdress Canyon.
    Research, even by the "ton", doesn't translate to successful accomplishments. It's a forerunner to success, not a guarantee.

    Quote:
    "I was free hanging as the rock caved inwards and my top ascender was blocked by 9 of ledge that I can't get over."
    Stay away from vertical caving then. At least 70% of every pit ascended has these obstacles in varying degrees.

    Responding to @The Dread Pirate Roberts question about ledges too lengthy to reach over. The difficulty is in the first 12 or so inches. Once you gain enough purchase where you can brace off of a constriction (with arms/knees) it becomes much simpler to navigate. Until you reach that point, you skillfully muscle through it.

    [Edit] So that wasn't much of an explanation. Skillfully muscling through it is fairly accurate. First, it helps if your top ascender is easily removed/replaced. You're probably not going to be able to slide the ascender past the first 1-2 inches of the constriction. After that, the rope can usually be raised, like pulling up a string on a guitar. That's why it's important to be able to remove and replace the ascender. Again, the top ascender is key... speaking from a Petzl product point of view; the Ascension works best, the Basic and Croll are just okay. Tibloc and knots (Prusik and like) are poor poor poor choices, as the top ascender, IMO.

    Quote: "ascenders don't allow you to! (desend)"
    Wrong!

    Quote: "I've gotta transfer to the other rope and if I undo one wrong connection, I fall to my death."
    That's not the only mistake that can end with that results. Rope transferring should be an element of one's skill set.

    Quote: "I couldn't get any slack on the rope because of my weight so I had to cut away the slings that connected me to them."
    Maybe the most telling evidence to the lack of knowledge. With all that gear...."Seriously Clark, that's your solution?"

    Quote:
    "next thing I know the rope is gone!"
    The last straw! The sign that one is not mentally and physically in a position to self-rescue any longer.

    Lastly, when your team consists of two (most of the time not wise) every decision you make should include a contingency consideration. 2 - 1 = 1 and can that 1 (whomever it is) carry the load?​
    Last edited: Jan 8, 2018
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  2. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    And also, so ODD to think he had to transfer to the other rope. ??????????

    So much lack of training and skills here, it is hard to know what to say.

    Tom
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  3. Brian in SLC

    Brian in SLC Brian in SLC

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    And...I think you just hit the nail on the head.

    Really...I wonder the amount of this type of descending they'd done before. If inexperienced, then, it just gets worse with limited daylight and cold nights.

    That said, I wouldn't be the only person (I'm guessing) who's gotten worked over by accidentally jamming my top ascender into a lip and getting it stuck there. But, knowing a few work arounds...
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  4. Kuenn

    Kuenn

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    Copy that! A mistake you usually don't repeat, without bopping your head. :banghead:
  5. AW~

    AW~

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    We know at least one person also knows why. That would be the person who installed a new development closer to the lip, rather than continue to using the one 50-60ft back....but apparently the new one is not as 'obvious', so maybe hang an REI flag on it.
    File this under CAC action item?
  6. MR30

    MR30

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    I'm new to this group but am going to chime in here as I'm a senior member of the Mountain Rescue Team that helped these folks out. This has been quite an interesting thread and there was a comment made about the cascade of mistakes that are made leading to the one that can't be corrected. Not throwing stones but there is some irony as this same cascade has taken place in this thread. Assumptions have led to further assumptions and few of them are based upon the actual incident or knowledge of what occurred.
    Could they have been better prepared? Sure. we all can be better trained, have better/more appropriate equipment or more experience. You always have enough until you don't. It doesn't matter who you are.
    The statement made by our team mate who told the subject that their anchors were sound, and it could happen to anyone, was not blowing smoke up the customer's ass. It was a truthful statement. Believe me, we see our fair share of complete jackassery and know the difference between good and bad. We also don't sugar coat the situation because we don't want our customers to repeat their mistakes. Personally, I've been doing this for over 20 years with over 1,000 missions under my belt and have never given any customer a false sense of their capabilities and feel responsible to give them the straight scoop even if it may hurt their feelings. Rather that than stuff their body in to a blue bag.
    Back to the subject at hand. The one key mistake that was made was regarding the threading of their ropes through the anchor point. There were two strands of webbing through the anchor, one with a rap ring, one without. The webbing without the rap ring formed a pinch point and would not allow the rope to be pulled through. It was really that simple.
    I won't go in to the other things that they could have done better because these have all been addressed. What they did do, and we find is common with many customers, is that they suddenly had a moment of clarity when things got really dicey and started making very sound decisions. They are very fortunate that they were able to signal a passing motorist who also made very sound decisions and got the rescue ball rolling.
    I hope this helps. Happy canyoning. MR30
  7. hank moon

    hank moon lovely ligatures

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    Great info, thank you. If possible, would you clarify that anchor setup? I'm imagining that the rope was threaded through the rap ring, and that the no-ring webbing got sucked into the rap ring during the pull attempt, jamming the rope in the ring?
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  8. MR30

    MR30

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    The rope was threaded through both the rap ring and the webbing without the rap ring. The no ring webbing acted almost like an autoblock against the rap ring. So, yeah, sorta.... MR30
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  9. GravityWins

    GravityWins

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    Thanks for providing key information that helps us learn from this incident. A perfect example of why we should all clean up the double webbing that is found at so many zion drops.
    Dave Melton likes this.
  10. Brian in SLC

    Brian in SLC Brian in SLC

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    Sometimes more is less, and, less is more. Making sure the rope runs easy and clean through the anchor. Good lesson.

    Great info. Thanks!
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  11. Rapterman

    Rapterman

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    Thanks MR30 for chiming in!
    Mystery solved, and a good lesson for us all:
    if you (we) are doing canyons with rappels, it is CRITICAL that those rappels be set to pull correctly, and that
    includes NEVER running the rope(s) in contact with sling.
    Rope threaded through ring or quick link ONLY.
    And (if the ring lays against the rock) the pull side of the rope must be on the BOTTOM.
    And first person down checks the pull while person above watches the anchor.
    :)
  12. hank moon

    hank moon lovely ligatures

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    There is a strong tendency for those involved in such incidents to sidestep responsibility and blame fate*. It's a normal human reaction, so it comes out nearly every time, if not from the participants themselves, then from those who seek to console them. Following such a detailed telling of an incident, one hopes for reflection and honest self-assessment, especially in the human factors department. In this case, the OP gives a brief, on-the-fly assessment of a third party, a poor substitute at best. So while I am grateful to have this useful account of the incident, it could be made more useful with additional follow up from Robert and Kristy (the couple involved). I am especially interested in Kristy's perspective. Can anyone here put me in touch with them, or at least make them aware of this discussion?

    Thanks again to @MR30 for providing that missing puzzle piece.

    * p.s. This is a general observation, not a claim regarding the OP. However, the words attributed to the SAR guy clearly fit the mold. The downside is that such assessments, left unexamined, often function as a palliative and a barrier to understanding.
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2018
  13. tom_brennan

    tom_brennan

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    What's the issue with using Prusik loops as the top ascender? They have the advantage that you can carry plenty of them (weight + cost), so you can keep whacking new ones on the rope if the geometry of the rock is preventing you from sliding them.
  14. tom_brennan

    tom_brennan

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    Yep

    ??

    Rap ring/quick link allows you to set releasable abseils, and will typically pull more easily. But where does the NEVER/ONLY come from?
  15. hank moon

    hank moon lovely ligatures

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    The Prusik weight advantage goes away if you carry a bunch of them. The only other advantage, low cost, means what in an emergency situation? On the technical side, passing a single pinch point on bad terrain can be a struggle even with proper ascenders. That struggle can become epic with Prusiks. Try wrapping a Prusik around a loaded rope with little-to-no rope/rock clearance, and no way to unload the rope. It can be a serious obstacle to progress. Now do it multiple times.

    For me, friction-hitch ascending is a technique of last resort, when proper mechanical ascenders are unavailable. Even a Tibloc is greatly preferred over a friction hitch for its relative ease of use, and for the thin sides, which can slip between rope and rock where Prusik cord cannot. Bad terrain aside, how about conditions? Try ascending a wet, sandy rope with wet, sandy Prusiks sometime. Yuck! Now throw in some pinch points...

    p.s. Many canyoneers own and carry ascenders; however, I strongly suspect that nearly as many are not competent in their use. They are essentially wearing a "safety costume." This Prusik post reminds me of an incident that occurred in Pine Creek Canyon (Zion) this past summer. Stuck rope on 45' rappel, forgot to remove block. The one person in the party who felt capable of ascending to free the block turned out to be incapable. Made it up about 2/3 of the way and got shut down by a slight bump in the terrain (using VT Prusik as upper, WC Ropeman as lower). Fortunately the stuck rope wasn't needed to complete the descent and the event was inconsequential.

    How to gain ascending competence? Do a LOT of ascending, on varied terrain, long and short, crap conditions, etc. Develop that muscle memory, and do it with real ascenders. When your muscles have it down, then maybe try doing some of the same stuff with Prusiks. Above all, don't fool yourself into thinking you can handle an emergency ascent just 'cuz you have the gear. Gear is just about worthless when technique is lacking.
    Last edited: Jan 12, 2018 at 8:01 AM
  16. tom_brennan

    tom_brennan

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    I carry 3, and I'd expect that others in my party will have them as well - which I can borrow if I need them in an emergency. I don't need to carry them all myself. They are multi-purpose. I probably use them more for things other than prusiking.

    It means that everyone in the party will have a set - so I can take 4 or 5 or 6 if I need them.

    Having never used "proper ascenders", I'm unqualified to comment on their advantages over prusik loops. I do have a set, but only just acquired, and not yet practised with.

    I have practised plenty with prusiks, and find them fairly easy to use. I imagine if you have mechanical ascenders, you don't spend much time practising prusiking. The most I've had to prusik in the wild was 60m (200') up a waterfall to free a stuck rope. They were slow but effective.

    Coming from Australia, the conditions for prusiking are likely to be reasonably favourable - perhaps compared to Utah. Rock is more likely to be uneven, so rock clearance not such an issue. Rope is likely to be wet, but not as sandy. [And we're probably abseiling double rope, so no need to anchor an end :)]
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  17. Rapterman

    Rapterman

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    There are a couple of reasons for always using a quick link or ring at rappel anchors which are not related to releasables...
    The first is that pulling the rope down afterwards can damage the sling rendering it less safe for those who follow.
    and the second is the extreme increase in friction with sling on sling will make pulling the rope MUCH harder-maybe impossible on long rappels or
    difficult pulls (such as a big roll-over, over an edge, or rapping around a corner).
    In my (limited) experience canyoneering in Utah and Nevada I estimate maybe sticking rope in a solid 20-25% of the canyons I have done were
    anchors rigged sling only (no quick link).
    :D
  18. Brian in SLC

    Brian in SLC Brian in SLC

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    That is awesome!

    I see the same thing backcountry skiing...(I'm gonna use that "safety costume" moniker!).

    And, excellent thoughts on, uhh, delicately addressing the "fate" aspect of "it could happen to anyone". Kinda hard to have a dialog with 1000's of hours and many years of experience...and, no one wants the rescue guys mad at you...that's just bad karma (ha ha).

    Have we all stuck ropes or had to ascend to correct an error? Sure. I'm just glad those sometimes painful lessons turn out no-harm-no-foul. Thinking about consequences of stuck ropes and ascending had me switch from my usual carrying of Prusik cord to making sure on some descents/adventures to have a real set of mechanical ascenders.

    Just like backcountry skiing...the biggest thing we can do is avoid a problem in the first place. All the safety costume in the world might not save you from a poor decision...

    Good dialog!
  19. tom_brennan

    tom_brennan

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    Rapterman - agree with your reasons for why you would often use a quicklink/rap ring:
    a) prevents potential damage to sling and
    b) reduces pulldown friction

    However, my question was more about the words NEVER and ONLY, which I took to mean there was a significant safety issue of running the rope through the sling under any conditions.

    Re rope damage - certainly I’ve seen rope wear on slings from pulling the rope directly through. I wouldn’t consider it a safety issue since every party will (should!!) inspect the slings before use and replace if necessary. One could mount a somewhat weak argument that pulling ropes directly through slings in fact helps promote more frequent sling replacement, rather than slings being left in situ for years/decades :)

    Likewise, if I’m doing a 5m abseil with a direct line of sight, there’s no appreciable pulldown friction whether there’s a quicklink or just a sling. Different story if it's a long pull over an edge.

    I remember when I first started canyoning, there was basically no metalwork on slings, except for a handful of drops with high friction where people had left carabiners. These days, most commonly done canyons have quicklinks, but wilderness canyons will still often have sling only (assuming they have anything). The sling wear issue is probably lower in Australian canyons, as the slings (and ropes) are more often wet, and so the friction of rope on sling is dissipated.
  20. Kuenn

    Kuenn

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    Hank summed it up fairly well.

    To reiterate, you'll probably not be able to pass the knot (Prusik) past the pinch point, 99% of the time. Now you're having to untie and then retie above that point (time consuming). Often the rope is taut against the rock above the pinch (more time/frustration). Even after retying you'll probably find the Prusik inhibited in functioning properly when there's exterior pressure (rock) prohibiting it from cinching to the primary line... About this time you'll be ready to pull out the knife and start cutting something!

    I cut my ascending teeth on knots back in the 70s. Thank the vertical-gear-gods that technology has deprecated (software definition) that technique. You couldn't beat me enough with a wet squirrel to go back to it... but to each his own.
    Last edited: Jan 16, 2018 at 9:35 PM
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