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Styx Canyon Death Valley NP - anchor failure, short fall November 2018

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

  1. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    This from Abby Wines, canyoneer and ranger at Death Valley National Park.

    Accident report: webbing failure

    On Nov. 2, 2018, Sam (?), Eran Howarth, Brian Drew, and I [Abby Wines] did North Fork of Styx in Death Valley. We were clearly the first trip of the season, and had brought enough webbing and rapides to replace every anchor.

    Brian was first to the second rappel. He inspected the webbing in full, determined it was sun faded but in good shape.

    When I got there, it had been rebuilt. Anchor is a small boulder very close to the drop that is partially buried in gravel. Essentially like a horn anchor because you have to stay low to keep correct direction of pull. The Boulder has small rocks placed around it over the webbing. I said to the group that they were “confidence rocks” and I didn’t like them. I think I asked if any were touching webbing and Brian said no.

    I warned group about that (I didn’t inspect anchor but have done canyon about a dozen times). Someone made a joke about it not being long enough fall to kill you. I said, “No, but it would hurt.”

    Brian rappelled first. We did not back him up (which we should have), probably due to complacency over the shortness of the drop (about 20 feet to a walking section then 15 feet). While he was rappelling the confidence rocks shifted a lot. Clearly the webbing was in contact with them when under tension. I didn’t like that, but I didn’t change it.

    I rapped second. First stage was uneventful. Unweighted rope while walking to second stage. Slowly reweighted rope for second stage. Got a step or so down, heard webbing tear, fell.

    Eran says she saw it tear, that it broke on an exposed side of the Boulder that did not have rocks on it. Smooth.

    I fell about 12 feet, landed on right side (says Brian). I remember next being on hands and knees shocked and unable to talk. I’ve never had Wind knocked out of me that completely.

    Injuries were minor: right chest near sternum is sore (and certain motions involving abs muscles or right shoulder hurt), bruising on left arm, right shoulder, right jaw, and right eye. Very glad I had a helmet on!

    I had medically trained people with me. Eran is wilderness FR, Brian is intermediate level EMT, and Sam is a Sequoia backcountry ranger, so also similar level of training. I had a SPOT device with me. They asked what I wanted to do: bail to ridge and go up (a long way from there) or continue. I chose to continue.

    I didn’t inspect the webbing before the incident, but looking at it now, I likely would have also said it was good enough. This was a scary wake-up call.

    Lessons learned: sun damage varies a lot and back each other up with meat anchor (from rope or rapide, not webbing).

    =======================
    further comments:

    Abby: Brian (the guy that inspected webbing) is not that experienced. Eran is experienced canyoneer, but only done a handful of DV canyons. Sam is realitive newbie, didn’t inspect anchors. I was the only one with a ton of canyoneering experience in DV. (Tom: as in, >200 canyons). But, I believe I would have judged it okay.

    Eran: The webbing snapped on an extended piece that had zero contact with rock. It was a little stiff and not as supple, but didn’t seem worn. At the time I had thought, I had “rapped off of worse”, which now invokes the adage, “good luck leads to bad decisions”. One of us should have also provided a backup. Needless to say, there is now a lot of fresh webbing in this canyon!

    Abby: webbing was just a little stiff near area that broke. No signs of damage. If you look at photo it shows a partial tear as well as the place that broke, that wasn’t there when inspected. So it was actually failing in two places.


    DVwebbingStyx1.
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 4, 2018
    Eroni, Bill, Mountaineer and 2 others like this.
  2. townsend

    townsend

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    Tom, so sorry to hear of your injuries, and hoping for a fast recovery.

    I think an argument can be made for replacing all fadded/sun damaged webbing. As Tom mentions, he himself has extensive canyoneering experience (> 200 canyons), and even he couldn't tell. Of course, backing up would have prevented the fall, but I still think it should be replaced. We may not be responsible for the next party's safety, but I would imagine that they would appreciate this preventative step nevertheless.
    Rapterman likes this.
  3. Ram

    Ram

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    I recently passed along an accident and injury report involving another group and was besieged with get well wishes. I too, when I first read this, thought that Tom was the one hurt, in spite of it being clearly stated otherwise. Poor reading comprehension on my part. A 2nd glance revealed that it was Abby. Abby is a wonderful person and one of the best advocates our sport has. An unsung champion of canyoneering. Heal quickly, Abby. Thank you for the forthright report. May we all learn from it.
    Last edited: Nov 3, 2018
  4. Evan Christensen

    Evan Christensen Evan C

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    Thanks for that report. I would have looked at that webbing and thought it was fine. I have rappelled on webbing that looks so much more aged than that. In fact, webbing in most canyons look worse and I have been using them without thinking twice. However, knowing that "we were clearly the first trip of the season" and it is November is a big red flag.
  5. Rapterman

    Rapterman

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    Abby, thanks so much for sharing your experience! :twothumbs:
    Hope you have a smooth recovery.
    I have a company that manufactures webbing safety products.
    Services to customers includes periodic inspection and re-certification our used products.
    One of the markers we use to evaluate webbing is color fade, which usually is caused by UV exposure or immersion in
    treated 'pool' water (from chlorine). Our testing has shown that color fade is correlated with fiber damage.
    Look again at the photo of the failed webbing and the un-faded sample of the same material (bluewater 1" tubular nylon).
    The color has been DRAMATICALLY faded by the sun.
    We fail all product in this condition and cut it up on the spot.
    I would never rap on it.
    Best
    Todd
    Kuenn likes this.
  6. hank moon

    hank moon lovely ligatures

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    More support for canyoneers to use only black webbing? I imagine UV-fading might show more readily with black, than with other colors. Anyone have data on that? If not, perhaps a good project for <insert volunteer>.
    Preston Gable and Rapterman like this.
  7. Rapterman

    Rapterman

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    I have seen black turn dark orange and then off-white
    Bright red go to pink and then off-white
    Tan as you see it above (almost off-white)
    Off-white is REALLY BAD
    (unless the original color is white)
    :D
  8. Mountaineer

    Mountaineer Is that an X slot?

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    Thanks for sharing Abby. You may have saved others by doing so. I think I may be getting a bit lax just quickly looking and going. I'll certainly do better out there.
  9. Evan Christensen

    Evan Christensen Evan C

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    Wait, what is the original color of the failed webbing? I was thinking it started out as white.
    Rapterman likes this.
  10. Tom Collins

    Tom Collins

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    Similar thing almost happened to me a couple years ago, also in DV, except it was on a 200' rappel. The webbing was supple and didn't even look that faded when I inspected it so I was first down, everything seemed fine to me I make it down signal that I'm off and then wait......and wait......? Come to find out as I'm going down someone up top saw the webbing start to shred while I'm on rappel and they very quickly hooked in to back me up until I was down and then they had to rebuild the anchor which is what was taking so long.
    Rapterman likes this.
  11. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    When the mill dyes the webbing and it does not come out very well, they then take that webbing and dye it to black. So black webbing could go to any of a variety of colors.

    T
    Jared Robertson and Rapterman like this.
  12. Nick Smolinske

    Nick Smolinske

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    This thread plus some others makes me wonder about using threaded tubular webbing for anchors. It used to be a common practice in slacklining to thread 9/16" webbing through the middle of 1" webbing. I did it once with two full 300 foot spools ... that was a fun endeavor.

    If that was used for an anchor then the 1" would help protect the 9/16" from UV and abrasion. Although there's no way to inspect the 9/16", so it's possible that people would become complacent and trust it longer than they should have. But on the other hand ... the anchor would definitely be safer.

    The other downside is weight, of course. And not as easy to dress a water knot well. I'm not sure how well the threaded stuff holds a water knot compared to plain webbing so that would need to be tested thoroughly before leaving such an anchor in a canyon.
    Rapterman likes this.
  13. wisconnyjohnny

    wisconnyjohnny

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    I rapped off some sketch stuff before. When I was newbnewb looking back would have replaced webbing. Glad you’re ok!
    Rapterman likes this.
  14. Rapterman

    Rapterman

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    Nick
    That is a clever idea!
    The question comes back to the ability to inspect.
    So FAR we are fortunate to have standardized webbing that is fairly easy to evaluate-
    Part of the reason 1" tubular is the standard, as opposed to kernmantel construction rope.
    'kernmantel webbing' will freak people out, for sure
    :D
  15. Kuenn

    Kuenn

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    Never knew that, thanks.

    The contrast of webbing colors in the OP is very telling. Without that side-by-side comparison though its pretty easy to mindlessly clip & go.

    We've all been guilty of ignoring them, but those faceless voices (conscience) though soft they be, probably deserve more of our respect. 9 times out of 10 maybe you get by...if only you knew which 1 was the one to obey.

    Thanks to Abby for the lesson shared.
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