Tacoma Program Center: Rappel Sit-n-Spin-n-Sprain

An Intermediate Climbing Student slips during rappel transition off ledge, injures ankle
David Shema David Shema
March 10, 2016

Tacoma Program Center, Climbing Wall -
January 24

LEADER

A student sprained their ankle while beginning a rappel during an Intermediate Climbing Qualifier Practical Exam on January 24. The injury occurred at 1pm.

No one witnessed the event (or at least knew it resulted in an injury), and no one was notified of the injury until after the students & instructors had left the program center for the day.

No aid was administered at the site.

Instructors were notified that night by the injured student, whose ankle was too injured to participate in the conditioner the next day.

As there were no witnesses, here are the details from an email correspondence with the student:

STUDENT

"I sat down on rappel wall to slowly slide off and put tension on the anchor. Had put foot down below on a rock ledge, to support myself. Between the added weight from backpack, damp wall, and mountaineering boots, I slipped and sprained my ankle."

LEADER

The anchor is at the same elevation as the ledge, so the only method to start a rappel is to sit at the ledge and slowly transition your weight from sitting to the rope over the ledge.

It's a common configuration on climbs, and one of the more difficult ones, so it is a good practical test item. The student had an autoblock properly attached to the rope, so any potential loss of control due to an injury or otherwise was backed-up.

The student's report above noted all contributory factors including the slippery wall.

Lessons Learned

Slightly better rope and body positioning could have mitigated some of the risk of injury. However, this injury might be considered a basic risk of rock climbing, on par with falling while climbing the outdoor rock wall at the Tacoma Program Center; injuries can still occur with ample preparation and safety.

Students were warned and were aware of the wall conditions, and more than a few slipped while making this same transition. This student was just more unlucky than the rest.

One lesson to take away from the injury is that accidents can happen even in controlled scenarios, which is why you should always wear a helmet and always put on an autoblock. If either of those had not been present and the student had let go of the rope during the slip, this could have been far worse than a sprained ankle.


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