South Climbing Wall, Seattle - Crag Student Rappels Off End of Rope

Field Trip Season is again fast approaching. In this incident, the student did not realize that one end of the rappel rope did not reach the ground. She was probably full of new information and ready to wrap up the day.
David Shema David Shema
Safety Committee Chair
December 13, 2017

 South Plaza Climbing Wall, Seattle - Field Trip Season

Photo showing location was taken months later

INSTRUCTOR

Seattle Crag Course was conducting a class on various aspects of basic single and multi-pitch climbing for crag students. The south wall was where multi-pitch instruction was being taught and practiced.

Three teams of two students were practicing the process of swapping leads on sport bolts and setting up anchors to bring up the second [climber]. Once at the top, each team would rappel to the bottom, one student at a time, just as they would in future field trips. They were to throw their rope down as they would in field trips. Instructors were on the bottom and at the top to double check that all students were safe.

This was the last station for the students; the last learning sessions of the day. A team on the west side of the wall had reached the top and were preparing for the first student to rappel down.

The student did not realize that one end of the rappel rope did not reach the ground. She was probably full of new information and ready to wrap up the day. She thought she had thrown down both ends of the rope to the bottom and had gotten distracted by the instructor checking her and her partner's safety, set up, and such.

The student began down the ropes and about 2/3 of the way down lost control of the rappel due to one end of the rope slipping through her device. She fell approximately 10 - 12 feet to the rubber bark surface below.

She was not hurt but startled and shocked that it had happened. She usually always puts knots in the ends of the rope prior to rappelling. Instructors at the top and bottom did not see the short rope prior to her rappelling down.

Lessons Learned

Due to the relatively benign area and short pitches here, plus all of the class processes, the student seemingly had  a split second of complacency and loss of focus. Also, it is a true challenge for instructors to catch everything students do when a class is in session, in spite of their best efforts. Many distractions.

Diligence is important for safe climbing no matter the circumstances. Even trying to teach safe methods can become a possible incident when we drop our guard.


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