Guest Post by Federico Villatoro (Travel Experta’s husband)
I, Federico Villatoro, will be talking about an accident that we recently experienced with Brandon, my son, while climbing at the rock.
I will address exactly what happened and I will give tips so this doesn’t happen again to anybody.
My sons and I know the safety checks and commands. We have been climbing for years, but this is when confidence worked against us.
Brandon led the first route we did that day called “No-no”, while I belayed him. We had the safety knot done for this route, with Keanu doing the double check of it.
* Safety knot is a very simple knot that you put at the end of the rope.
Next Brandon moved on to the a harder route called “Techo3” and started working on that one while being belayed by a friend and I stayed behind to belay Keanu on “No-no”.
At that moment both ropes had safety knots at their ends. Brandon ran out of quickdraws lowered back down to wait for Keanu and me to finish climbing on Nono route. I retrieved the quickdraws from the first route and then tried the first half of Techo3. After a couple of tries it was Brandon’s turn so he could finish Techo3.
This is the moment when we, somehow, forgot to check again for the safety knot.
We were confident that the knot was still there, like it was, a little while before. We believe, that when Brandon started this try, the end with the safety knot was that he chose to attach it to the harness with figure-eight knot, leaving the other end without any knot.
When he finished Techo3, I was lowering him with a gri -gri and when he was close to the ground, the end of the rope passed thru the gri gri letting Brandon fall around 6 meters.
He fell to the ground, bounced off a few rocks. Hit his head and ended up unconscious for what seemed like an eternity (but realistically calculating around 7 seconds).
This is a similar accident that happened to Alex Honnold as he was setting up a top rope for his girlfriend and her parents. They had been climbing on a route with one rope. Then, changed rope on the same route, and the rope was different length. They were confident that the length of the route was shorter than the rope, but they didn’t know the second rope was in fact a few meters shorter. Confident in their rope measurements, they forgot to check for the safety knot and as they lowered him, he fell several meters ending up with a compression fracture on his lumbar vertebrae.
Not that this helped us when Brandon was rushed to the hospital. However, once he was fully recovered it did help us know that even some of the most experienced climbers in the world make these mistakes.
It is also important to mention that wearing a helmet (or not) is not the most important safety measure to prevent this kind of accident. But a helmet needs to be worn at all times!
However, the cause of these kinds of accidents is the lack of consistency. The use of the helmet is recommended for preventing material falling from higher places (usually small rocks) hitting you but with a fall like this, it can help make the difference between a concussion, skull fracture to simply a strong hit.
This kind of accident happens when there is not consistency in going over the 5 Safety Checks:
5 Climbing Safety Checks you MUST Do Before EVERY Climb
Double check harness buckles
Figure Eight Tie-in and Safety knot
Check your belayers harness (as in #1)
Check the belay system
Go thru Starting commands
#1 Mistake made by climbers – to not use a helmet
#2 Mistake made by climbers – to forget to check their safety knots.
In conclusion it is important to always check the belayer, the rope and your harness. Just because you feel confident doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check the rope because it could happen to anyone even Alex Honnold – you might have heard of him from the latest movie ‘Free Solo’ 🙂
Recommended read: Rest Days – Why They are Important for Climbers
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