Cautionary Tales


words and pic by Ant Hall

Part narrative, part near-miss report, part instructional, Ant Hall revives our safety column discussing a topical theme each quarter . . .

As I departed for Yosemite, Simon Larsen, my long-time climbing mentor, bid me adieu with:
‘Have a ball for me . . . remember to tie knots in the end of your ropes on those big abseils!’
I came back home unscathed, but during my visit, at least two climbers perished in abseil-related accidents.

Closer to home, I was aware of at least four near-misses, fortunately all with happy endings; so this inaugural column is dedicated to abseiling! Particularly, getting to the end of the line!

So what happened?
In Yosemite, one climber had simply failed to load their belay device before stepping into the void. Another attached themselves to the very long tails of the anchor knot, safely descending two metres before abseiling off the end of the tails!

One local climber was abseiling an unfamiliar descent line, which was mildly overhanging. He arrived at the end of the rope, unable to maintain contact with the cliff, and unable to go back up. Another simply ran out of rope five metres above the ground, and another fell off a wild traverse and hung in their harness for three hours, unable to remedy their plight. I’ve also noted incidents where, having arrived safely at an abseil stance, a climber has failed to retain grasp on the ropes, watching them swing just a few tantalizing feet out of reach.

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