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Postby Tim White » Oct 26, 2006 9:48 am

It is with a heavy heart that I read the reports on very sad news that renowned rock climber Todd Skinner died after he and Jim Hewett had completed a new free route on the "Leaning Tower" in Yosemite.

But I fear that many a caver may be in the same danger that Todd faced. The willingness to use gear beyond when it should be retired from service.

News reports state:

The part that broke, called the belay loop, is designed to be the strongest part of the climbing harness, but Hewett, 34, said Skinner's harness was old.

"It was actually very worn," Hewett said. "I'd noted it a few days before, and he was aware it was something to be concerned about." Friends of Skinner said he had ordered several new harnesses but they hadn't yet arrived in the mail.

On Monday's climb, Hewitt said the belay loop snapped while Skinner was hanging in midair underneath an overhanging ledge.

"I knew exactly what had happened right when it happened," he said. "It was just disbelief. It was too surreal."

Stunned and in shock after watching his friend fall, he checked his equipment.


and another:

Investigators, friends seek answers in climber's fatal fall

By GARANCE BURKE
ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER

SAN FRANCISCO -- A friend who's scaled peaks with renowned rock climber Todd Skinner says he sometimes used gear beyond its life span, and fears a frayed climbing harness strap may have snapped, causing him to plunge to his death in Yosemite National Park.

It will take authorities days - possibly weeks - to officially determine why Skinner, 47, fell 500 feet to his death Monday while attempting to pioneer a new route up "Leaning Tower," an imposing rock face near Bridalveil Fall, the famous waterfall near the entrance to Yosemite Valley.

As Skinner lowered himself down the rock wall, a nylon loop attaching his harness to the rope broke, and he fell, hitting the side of the mountain, said his close friend Paul Piana, who received an emotional call from Skinner's climbing partner, Jim Hewitt, on Monday afternoon.

"Jim told me it was some equipment that was too worn, which makes it really tragic," Piana said. "Todd and I have contributed to the design and tested a lot of equipment, so we have a lot of faith in its durability. Sometimes maybe because of that, you become a little too complacent."


PLEASE...check you equipment and replace it if there is any doubt. The small price to pay for a new piece of gear is not worth the loss.

My prayers to Jim, the Skinner family and friends.
Last edited by Tim White on Oct 27, 2006 10:18 am, edited 1 time in total.
Be safe,
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Postby Scott McCrea » Oct 26, 2006 10:26 am

Tim, I copied this info over to the Open Talk thread about this. But thanks for starting a new thread to discuss the gear part of this tragedy.

All I can say is wow. Those belay loops are pretty bomber. I would imagine that one would need to be very badly worn to break. I know I'll be checking over my gear an extra time this weekend.
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Postby David_Campen » Oct 26, 2006 10:56 am

I am not familiar with climbing harnesses. Please explain what a belay loop is and why someone would be hanging from it.
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Postby Tim White » Oct 26, 2006 11:22 am

David_Campen wrote:I am not familiar with climbing harnesses. Please explain what a belay loop is and why someone would be hanging from it.


Image


In an article titled Belay Loop Etiquette, Jim Farris writes on why to use a belay loop.

“I began by emailing several manufacturers of harnesses, and oddly enough, every one of them had pretty much the same message for a change. Follow the manufacturer's instructions. In every case, that meant that when the harness has a belay loop-USE IT! Why? The primary reason is that by using the belay loop, you are insuring that the load will be along the carabiner's axis, its strongest orientation. If you thread the biner through the waist and leg loops you risk cross-loading the biner (or worse, creating tri-axial loading-which I'll ignore here for simplicity's sake). Take a close look at one of your biners. Most have little diagrams on them giving the strength in different orientations. The one that I use has 28 kN longitudinally, but only 7 kN laterally (cross-loaded). Which orientation do you want your belayer's belay biner to be in (say that quickly five times) when you take the big screamer? The answer is an easy one for me.â€
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Postby Scott McCrea » Oct 26, 2006 11:26 am

The belay loop is usually a sewn loop about 5-6" in diameter sewn with 1" webbing that it is looped around on itself making it 2-3 layers thick. Some have strength ratings of around 30kN. Strong stuff.

In this pic, it's the grey loop on the front of the harness that connects the waist belt to the leg loops.
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Postby Scott McCrea » Oct 26, 2006 11:28 am

Dang, Tim beat me. :waving:

Here's another link about how to tie into a harness with a belay loop. LINK
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Postby David_Campen » Oct 26, 2006 12:16 pm

I can see how the belay loop in the photos would be subject to a lot of abrasion and since it is sewn into the harness it can only be replaced by replacing the entire harness.
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Postby Steven Kesler » Oct 26, 2006 2:55 pm

Yet another example of familiarity breading complacency: Complacency can kill you. There is no logical reason to be sentimental about your equipment. Equipment wears out. A simple check of your harness (or anything else you think your life might depend upon) can often reveal potential problems. The idea is that even though we may traverse dangerous environments, we try to minimize the dangers as much as possible by gaining knowledge of our intended environment, learning and understanding the skills needed, and ensuring our equipment remains within safe tolerances. That means we need to understand how our equipment functions and routinely inspect it.

Our vertical systems are only as strong as the weakest link and our harnesses certainly form an integral part of our safety system. That means we need to check them and have them checked by others in our group, not only to check to make sure our equipment is correctly donned, but to also point out possible problems such as worn gear. And, if a problem is found, take action. I have seen and heard from many folks - after I have noticed old, worn gear, that they have used their equipment many times and have had no problems yet. Wrong answer.

It's just not true to believe that if your gear fails only you will be affected.

BTW, Lindsay Main, owner of Aspiring Enterprises is a good caving friend of mine here in Christchurch who has a heap of knowledge and experience in both climbing and caving and best of all is willing and happy to share his expertise with others, as can be seen from his website.

Scott McCrea wrote:Here's another link about how to tie into a harness with a belay loop. LINK
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Postby David_Campen » Oct 30, 2006 1:31 pm

From the NPS Morning Report for Oct. 30:
http://home.nps.gov/applications/morningreport/

"On the afternoon of October 23rd, dispatch received a telephone call reporting a fatal climbing fall. Jim Hewitt reported that he and his partner, well-known climber Todd Skinner, had been working on a first free ascent of the "Jesus Built My Hotrod" route on the overhanging west face of the Leaning Tower. Skinner's fall occurred when he was rappelling. Hewitt told investigators that he had been above Skinner when he fell. As he was rappelling on the low-stretch ropes that they had fixed on the route, Hewitt came to Skinner's Grigri descent device on the rope at the point where he’d fallen. The Grigri had a still-locked carabiner attached which had been connected to Skinner's harness. When Skinner's body was recovered, the belay loop on his harness was missing. The next day, rangers recovered a broken harness belay loop in vegetation at the base of the wall. It was very worn at the spot where the break had occurred. Hewitt later told investigators that Skinner was aware that the belay loop on his harness was in a weakened condition prior to the climb, and that they had talked about its poor condition three days earlier."

So, he was well aware of the poor condition of the belay loop. It seems that if he had just backed up the belay loop with a loop of 7 mm utility cord tied with double fisherman's knots this would have saved him.
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Postby Steven Kesler » Oct 30, 2006 1:48 pm

David_Campen wrote:So, he was well aware of the poor condition of the belay loop. It seems that if he had just backed up the belay loop with a loop of 7 mm utility cord tied with double fisherman's knots this would have saved him.


That's pure speculation - that he would have been saved if only he had his belay loop backed up.

The safer course, knowing that your equipment is faulty or worn and ready to be retired, would be to either NOT participate in the activity or replace/repair the equipment.

Another solution would be to double up the belay loop, either with a prussik loop or sling, or a large maillon rapide. Although, chances are if the belay loop is so worn out you feel you need to back it up, there are probably other parts of the harness worn out as well...

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Postby David_Campen » Oct 30, 2006 2:08 pm

That's pure speculation - that he would have been saved if only he had his belay loop backed up.

I don't see how that is speculation. His belay loop failed and as a result he fell, if the belay loop had been backed up then he would not have fallen. What part is speculation?
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Postby Steven Kesler » Oct 30, 2006 2:43 pm

David_Campen wrote:I don't see how that is speculation. His belay loop failed and as a result he fell, if the belay loop had been backed up then he would not have fallen. What part is speculation?


The part where you say he WOULD still be alive today. That's a conclusion based upon conjecture. There is no way to know what "would" have happened. It would be more correct to say "he MAY still be alive today if he had replaced his worn out harness prior to the climb." I agree that perhaps if there was a backup for the belay loop he might not have fallen.

That's really all besides the point.

Unfortunately, what is done is done. Instead of speculating on what great climbs he could have accomplished, let's look at issues which led to the accident so we might all benefit in the future.

I emphasize the "buddy check" system for folks within the group. I check someone else's harness/system and they then check mine. It's not because I think other's are doing things wrong, but because I have a different vantage point from the person wearing the gear. Likewise, someone else, looking over my kit, might notice something which is unsafe or worn out and in need of attentiion. This keeps us on our toes and in the right frame of mind about safety. BTW, if you notice something about someone's kit, and you don't understand it, ask questions about it - you may have noticed an unsafe situation, or, you may not be aware of the latest and greatest and safest technique they are employing - you may learn something from it.

Now here's the rub: If you notice something amiss about your partner's gear and don't mention it to them, it may have an effect on YOU later on (besides, don't you want the others to be safe as well?) Let's now say you notice something amiss about another's kit (like a worn belay loop) and you mention it to them (from the National Park Service reports it sounds as though the worn belay loop was discussed by the two men). What if the other person does nothing to correct the situation?

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Postby NZcaver » Oct 30, 2006 9:13 pm

Sad to read of this unfortunate tragedy. There's a lot to be said for not procrastinating over the retirement of old life safety equipment, even if a few of us cavers are guilty of hanging onto some of our gear way past the end of it's natural life.

Regarding belay loops - despite the logical part of my brain telling me how strong they are, I still don't trust them.

This probably stems from being a student on an abseiling (rappelling) instructor's course about 20 years ago. They had some "old" harnesses there (perhaps 5-10 years old) with belay loops, in addition to the new harnesses of a different type that we were using that weekend. The chief instructor made some comment about preferring not to rely on belay loops, then clipped in at the top of a short cliff (still safely back from the edge) and pushed his weight back into the harness. As if on cue, some of the stitching on the belay loop ripped apart causing him to turn white. Needless to say, all those slightly older harnesses were instantly retired.

I'll stick with my frog harnesses, thanks. No belay loops on those... :wink:
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Postby fuzzy-hair-man » Oct 31, 2006 3:07 am

NZcaver wrote:I'll stick with my frog harnesses, thanks. No belay loops on those... :wink:


I was waiting to read that, :wink: it seems to me that the climbing harness design trusts the belay loop an awful lot, as you said I prefer my caving harness at least if one of the webbing loops(hooking to the mailon) goes there is another one backing it up, (not a reason to delay replacing it though). even if it does leave you dangling sideways from your hip. Maybe climbing harnesses need a similar safe failure mode. :question: at least after one goes you'd be pretty sure the user would replace the harness.

It seems a little unusual that it failed whilst he was rappelling :? you would expect the forces involved with a rappel to be much less than those of taking a fall :question:
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Postby Steven Kesler » Oct 31, 2006 5:09 am

fuzzy-hair-man wrote:It seems a little unusual that it failed whilst he was rappelling :? you would expect the forces involved with a rappel to be much less than those of taking a fall :question:


I agree, forces involved with a rappel should be less than a fall while leading. It makes you wonder just how worn out his belay loop was, or what EXACTLY he was doing when the belay loop failed - perhaps descending in some sort of jerking motion? Unfortunately, we may never know.

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