Falling during rappel

Discuss vertical caving, equipment, & techniques. Also visit the NSS Vertical Section.

Moderator: Tim White

Falling during rappel

Postby snowaydude » Nov 13, 2012 9:03 pm

Sunday, 4 friends and I went into a cave. There is an approximately 20m rappel shortly into the cave. 3 people descended before it was my turn. Using a Bachmann Hitch, which is tied around a carabiner (to be used with the same effect as a prusik hitch), and my verso belay device (utilizing the smooth side rather than the rougher braking side), I started abseiling. With left hand on the bachmann above to loosen it, right hand on the rope below my belay device, I was lowering myself slowly. The cliff was not overhung, so for the majority of the rappel you are able to place your feet on the rock/ice. About half way down, my feet slipped on some ice and I instinctively went to place my hand on the wall. Possibly to stop my face from hitting or who knows, but it was my hand from the belay device that reached out, therefore sending me rapidly downward. I was falling. I knew, that because my left hand was still, and now even more tightly, gripped to the bachmann, it was not grabbing the rope and stopping me from falling. What should have been a backup to my belay device was not functioning in my time of need, because I was holding onto it. Do you know how difficult it is to let go when you are already falling? I took my hand pressure off the bachmann, but it did not grab while I fell. The rapid whizzing sound of rope came to an end when I landed on my 2 feet, unharmed. I unclipped and my last friend came down the rope with no issues. Minus some rope burn that rubbed through my glove and some of my finger skin, i was luckily unscathed. This event was witnessed by one other person, and heard by the whole group. We all now agree that having a self locking device for lowering is essential for future adventures.
What device should we get?
Image
bachmann
Last edited by snowaydude on Sep 8, 2013 10:29 pm, edited 2 times in total.
snowaydude
New Poster
 
Posts: 2
Joined: Nov 13, 2012 6:36 pm
  

Re: Falling during rappel

Postby Carl Amundson » Nov 14, 2012 12:21 am

First off, welcome to the Cavechat snowaydude.
You need to get a dedicated rappel device. Rappelling on a belay device and using a bachmann's hitch as a backup is a recipe for disaster.
Whether it's a rack (J-bar or micro-rack), bobbin or stop, it really makes no difference.
What make the difference is that you practice using the rappel device and know how to do simple SRT maneuvers like change-overs.
User avatar
Carl Amundson
NSS Hall Of Fame Poster
 
Posts: 681
Joined: Nov 8, 2006 11:27 am
Location: Berryville, Virginia
Name: Carl Amundson
NSS #: 50213
Primary Grotto Affiliation: Front Royal and Tri-State Grottos
  

Re: Falling during rappel

Postby NZcaver » Nov 14, 2012 12:34 am

Welcome to the forum. Thanks for sharing your story. You're lucky the result wasn't catastrophic. Please consider reporting this incident here for inclusion in American Caving Accidents, as other people could learn from it.

What gave you the idea of using a Bachmann hitch as a rappel safety? I haven't seen it used for that application before. Way back in the old days, cavers sometimes used a rappel safety knows as a 'spelean shunt' rigged above the descender. This was generally either a Prusik hitch or a Gibbs ascender set up like this. This technique is seldom - if ever - used by cavers today.

Another type of rappel safety you sometimes see used by cavers is the Autobloc or 'French wrap' rigged BELOW your descender. See this previous topic for more info. The favorite ways to back up a rappel topic also has some good info. But like you just found out, rappel safeties DO NOT ALWAYS WORK. Check out this video and forum discussion from earlier this year.

Another simple solution would be to have the first person down provide a bottom belay (aka fireman's belay) for any less-experienced people who follow. Have you thought of trying a Petzl Stop or similar descender with an auto braking mechanism? Or... following a different logic, many cavers simply choose a suitable descent device designed by cavers to allow friction to be set and adjusted appropriately for each person/rope/descent, without the need for a rappel safety. A.K.A. - a rack.

P.S. what junkman said.
User avatar
NZcaver
Global Moderator
 
Posts: 6316
Joined: Sep 7, 2005 2:05 am
Location: Anchorage, Alaska
Name: Jansen
NSS #: 50665RL
Primary Grotto Affiliation: CCG
  

Re: Falling during rappel

Postby Stridergdm » Nov 14, 2012 12:49 am

Welcome to cavechat.

Hopefully the can of worms you opened isn't too big. Unfortunately, this is a topic that can often generate a lot of passionate debate with few people rarely changing their minds.

That said, I think like many discussions, it's one well worth having so that folks can make informed decisions, in either direction.

So, let's back up a bit.

You ask for a self-locking rappelling device. They exist. I don't know anyone who uses them.
junkman suggested a rappel rack or a stop.

Some will argue for a backup knot (like the Bachmann or a French Wrap/autobloc/other names) and others will argue against them.

One of the arguments against them is exactly the issue you faced. In a panic situation, generally the normal reflex is to grab TIGHTER which in many cases of backups can cause an action opposite to what you want to occur, much like what happened in your case.

I'd suggest this thread for review.

I'm not going to recommend one way or the other. I generally do NOT use a backup. I know someone who does. On the other hand, I can do a change-over 3-5x faster than he can. Now that might be bragging (ok, it IS bragging... to a point) but I've already done more change-overs in cave than I have had a run-away rappel situation. (and it's not so much about the speed, though I suppose if I was being attacked by wild bees that might make a difference, it's more about the effort and energy involved.)

I would say, in your case, you may have honestly been better off w/o the Bachmann and using your dominant hand to protect your face/body while using the other hand for your braking hand.
Cavers rescue cavers!
User avatar
Stridergdm
NSS Hall Of Fame Poster
 
Posts: 922
Joined: Nov 1, 2005 10:08 am
Location: Capital District NY and Northern Virginia
Name: Greg Moore
Primary Grotto Affiliation: RPI Grotto
  

Re: Falling during rappel

Postby snoboy » Nov 14, 2012 2:16 am

As others have hinted - this topic of rappel devices and rappel safeties can be a huge can of worms... and I'm not going to dig into that tonight. [I use a Petzl STOP...]

However, I would suggest that if you are interested in caving safely, and learning modern Single Rope Techniques you might want to connect with some of the local caving groups. The Alberta Speleological Society is very active in the Doupe area. They have regular SRT training as well as hosting an annual small party self rescue workshop in the Spring.

http://www.caving.ab.ca/training
http://www.cancaver.ca/bccr/BCCRtrain.htm

BTW, how are the roads out there right now? Snowed in or not?

Perhaps one day we will cross paths out there (under there?) but hopefully not because of a rescue callout - cave safe!
snoboy
Prolific Poster
 
Posts: 176
Joined: Apr 6, 2009 10:05 pm
Primary Grotto Affiliation: BC Speleological Federation
  

Re: Falling during rappel

Postby paul » Nov 14, 2012 7:17 am

NZcaver wrote:Another type of rappel safety you sometimes see used by cavers is the Autobloc or 'French wrap' rigged BELOW your descender. See this previous topic for more info. The favorite ways to back up a rappel topic also has some good info. But like you just found out, rappel safeties DO NOT ALWAYS WORK. Check out this video and forum discussion from earlier this year.


FWIW, although I don't use it in caving situations (I use a Petzl Simple as I mostly cave here in the UK or in the European mainland where there are frequent rebelays), I was shown years ago on a Rock climbing course to protect abseils/rappels by using an Autobloc/French Wrap below the descender. The bottom loop of the Autobloc was then clipped via a karabiner to the legloop of the harness on the same side as the controlling hand and the controlling hand held the Autobloc knot and rope within while controlling the descent as normal.

The theory is that if you let go with the controlling hand, the Autoloc locks the rope and stops your descent. I never had to test it in a situation where I acccidentally removed my controlling hand but I often used this method of allowing the Autobloc to lock the rope by slowly relaxing my grip while temporarily pausing while abseiling down a route to retrieve any jammed protection which my seconf couldn't remove. By sliding the Autobloc down the rope with th econtrolling hand, it is very easy to unlock and continue descending.
paul
NSS Hall Of Fame Poster
 
Posts: 513
Joined: Dec 9, 2005 7:46 am
Location: Peak District, UK
Name: Paul Lydon
  

Re: Falling during rappel

Postby Scott McCrea » Nov 14, 2012 8:34 am

I am from the no back-up camp. Belay devices can distract rappellers. They, also, often force rappellers to alter suggested and proper techniques. For example, it is impossible to use a rack or bobbin properly with belay device below it.

Snowaydude, you screwed up and got lucky. Your gear worked, but, you didn't. But, hey, we have all been there. We all learned the same lesson. The important thing is you are seeking more info and learning how to prevent it from happening again. Bravo!

There are some world class cavers in your area that I'm sure would welcome someone that is eager to learn and help explore and discover. Seek them out.
Scott McCrea
SWAYGO
User avatar
Scott McCrea
Global Moderator
 
Posts: 3198
Joined: Sep 5, 2005 3:07 pm
Location: Asheville, NC USA
NSS #: 40839RL
Primary Grotto Affiliation: Flittermouse Grotto
  

Re: Falling during rappel

Postby gindling » Nov 14, 2012 11:06 am

I for one would NEVER use a bottom belay/ firemans belay unless I was SRT practicing in a building or off a building. One of the cardinal rules of rope work is to have no one in the fall zone. Attempting to help an inexperienced caver by placing someone else in danger could lead to two rescues instead of one. Experienced rope users tend to be careful at the lip of a pit so as to not drop rocks down, an inexperienced user has a lot more to think about getting used to their gear and would thus be less mindful of that danger. Just be safe, its one hell of a road for rescuers to get down to save you if need be.
Though on a side not that is one of my favorite cave names ever, something about someone having a dream about a pit so big that you could throw an elephant down it, and then the next day going to find the pit and realizing you could throw four elephants down it. ( story told to me by one of the A.S.S. members, I hope I got it correct)
User avatar
gindling
NSS Hall Of Fame Poster
 
Posts: 227
Joined: Nov 17, 2008 3:40 pm
Location: Montana
NSS #: 53629
Primary Grotto Affiliation: Northern Rocky Mountain Grotto
  

Re: Falling during rappel

Postby GroundquestMSA » Nov 14, 2012 2:36 pm

snowaydude wrote:We all now agree that having a self locking device for lowering is essential for future adventures.


As already mentioned, good judgement and experience are far more essential than a self locking device. Nearly all of my vertical experience has come on drops under 100', and I've often used my own Verso, or rescue 8, instead of my rack or stop. While tube style devices like a Verso are considered unnacceptable for cave use by many, few of the other devices here suggested allow you to completely let go of the rope. I'm not claiming to be very experienced, and I know my own judgement is sometimes shaky, but instead of focusing on the descender, why not focus on the importance of holding on. I know the only thing keeping me from doing the same thing in the past is the constant fear that I would. Now that you have a real consciousness of this danger you hopefully won't repeat your mistake.

Welcome! -J
User avatar
GroundquestMSA
NSS Hall Of Fame Poster
 
Posts: 1343
Joined: May 5, 2011 1:32 pm
  

Re: Falling during rappel

Postby LukeM » Nov 14, 2012 4:38 pm

gindling wrote:I for one would NEVER use a bottom belay/ firemans belay unless I was SRT practicing in a building or off a building. One of the cardinal rules of rope work is to have no one in the fall zone.


Just to be clear, there's no requirement that you stand in the rockfall zone while giving a bottom belay. Sometimes if I know the lip is clear of all loose rock and debris I'll belay below the person, but often it's possible to stand well to the side while still being able to give the rope a big old pull if needed. As noted in the book Alpine Caving Techniques, you can also route the rope through a re-direct for a slick solution.
User avatar
LukeM
NSS Hall Of Fame Poster
 
Posts: 705
Joined: Jan 30, 2008 2:53 pm
Location: Albany, NY
Name: Luke Mazza
NSS #: 59317
Primary Grotto Affiliation: Syracuse University Outing Club
  

Re: Falling during rappel

Postby NZcaver » Nov 14, 2012 5:36 pm

LukeM wrote:
gindling wrote:I for one would NEVER use a bottom belay/ firemans belay unless I was SRT practicing in a building or off a building. One of the cardinal rules of rope work is to have no one in the fall zone.


Just to be clear, there's no requirement that you stand in the rockfall zone while giving a bottom belay. Sometimes if I know the lip is clear of all loose rock and debris I'll belay below the person, but often it's possible to stand well to the side while still being able to give the rope a big old pull if needed. As noted in the book Alpine Caving Techniques, you can also route the rope through a re-direct for a slick solution.

:exactly:
User avatar
NZcaver
Global Moderator
 
Posts: 6316
Joined: Sep 7, 2005 2:05 am
Location: Anchorage, Alaska
Name: Jansen
NSS #: 50665RL
Primary Grotto Affiliation: CCG
  

Re: Falling during rappel

Postby Chads93GT » Nov 15, 2012 7:51 am

Don't bother going to bridge day if you don't believe in bottom belays on your team. Stay home. ;)
User avatar
Chads93GT
NSS Hall Of Fame Poster
 
Posts: 2293
Joined: Jun 24, 2008 1:27 pm
Location: Missouri
  

Re: Falling during rappel

Postby gindling » Nov 15, 2012 11:02 am

I thought you meant weighting the rope from below a caver in case you need to slow or stop his descent. Now if the caver was hard tied to the rope with his harness and you were controlling his descent then yes, you can be many more places than directly below to belay from and you can get as fancy as you want with the rigging. Now you could also pull the rope from below to slow or stop a descent not directly in the fall zone but then you are pulling the person out of plumb which can cause its own problems.
I guess all I'm saying is that there shouldn't be a reason, besides a rescue of some sort, to belay someone down a rope if they already have proper cave gear and they know how to use it. Maybe you could help me think of a non-rescue situation with experienced cavers where it would be needed.
Figure 8s, ATCs, Versos, and all the other rock climbing/belaying gear is not cave worthy for descending in my opinion and will not be allowed on my rope during any expeditions that I run or cave trips that I lead, it is just not safe. Though I do use them when bolt climbing of course. Reasons? Not being able to tie off on rope easily and securely when descending, downright difficulty or impossibility of doing changeovers and rebelays, and twisting of rope (which with rebelays is unacceptable). That's enough reasons for me.

And no, I wouldn't touch Bridge Day with a 100 mile long pole. Not my thing, I'd go caving.
User avatar
gindling
NSS Hall Of Fame Poster
 
Posts: 227
Joined: Nov 17, 2008 3:40 pm
Location: Montana
NSS #: 53629
Primary Grotto Affiliation: Northern Rocky Mountain Grotto
  

Re: Falling during rappel

Postby Chads93GT » Nov 15, 2012 11:50 am

The thing is, you dont only use belays in a rescue situation, you use them to PREVENT a rescue situation. And what exactly would pulling someone out of plumb when belaying them do? Besides stop them of course........... Because when I belay I sure as hell dont stand directly under someone in the fall zone, I stand quite a ways out of the fall zone.
User avatar
Chads93GT
NSS Hall Of Fame Poster
 
Posts: 2293
Joined: Jun 24, 2008 1:27 pm
Location: Missouri
  

Re: Falling during rappel

Postby gindling » Nov 15, 2012 12:18 pm

Like I said, give me an example of when you would belay an experienced vertical caver in a non-rescue situation that isn't bolt climbing and why? I just can't think of one, though I'm willing to learn. I guess it all depends on the pit and passage type that would dictate whether or not pulling someone out of plumb would cause problems. But you're right. In a large, round pit it wouldn't really matter.
Last edited by gindling on Nov 15, 2012 12:21 pm, edited 1 time in total.
User avatar
gindling
NSS Hall Of Fame Poster
 
Posts: 227
Joined: Nov 17, 2008 3:40 pm
Location: Montana
NSS #: 53629
Primary Grotto Affiliation: Northern Rocky Mountain Grotto
  

Next

Return to On Rope!

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users